TORONTO - Scott Milanovich can’t recall the exact sequence, the precise time, the moment when one of the Argos’ starting offensive linemen was felled in a game everyone took for granted.
Wayne Smith wasn’t going to determine the winner of this Sunday’s Eastern semifinal, but suddenly his absence casts doubts on Toronto’s ability to protect Ricky Ray, who is undeniably the biggest advantage the Argos possess over the visiting Edmonton Eskimos.
Wayne Smith wasn’t going to earn any all-star consideration, but with so much on the line in a win-or-go-home scenario, veterans of his ilk aren’t easily replaceable.
In his first year in Double Blue, the veteran Smith gave it virtually everything he had, leaving everything out on the surface, even in times of difficulty when he couldn’t hold his block or he’d get flagged for a holding infraction that would deny the Argos field position.
When he addressed the media on Tuesday, Milanovich announced the veteran Smith had undergone surgery to repair a torn triceps suffered in last week’s win over Hamilton in the season finale, an injury that has effectively ended Smith’s season.
Throughout his career, Smith and the injury bug have become almost inseparable.
As a former first overall draft pick, the classy Smith jumped at the opportunity to play in Toronto, where he’d be given every opportunity to start and silence the critics who felt he no longer could line up as an incumbent.
The season began in Edmonton with Smith starting at left tackle, a move that allowed the Argos to field an all-Canadian line similar to the structure in Montreal, a luxury that allows teams to use an import at some other position.
As time went on, Smith would be moved inside to guard, replaced at Ray’s blindside by import Tony Washington.
And now, Smith’s time is up, an injury that may give Smith pause to consider his long-term future in three-down football.
So determined was Smith was to make an impression that he basically put aside all off-field business ventures this past off-season to focus on getting his body and mind in football shape.
It’s a sad ending for a guy who deserved better, an injury that takes away a veteran layer on Toronto’s offensive line, which yielded seven sacks in the two games played against the Esks this season, both Edmonton wins.
In football parlance, Smith tried to execute what he’s done countless times against the Ticats.
“He went to punch somebody on a set,’’ Milanovich said. “And it just popped. That’s the best I can give you.”
Andrew Jones, who was acquired via free agency from B.C., would seem to be the logical choice to line up at Smith’s position, but Joe Eppele, who has started at right guard, looms as a likely option.
While rookie Joel Reinders made his debut last week, the Waterloo product still requires time to re-acquaint himself with the Canadian game.
Given Ray’s ability to deliver the football quickly, Toronto’s offensive line doesn’t have to be perfect, but one blown assignment that leads to an unblocked path to the backfield may doom the Argos.
“He’s a hell of a player,’’ starting right tackle Chris Van Zeyl said of Smith. “It’s a loss, but given the preparation we get week in and week out the guys behind will be able to fill the void.”
It remains to seen who will line up where on Edmonton’s defensive line, which, when healthy, had moments when it dominated the line of scrimmage against the Argos.
When they did send an extra defender, Damaso Munoz came from his linebacker position to record one of four sacks in Edmonton’s 26-17 win on Aug. 27 at Rogers Centre.
“I’ll give them credit,’’ added Van Zeyl, when reminded of Edmonton’s sack total versus the Argos. “At the end of the day, if we play our best and they play their best we’re coming out on top.”