Argos' Kuale one mean machine

Roughriders running back Wes Cates gets tackled by Argonauts linebacker Ejiro Kuale. Argos coach...

Roughriders running back Wes Cates gets tackled by Argonauts linebacker Ejiro Kuale. Argos coach Scott Milanovich says he has been impressed with Kuale's effort both on and off the field.

BILL LANKOFF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:07 PM ET

Ejiro Kuale is football’s version of the Energizer Bunny.

Nobody has ever been able to find his off button. He can be studious to the point of geekdom in a desire to figure out the last nuance of a defensive scheme, conversely, turn him loose on a football field and he turns into a demon.

He is 6-foot-2, 229 pound heat-seeking missile bent on destruction. “I love football. It’s like I turn, I don’t know, into like an animal when I’m on the field,” Kuale said.

He laughed. A lot of the guys he has been hitting — especially in the past two games in which he has been particularly active — are not thinking this is so funny.

And, they have the bruises to prove it.

Kuale has been a constant presence, if not always on defence, then as part of the special-teams package. And when he isn’t hitting ball carriers, he’s hitting the film room or the playbook. “EJ has been a playmaker all season. He’s an emotional sparkplug for us. You can feel it in the meeting rooms ... his energy level,” said head coach Scott Milanovich.

He is coming off a game in which he sacked Travis Lulay, part of a defence that limited the B.C. quarterback to 205 yards — 50 of which came on one pass play. He has 17 defensive tackles this season and a forced fumble. Then there was that controversial play last year when he was thrown out of a game for a crushing hit on Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce.

He is Macho Inc.

“For me it’s all about dominating your opponent. This is the closest thing to war you can get to. It’s a man’s game. Between those lines there are only inches separating me from the guy I want to beat and once I’m dominating the other guy every play I know he’s thinking, ‘oh, man, every play I gotta block this guy? It makes me feel good because then I know he’s scared.

“You can sense it. More times than not I rarely say anything and let them do the talking. Then I just beat them again. Then they get frustrated. Then they start running their mouth and instead of worrying about the plays they’re running they’re worrying about me. I know when it’s happening ... (I) can see it in their mannerisms, body language.”

Assistant coach Chris Jones’ aggressive style has fit Kuale who doesn’t mind showing his emotions. He’s leaping up and down after a big stop. Like when the Toronto defence stuffed the Lions from the one-yard line three times in the last game. Gesticulating. Shouting.

“There’s an intimidation factor to this game. It’s a mind game, too. I enjoy playing that, too. Our intimidation factor is the intensity we bring every time we step on the field. We have a very COLORFUL group,” he said, “and we love it.”

This has become a defence that has allowed the fewest plays from scrimmage, is second in the CFL in net passing yards allowed, first downs and average yards allowed per game (31).

“This is,” and he pauses, “I have to be careful what I say ... ahh, the best defence in the CFL I’ve been in. It’s difficult to compare to other defences because its a different style but the intensity and aggressiveness they require out of each opposition is like none I’ve been around before.

“It’s not difficult to learn, it’s involved. In this defence you need to study. You can’t wing it. You gotta watch the films, you gotta do the homework, you gotta watch the tendencies because if not you are going to get gassed. We are in a tight defence and in a tight defence if you don’t play sound there’s going to be a hole and that’s when you get beat.”

It, perhaps, is also a defence that leads the league in passion play — and they aren’t afraid to show it. “I bring a lot of excitement to the team. Whenever we make a big stop that’s key, you’ve got to celebrate. I think everyone feeds off that, including the offence. Actually I’m a reserved guy. My play on the field you wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m actually kind of laid back and reserved. But on game day I become an extrovert instead of an introvert.”

Washington finally getting his chance

It was just a matter of time; and Tony Washington’s time appears to have come. Finally.

This is a comeback that has been almost a decade in the making.

It has taken the 6-foot-7 giant more than a year, from the Calgary practice roster, to the Argonauts’ practice team this spring, to making his CFL debut Saturday protecting quarterback Ricky Ray’s blind side.

It has taken him nearly half a lifetime to live past a moment of indiscretion.

“Tony Washington will be starting at left tackle,” head coach Scott Milanovich said Wednesday, as the bye-week rebuild on the offensive side of the Argonauts’ roster continued.

Washington’s past is controversial and unusual. In a second-chance league, he is the ultimate second-chancer. Washington needed special clearance from Canadian immigration just to get into the country.

In May 9, 2003, Washington pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with his biological sister, Caylen. He was 16, she was 15. Although there are understandable extenuating circumstances, like 716,750 other Americans, Washington is a registered sex offender.

