August 3, 2012
Argos' Mann on a missionHardluck receiver has his health back, now he wants his job
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Maurice Mann sprinted downfield, planted a foot and turned as the ball caught his fingers with a light thump.
Fate didn’t make him trip across a sideline, or a stray cone. Doors did not come crashing down on him. Mother Nature didn’t make the grass beneath his feet slip, slide or dematerialize.
Life is good. Maurice Mann is back on a football field. Not, perhaps, yet ready to play. But the long, lithe receiver is practicing again. He’s back in uniform. He’s running. There were times when he didn’t believe even that would ever be possible again for him.
Mann has had so many goofy things happen to him he could qualify for the freak show at the circus — if they still had those things. You know, right up there with the bearded lady and the two-headed cow. Last year he had a door in the dressing room close on the back of his heel.
No big deal, right.
Well, the cut didn’t heal properly. Instead of becoming one of the CFL’s most productive receivers — as many pundits had predicted — he was out for weeks.
Life got even more complicated when, by the time he could play, he had lost his job to Chris Williams.
He wandered the sidelines unwanted. Finally, he was dealt to Toronto, where with Cleo Lemon and Co. throwing trial balloons, he had zero impact.
Fast forward to training camp 2012.
He was superb. Perhaps the Argos’ best receiver. Finally, a break. It seemed that breakthrough season might yet come. Then the team decided to practice at a high school with a track running the perimeter of the football field. Naturally Mann found the only spot a guy could get hurt when he ripped open his leg so badly a seamstress would’ve looked at the pieces, shrugged, and suggested maybe they could quilt it back together.
“It was bad,” said Mann Friday, “I really think of miracles. I was a centimetre from (losing) my Achilles (in Hamilton). This year, I was inches away from damaging everything in my knee. It could’ve been 10 times worse. The fact I’m out here running is a miracle because this last time I thought it was over.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever play again. But, I’m here.”
Where “here” exactly is might be a bit difficult to discern. History may be repeating itself once again, even as Mann works to get himself back into game shape. Toronto’s passing offence has 1,542 yards, second in the league behind only Montreal. One of the key cogs has been Dontrelle Inman, whose 23 yards-per-catch average, is the highest among the league’s top pass-catchers.
Inman, with 276 receiving yards, only got his chance because Mann was injured. It would be difficult to now take the job away from him. Mann understands that. “I just have to wait for my opportunity. The offence is playing so well you can’t really expect to change up a lot of things. while the system is flowing. You don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken.”
But it has to hurt. And it leaves head coach Scott Milanovich in a quandary.
“It’s difficult because Mo had such a great camp. that opportunity is the one that Dontrelle took advantage. Who knows, if Mo doesn’t get hurt you might not know Dontrelle right now. That’s how football goes unfortunately for a guy who gets injured,” said Milanovich. “Mo’s attitude has been great. He knows he’s going to have to be patient and trust that in the long run things will turn out in the right way for him.
“I’m sure he has his moments where it’s tough because he wants to be in there.”
Mann said he would like to believe this won’t end as it did in Hamilton. He wants to believe he still has a future with the Argos.
“It’ll come down to them seeing me and that I’m comfortable in my movement, and then coach saying, ‘OK Mo, we want to get you into this thing.’ I have a great relationship with (Coach Milanovich) and (general manager) Jim Barker, too. I trust those guys. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way about a football organization, and I don’t want to take a shot at anybody, but I feel I have people in my corner who want to see me come back and succeed. It’s good. I got a lot of friends here.”
Perhaps, but, for Mann the question lingers like a dozen stitch marks: Will he still have a job here?
Like so many things in professional football, it is a question that has no answer.
NUMBERS ARE LION
The numbers suggest the B.C. Lions secondary isn’t what it used to be: Five games, zero interceptions.
The numbers, say Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray and head coach Scott Milanovich, are wrong.
“That means nothing,” Milanovich said Friday, as the Argos prepare for a Monday showdown at the Rogers Centre with the Lions. “(Byron) Parker, (Ryan) Phillips, (Korey) Banks ... they’re always well-respected if not the most-feared in the league. If you let them get their hands on the ball they’re going to pick it and Ricky knows that.”
The Argonauts have a plus-5 turnover ratio and are coming off a game in Montreal in which they did not have a turnover. Ray has just four interceptions on the season. But this, against the top-ranked defence in the league, will be his biggest challenge.
“They have a lot of confidence and veteran guys, especially in the secondary,” Ray said. “They’ve added Parker. Phillips is back playing strong halfback where he’s had his best years. They moved Banks back to the weak halfback, that’s a great spot for him because he’s one of the better cover guys in the league.
“As a quarterback you want to be careful because those guys have good hands. But you don’t want to be too careful because you still have to find a way to make plays.”
"OTHER WILLIAMS' MAKING NAME
Chandler Williams is used to people saying: “Chandler? Chandler Who?”
Williams went to college at Florida International, which sits in the shadows of the University of Miami — literally, figuratively, athletically and pretty much any way you’d care to mention.
When Williams got there the football program was in its infancy. “When I got there it was just their second year with a football program. They just won a bowl game and they’re going to the Big East. I kind of helped them start that program so I’m kind of happy to see where they’re going.” said Williams, who has become Chad Owens’ running mate on kickoffs.
Williams got the school some notoriety becoming the first FIU player to rank in the top 10 nationally in receptions. All it got him was a round trip ticket through the NFL.
He was a seventh-round draft pick by the Vikings. That was 2007. Since then he has been a Dolphin. Twice. He was signed by Atlanta. Three times. Released just as many. He went to the Chiefs where he was signed, and waived three times, then ending up in the Arena League this season.
And, he might still be there.
Except the Argos ran short of targets for Ricky Ray to throw at in training camp.
So, there he is: Last week hauling in a 55-yard pass. “He came in late cause of all the injuries we had at receiver. Done a great job on special teams,” said head coach Scott Milanovich.
Williams has also been spelling Owens, when he needs a breather, occasionally as a slot receiver. “Still makes too many mistakes but he is coming along. He’s got some juice,” said Milanovich. “He has some explosiveness in his legs that is nice to have out there.”
Still, even in the CFL, he’s still “that other Williams.” Hamilton has Chris, the Alouettes have cornerback Seth, and the Lions have Keron.
“I had no idea what to expect. I was just playing Arena League when I got this chance. I been around enough not to come here in awe but I have a lot to learn. I think (Owens) we’re similar in quickness and speed but he’s been here four, five years.”
As for Williams? He’s just happy to be anywhere. “At the end of the day football is still football. You catch the ball, run and people try to tackle you. I’m just happy to be getting involved more each week.”