TORONTO - Ken-Yon Rambo has all-star credentials, a CFL championship and all the confidence to fill the Grey Cup to overflowing.
But that was the old Rambo. The one who went through his first practice Thursday with the Toronto Argonauts has all of the above and one more thing — a gimpy leg.
So, it is that the Argonauts aren’t sure what they’re getting, other than a guy coming off an Achilles injury that looked like it would end his career.
“At the very minimum a guy like Ken-Yon is going to push the other guys,” head coach Scott Milanovich said. “If he is truly healthy and back to where he was you’ve got a thousand-yard receiver. Right now, I don’t know. This was his first day. It’s not going to be an overnight thing.”
Rambo, not unexpectedly, is a little more optimistic.
“I’m on the practice roster for a couple weeks at least,” he said. Paused. Then moved up his ETA.
“I feel like I’m a week away ... I know I can make plays. I’ve been doing that up here for seven years. The coaches know what I can do they just want to see how I’m running. I had a great day today. So, we’ll see how I feel tomorrow.”
Reality for Rambo is that his debut as an Argonaut is someplace between Milanovich’s cautious Somewhere in the Mists of Time approach and the receiver’s own Send Me in, Coach timeline.
First, he has to show he can bounce back from the grind of practice and the knocks that come on gameday.
Secondly, Milanovich has to find a place for him in a lineup that features Chad Owens, Jason Barnes and Dontrelle Inman. Also waiting in the wings is Mo Mann. Add a healthy Rambo to that and it looks like a formidable receiving corps.
Question is are they still as formidable as their reputations and statistics might indicate, or are they a receiving corps that is past its prime.
Rambo believes there is still a tomorrow in this league. For him. For this collection of receivers. “I’m on the back end (of a career),” he admitted, but “I feel great. I’m not thinking about what’s at the back end. I’m looking at the present: Ken-Yon Rambo on the Toronto Argonauts. Playing football until my wheels fall off. That’s it.”
Milanovich will be interested in seeing how those wheels hold up the next few weeks. The Argos passing game has had highlights but it is partially responsible for a league-worst 29% touchdown conversion rate in the red zone. Rambo believes he can still help, still play and Milanovich knows he is eager to get into the lineup. But then, said the head coach, who isn’t? “The only difference between Ken Yon and a lot of the other guys is that he’s got the statistics. Every guy, (Chad) Kackert wants to start, Gerald Riggs wants to start, The difference is he’s been there and done it. Been a star at some point.
“Ken-Yon is going to have to learn what to do. You’re just not going to line up in one spot in this offence and run your routes. If he’s back to where he was at one point, he’s a good football player but we’re not going to push him.
“He’s a guy, when healthy, you know has produced in this league. The question is can he take the pounding and stay healthy. I don’t know the answer to that.”
Neither, despite his own bravado, does Rambo. A CFL and West Division all star in 2008, he had 1,000-yard seasons in 2008 and 2010 and has produced 14 100-plus yard receiving games.
But none of that has happened in the past two seasons. The Stampeders, weary of waiting, cut him this spring. He has been rehabilitating his injury in Toronto ever since. Mornings have been spent on the sidelines at Argonauts’ practices. He sat in on meetings, the plan always to come back in Double Blue. He did it on his own, not because there was money or even a promise.
“Why? Because I love the game, I love what I do. My Achilles is a minor issue compared to everything else I’ve had to deal with in my career. I don’t have no hamstring (issues), no hip problems, my knees feel great. My Achilles has healed up well. I’ve been doing this all my life. It’s in my heart. So I wanted to stay and they let me. they helped me through my little tribulations.”
He knows the plays. He says he’s been “in the book” for weeks studying. He said Inman and Barnes — even though there’s a chance he might eventually take some of their reps — both have helped him with alignments.
“I’m like a little kid out there. I’m yelling ... very excited.”
And, then, he slipped on the grass. Lost his footing. Fell. That Achilles?
No worries, he said afterward, laughing. “You should see this grass. it’s like swamp land. Like Louisiana grass. You’re going to do a lot of slipping on this grass playing wide receiver. You’re going to see a lot of that.”
Which, in this case, wouldn’t be a bad thing. Those grass stains on his backside? They’re good. They would mean Ken- Yon Rambo is back.
Marcus Ball might've been feeling a little lighter on his feet Thursday.
The CFL took a little weight out of the wallets of Ball and fellow Toronto linebacker Brandon Isaac, with fines for hits on Calgary running back Jon Cornish.
While Ball said he accepted the league’s decision for what were deemed “dangerous and unneccessary” hits during last Saturday’s 24-16 win, he also maintains it won’t change how he plays.
“I respect the league and what they did. No disrespect intended to the players. It happened. It’s over,” said Ball.
Cornish took offence to getting knocked down by Ball and threw a headbutt at the Argos’ linebacker, drawing a penalty.
Later, Stampeders’ Nik Lewis made a catch while at the same time Cornish came on a cross route. The ball was gone to Lewis a few seconds before Isaac drilled Cornish. It drew no flag. But the league reviewed the play, deeming the hit late and unnecessary.
While fine amounts aren’t released, in most cases these types of penalties cost players $500 to $750. That doesn’t sound like much until consideration is given to the fact many of these guys don’t make more than $50,000 a year.
The fine, Ball said, won’t change his approach. “No matter whether it is Nik Lewis, John Cornish or Barry Sanders, we’re a very aggressive defence. We’re a very confident defence. B-Isaac is a talker, I’m a talker, you have some guys on offences with these teams who are talkers.
“It’s nothing personal. It’s all fun and games. It all works together, it brings the best out in myself to be able to chirp and be interactive with other guys. If it is quiet, games feel kind of slow and kind of lazy. That’s not how we play. We play high tempo, high aggression, we go get it.”
Ball had a game-leading eight tackles and a quarterback sack as Toronto stifled the Stampeders offence, allowing only 335 total yards. The Argos also appeared to win the mind game with the Stampeders taking several penalties at key moments.
“Anything to help us,” said Ball. Then came the beginning of what might’ve been a grin that didn’t extend to his eyes. “I’m not saying that’s what we go for.”
But, you on the other hand, might want to say precisely that.
EPPELE 'D' MAN?
Joe Eppele hasn’t played defensive line since high school.
“My head was spinning. I was trying to figure out what was going on. It’s going to be an interesting learning curve,” Eppele said Thursday, after lining up at practice opposite his former mates on the Argonauts offensive line. “It’s a lot different than the O-line.”
There has always been a segment in the football fraternity that believes the former first-round pick — who has been unable to cement a starting job on the offensive line — would be better suited on the defensive side of the ball.
The Argos and Eppele appear interested in seeing if Eppele can utilize his 6-foot-8, 304-pound size to break up, rather than make, plays. Head coach Scott Milanovich said Thursday it’s just an “emergency thing” in case the defensive line runs into injury problems. Just an experiment.
Asked what Eppele showed in his first workout, Milanovich grinned, then said jokingly, “He’s tall.”
Eppele said he could fill in. And, that he could fit into schemes that needed a big body up front, primarily at the nose position. “They just wanted to get some plays on film and see what kind of base skills I have on the D-line. We went over some plays, so it was a crash course ... I’ve only been in a few meetings. I can’t say I know what’s going on over there.”
Still, the chance to step in and play on the other side of the ball is intriguing. “I never wish ill on another man. But it would be exciting.”
Someone suggests a sack might be nice — you know, getting one instead of giving up one.
“Gaaaawd,” he said, grinning, “that’d be nice.”