It's all on the lines for the Argos

Argos' mammoth DT Kevin Huntley will try to put B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay 'on the...

Argos' mammoth DT Kevin Huntley will try to put B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay 'on the ground' in Monday's game. (QMI Agency)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:08 AM ET

TORONTO - Much of the attention for Monday’s showdown between the Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions and the 2012 Toronto Wannabes will centre around Ricky Ray, Travis Lulay, Chad Owens and Andrew Harris’ big toe.

“It’s a great challenge for us,” said Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich Thursday. “From a defensive standpoint their front six is outstanding. Their secondary is veteran and don’t make mistakes. If you make a mistake ... it’s in their hands. They don’t beat themselves. Offensively they have all the weapons. Lulay can run and throw. the running backs can get outside, they have Geroy (Simon).”

And they have Harris, who leads the league in almost anything that involves actually touching the football. The Argos? Well they have ... ah, well, they have Ricky Ray and a clue. Neither of which have been historical trademarks.

The headliners will play their usual part as Toronto tries to cement a spot in the CFL’s high-rent district. But, more than usual, this is an argument that will be decided in the land of the giants.

“It’s definitely going to be a game won and lost along the offensive and defensive lines,” Toronto’s mammoth 6-foot-8 defensive tackle Kevin Huntley said, after practice. “If we can get Lulay moving around and get him on the ground. Like coach (Chris) Jones says, ‘he can’t pass with his (backside) on the ground.”

Getting to that backside will be a challenge in a matchup featuring the proverbial immovable object and the irresistible force. The Lions have surrendered a league-low five sacks. Toronto’s offensive line has thrown a picket fence around Ray, allowing one sack per 24.4 dropbacks, the third-best ranking in the CFL. A minor concern is that Wayne Smith, who guards Ray’s blindside, injured an oblique. If he can’t play, the job goes to backup Tony Washington.

Meantime, offensive tackle Chris Van Zeyl will be butting heads and wits with Lions defensive end, Keron Williams, who leads the CFL with six sacks.

Williams’ descriptive analysis of his specialty is almost Churchillian, telling the Vancouver Sun: “You can feel when you’re about to get (a sack). It’s a calm feeling. You take off, line up the quarterback, and it goes completely silent in your mind. When you get to the quarterback, it’s like everything is going in slow motion. Boom! He goes down. It’s like being born again. Then you hear the noise. It’s like somebody poured a bucket of cold water on you after you came out of a sauna ... electrifying. You embrace that.”

Van Zeyl smiles.

“We played these guys last year and didn’t have a lot of problem with them. If the guys come out and do their job, we’ll be fine. I played against him last year and don’t think I gave up anything to him.”

When it comes to trench warfare, this game features some of the CFL’s elite forces. Huntley is coming off a big game in Montreal. Linebacker Robert McCune and defensive back Patrick Watkins rank Top 12 in tackles.

Williams, at his current pace, could become the first Lion with 20 sacks since Cameron Wake had 22 in his most outstanding defensive player season in 2008. “He’s good. I played with him in Montreal,” said Van Zeyl. “He had a mean dip move that he got up underneath a lot of guards. He poses a lot of problems because he has power. Is he the best in the league? Ahh, I’d put him up with a healthy John Bowman. He’s in the top. His sack record kind of illustrates that.”

Defensively B.C. and Toronto sit one-two. B.C. has allowed a league low 81 first downs; Toronto has been almost as stingy with 88 and while Ricky Foley remains the designated sack master, Huntley is so big he could rent himself out in the off-season as Toronto’s second-tallest free-standing structure. Plus, for the first time in more than a year, he is feeling completely healthy. “Friday’s game against Montreal was the first game I felt like myself. My shoulder bothered me all last year,” said Huntley, who also missed the first two games this season with blistered feet. “I was good at times but not as good as the previous two years. That hurt me to my heart to just be good.”

He says the word like he just bit into a rotten oyster.

“I want to be dominant. I want to be in the backfield, making the quarterback move. I couldn’t do that on a consistent basis last year and it was frustrating. Friday I had about three sacks, I caused a fumble, I had a couple tackles. I had fun again.”

Toronto has allowed seven yards per pass, lowest in the league. B.C. has given up just 77 yards rushing a game, best in the league.

The Argos don’t need to sack Lulay. They do need to disrupt his game, said Huntley. “Sure, you like the (sack) numbers but if we can make Lulay move, destroy their run game, then it makes everything easier.

“If you look at our defensive line the past few years we haven’t necessarily had the sacks but we’ve dismantled many quarterbacks. If a quarterback’s first read is a guy on the D-line or a linebacker and not downfield, you win already ... fans don’t see if taking the snap a quarterback’s eyes go to us first.

Offensively, there might be one way the Argos could limit Williams destructiveness. “He’s not very good stopping the run,” hinted Van Zeyl.

Of course, the Stampeders tried that last week. They got 29 yards.

Coach Milanovich's pep talk packs a punch

 

Head coach Scott Milanovich wanted to put some fight back into his troops Thursday.

He got it.

Maybe a bit too much.

Halfway through practice, Milanovich called his team to midfield. “Sometimes after a day off the intensity just isn’t there,” the Argos’ head coach said, after chewing out his team. “We built a foundation on competition and tempo. And we weren’t getting it. Either we practice hard or there’s no point in being out here.”

Evidently the players got the message. The second half of practice was more animated and vocal even before a scuffle broke out when slotback Chad Owens was hit up around the shoulders and neck by linebacker Robert McCune. The two screamed at each other.

Owens got into McCune’s face and the muscular linebacker threw a punch before team-mates intervened.

Shortly after the two were seen hugging on the sidelines. ‘You can’t fight in the game, so you don’t want that, but the intensity ramped back up,” said Milanovich.

ARGO NOTES

Linebacker Jason Pottinger was dressed but didn’t participate in practice. The club also announced it had cut import linebacker Jasper Simmons ... After finishing second the past two seasons, Cory Boyd said he wants a rushing title. “My main goal is to help my team win games and help us get to a Grey Cup. Those are the most important things. But at the end of the season I do want to stand atop the CFL as the top rusher.” ... Backup QB Jarious Jackson has the flu and missed practice.

 


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