August 24, 2012
Argos aim to be 'D' bestLions are kings of the CFL, but Isaac says Toronto is hunting big game
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
Brandon Isaac knows who’s at the top right now, but he doesn’t give them that much more time at the head of the class.
In terms of defence in the CFL, there is the B.C. Lions and then everyone else.
Isaac is well aware of this. And he’s suitably impressed. He also says the Argos have very definite plans to knock the Lions off that perch.
“As a defence we look at it as a challenge,” the Argos linebacker said after practice Friday. “We want to go out every game and compete at our highest level and show the CFL that we are the best defence in this league. I think we’re real close. I think B.C. has the most dominant defensive line in the league which allows them to do a lot of things. I think collectively we are much better than they are, however they are No. 1 right now and we will continue fight and fight each week until we reach the top.”
That defensive line of B.C.’s that Isaac clearly has respect for has 15 sacks, led by the seven from league sack leader Keron Williams.
Exactly half the league’s teams have that many or less for their entire team total.
While B.C. has put a stranglehold on opposing offences, Toronto isn’t exactly slouching in that department.
Last week against a potent Calgary offence, the Argos defence held the Stamps to just 14 points with the only major they allowed coming late in the fourth quarter with the Argos playing more of a prevent defence.
Even so, Isaac feels the Argos defence was at it’s finest a week earlier against B.C. Despite taking the loss, the Argos allowed the Lions only 18 points in the game.
“I think we played better against B.C. the game before that,” Isaac said when asked about the Calgary game. “I think that was a better game. Against Calgary we gave up too many explosions. Myself, I gave up one to Nik Lewis. We’re just trying to get better each week. Hopefully by the end of the year we are the best defence and hopefully we’ll be holding up the Grey Cup.”
If the Argos are holding up the Grey Cup, a guy who should be among the first to sip champagne out of the big trophy is defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones.
All Jones has done since joining the Argos this past off-season is completely overhaul a defence that was one of the worst in the league and put it in contention to be the league’s best.
“Coach Jones likes some rough guys on his defence,” Isaac, who played under Jones in Calgary, said. “He wants physical guys who will play hard and come and hit you in the mouth on every play.”
He brought two of those types from Calgary in Isaac and middle linebacker Robert McCune. He picked up two more scouring the U.S. for unsigned talent in Patrick Watkins and Marcus Ball.
Those four in particular have come in and made a huge difference in the Argos’ fortunes.
“He just lets you go and turns you loose,” is how Isaac describes Jones’ coaching philosophy. “You have some responsibilities however within those responsibilities you can be yourself. He doesn’t get on you for celebrating and being yourself. A lot of us are kind of wild guys, but we do know how to play within the rules of the game.”
And not that Isaac was going to point it out but they know how to stray outside the rules too when the need arises. Both Ball and Isaac were hit with fines this week for what the league deemed excessive straying outside those rules.
Isaac though makes no apologies for this style of play. It’s loud and proud and he’s not about to change.
Consider this response when he was asked what role intimidation plays in the game.
“To me it’s a lot,” Isaac said. “It has to be over 50%. If you come up and hit someone real hard and they see that on the sidelines, our defence feeds off that. Now the next guy comes and he might be running a similar route in the same area. Now he’s more looking to see what might be coming instead of concentrating on catching the ball. Now it’s a dropped pass. We might have given up something earlier but they dropped (the next one) because of how aggressive our defence is.”
As far as he can see, there isn’t another defence out there outside of the Lions that shows that kind of aggression on every single play.
“I still think Edmonton is a pretty good defensive team but the pecking order in my opinion would be B.C. and then us and then it just falls down after that,” Isaac said. B.C. is where a lot of teams want to be and I think we’re right behind them. Hopefully we can surpass them and take over that spot. I know we’re working very hard to accomplish that.”
KICKER'S FUTURE UP IN THE AIR
Noel Prefontaine may be 38 years old, but his body doesn’t seem to know it.
The Argos kicker, who is out the rest of the year after having surgery to repair a hip problem, revealed yesterday he is already a month ahead of schedule as far as recovery from the surgery goes.
But whether he returns to the Argos to kick, kicks somewhere else in the league or calls it a career only time and circumstance will tell.
“The doctor basically told me I will be able to kick a ball again,” Prefontaine said while leaning on crutches as practice went on behind him. “I don’t know what that means.”
That is to say whether he can kick it as long as he did pre-surgery, as accurately as he did pre-surgery or even when he’ll be able to kick again all is very much up in the air.
What Prefontaine knows without a shadow of doubt is that if he can return to the field, he would prefer to do so in Toronto.
“I don’t want to play anywhere else,” the six-time CFL all-star said. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t, but I’m an Argo. I have been the bulk of my career and this is where my home is. If I had it my way then I would definitely try to be here.”
The wrinkle in that plan is the guy he has helped groom to take his job. Swayze Waters has been kicking them long and consistently pretty much since the day he arrived in Toronto. Prefontaine was asked if helping and cheering on the guy who could wind up standing in the way of his return was at all awkward for him.
“Not at all,” he said. “The reason for that is this is about the Toronto Argonauts winning the Grey Cup. It’s not about Noel Prefontaine coming back from injury and me trying to resurrect or continue my career. This is about our football team being successful and Swayze gives us that opportunity.
“I’m extremely happy for him and if he kicks well the rest of the year I’m still going to be extremely happy for him because it will bode well for our football team,” Prefontaine said.
Prefontaine said he has taken steps to ensure gainful employment no matter what happens with football. In the off-season he worked extremely hard to put himself in good stead with a financing company in Toronto. It’s definitely Plan B
though for the longtime Argo. He still believes that if the leg is willing he’s got some kicks left in his career.
“I haven’t kicked a ball yet obviously but if it’s something that I can manage to do and I’m healthy and I’m strong, then I think I want to still play football.
THIRD (STRING) AND LONG (TERM)
It was only a little over three months ago that Trevor Harris was the talk of the Argos training camp.
Sure they had Ricky Ray in to stabilize the quarterback situation but in Harris, for the first time in a very long time, it looked like the Argos finally had a young quarterback they could bring along and develop themselves.
And they still do, only Harris is getting very little attention and less ink than ever.
Ask Scott Milanovich and he can tell you with more certainty than most that yes, that is the life of the third string quarterback.
Harris, though you have not heard of him much lately, is still very much in the Argos plans. It’s just that those plans are still very much in the future barring something unforeseen happening to one of Ricky Ray or Jarious Jackson, the two men whose names appear on the depth chart above his.
“The hard thing about being the backup quarterback is that all your hard work comes in training camp. Then you just have to stay mentally ready in the event you do get your shot.”
Fortunately for Harris, when he did get his shot in the pre-season he delivered. On that front Harris is already ahead of the game.
In fact, Harris is probably further along than most third stringers because he has had the opportunity all season to run the scout team offence, something that would normally fall to back-up Jarious Jackson who would rather work with quarterbacks coach Jason Maas doing visualization reps rather than posing as that weeks opposing quarterback.