There was no rape. Both he and his sister came from abusive pasts in broken homes. He grew up in the projects on the wrong side of the river from New Orleans. “I was never taught to be good,” he once told ESPN.

In that same interview he admits what they did was wrong, even though at the time neither he nor his sister understood it was wrong: Two adolescents in a troubled world looking for love when they didn’t even know what love was.

It is a misstep that still haunts Washington. It cost him a chance to be drafted by the NFL. Now, wherever he goes, it is what people whisper. It is what the media wants to ask him about — and it is something that, almost a decade later, he no longer wishes to discuss.

He just wants to find a home, a place to play football, and peace. And, in a curious way, the Argonauts may now need him, as much as he needs the Argonauts.

Where Milanovich’s juggling act leaves everybody else on the offensive line is debatable although Washington lined up mostly with Andrew Jones at guard, Jeff Keeping at centre and Wayne Smith and Chris VanZeyl on the right side.

It ends Toronto’s experiment with an all-Canadian line and how this impacts former first-round draft pick Joe Eppele will be interesting to watch. “Smith will play, we’re just sorting out where. We want the best five guys on the field,” Milanovich said. “When we went Canadian in training camp it wasn’t as much because we wanted to go five Canadians as it was they were the best five guys at the time. That isn’t so much the case right now. Tony is going to get his shot. He’s an athletic guy who brings a very phsyical presence to our offensive line.”

Secret weapon

He’s not one of the glamour boys.

Matt Black is one of football’s blue-collar workers. On most game nights there will be no headlines and few post-game media scrums to keep him late.

But, truth is, without the likes of Black there wouldn’t be a whole lot of joy for the glamour boys. He and teammate, Tristan Black, have combined for 17 special-team tackles. Both rank among the top seven in the CFL.

“Hey, I look at them (statistics) every week. It means a lot to me. It’s a source of pride to me,” Matt Black said Wednesday.

There is, said Black, only one path to success on special teams. “First you need effort. Without it you don’t get anything done. A lot of times you are out there and you’re already tired and you have to run 40-50 yards, you might have to beat one, two, maybe even three blocks and now you still have to deal with a shifty runner.”

Sometimes all that effort is rewarded, like last season when he led the team with 15 special-team tackles and a new contract. He also scored his first career TD on an 81-yard punt return. And sometimes all that effort brings nothing but frustration — like in Toronto’s first home game this season when Calgary’s Larry Taylor shredded the Argonauts for more than 400 yards.

“You can beat everybody down there but if you don’t make the tackle it’s all for naught.”

The return game isn’t much easier. “That can be tiring because you can be coming off two or three plays on defence. Now you’re sucking wind. But you’ve got Chad Owens back there on punt return, and you know you can score. You have to finish your block. You don’t want to be in film and be the one reason why your guy got tackled and be on the other end of that red dot and hearing coach say: ”Hey, finish the block.”

Special teams are high risk, high reward. Against B.C. in Toronto’s last game, Black raced up-field to scoop up a punt and returned it 26 yards to set up a field goal in the dying seconds of the first half. “There’s a lot of emphasis on it around here and I like it. It’s the quickest way to change a game through field position and big plays. The potential for big swings all ride on special teams.”

And, those special teams will be a key factor Saturday when the Argos play in Calgary. Both teams have explosive return games with Taylor and Chad Owens.

While the Argos won the first meeting of the season 39-36, it doesn’t bring back sweet memories for Black. Taylor amassed a club-record 441 all-purpose yards. He had eight kickoff returns for 222 yards, returned two punts for 70 yards and returned a missed field goal 125 yards for a TD.

“We learned the hard way early on in the season. We got stung a couple times. In Hamilton we gave up two return touchdowns ... against Calgary we let the team down.

“It’s not just the touchdowns. You realize how important special teams are when you look back at the flow of the game and how it changes the offensive and defensive play calls. If Chad (Owens) catches the ball on the 10 or 15 and we can get it back up to the 30 or 40 it really opens up the playbook.”

Black and cohorts would like to extend recent success. Against B.C. they held the dangerous Tim Brown to 21 yards on four punt returns and 41 yards on two kickoffs. “We have to follow up this week against Larry. We have to contain him, hit him, make him stop his feet. Do that, we should be good,” said Black. “I really do love this (special teams). It’s basically work your butt off. You have to be smart. You have to be able to read your keys and adapt on the fly.

“To be good at this, it takes that, and I think it’s a mentality. You have to have a desire to want to do this. I just love playing football and if playing football means playing special teams that’s what I will do.”

 


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