Dontrelle Inman passes Argos' chemistry test

Argonauts wide receiver Dontrelle Inman catches a touchdown pass in front of Tiger-Cats defensive...

Argonauts wide receiver Dontrelle Inman catches a touchdown pass in front of Tiger-Cats defensive back Ricardo Colclough at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Nov. 1, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuteres)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:10 PM ET

TORONTO - It may be professional football’s most-used word — other than the four-letter kind.

Chemistry: 1. A complex entity or process; 2. The emotional or psychological interaction between two people.

It is used to explain how Cleo Lemon never could figure out how to deliver a football without a UPS sticker. It is used to explain how Anthony Calvillo could find a ghost in a fog. It is used to describe why teams can’t win. It is used to describe why teams do win.

Everybody expected Jason Barnes and Ricky Ray to have chemistry when they came to Toronto from Edmonton. Barnes was coming off a career season — 869 yards on 50 catches and seven touchdowns. He was joining an Argonauts team in desperate need of receivers.

“It definitely didn’t turn out like I expected,” Barnes said Thursday. “It seemed it would be a lot of easier for me and Ricky to be on the same page as last year. But it just didn’t pan out. Other players stepped up.”

One of those other players was an unlikely second-year pro whose resume included just four pre-season games in 2011 with Jacksonville.

“I knew I’d have to make an impression early,” said Dontrelle Inman. “I learned from being in Jacksonville that camp is quick. You have to make your statement early or you’re gone.”

While Barnes and Ray looked like strangers, Inman latched on to a couple of long passes during a mock game that had people looking at each other with raised eyebrows. When Mo Mann injured his leg, Inman was inserted into the lineup and in the second game of the season there was a 107-yard outing with two TDs against Calgary.

“Without that opportunity at the beginning of the year, who knows where I’d be?” Inman said. “I was playing well in practice but there’s only a certain number of slots available.”

Inman would end up with three 100-plus yard games and suddenly, along with the emergence of Chad Owens, the maturation of Andre Durie, and a healthy Mann, with a little help from Mike Bradwell and Kenyon Rambo, the Argonauts now have a receiving corps with more able bodies than places to put them.

“To be honest, it’s hard to explain the whole chemistry thing,” Inman said. “Everybody talks about it.” But, he’s not sure what it is.

He’s not certain how to get it. All he knows is Ray and he seem to have found it.

“I guess for us chemistry is if he had his eyes closed he’d know where I’d be; or if I had my eyes closed I’d still know where the ball is. That’s what it feels like because I can run a route and look at a certain spot and know the ball will be right there.

“Or he’s scrambled and he’ll know I’m going to be at a specific spot.”

It’s not something that can be taught, or more people would teach it. It isn’t learned, either. “I’ve never had it before with anyone, not to this extent,” said Inman. “In a career like mine — nobody even knew who I was coming in here — who would think I’d get a quarterback like this. It’s crazy.”

Tell Barnes how crazy this game can be.

He had just one touchdown through Toronto’s first eight games and the Argos released him. Shortly after they resigned him to the practice roster. “You can lose chemistry just as well as find it. Jason Barnes and I had a history together,” explains Ray, “and with me and him we just weren’t connecting earlier in the season. I don’t know why it happens and I don’t think there’s really a lot you can do about it except to keep working at it.”

For Barnes it is just the latest unexpected sideroad in a career that included a career-threatening ruptured spleen Oct. 2010, while making a catch in Edmonton’s 36-11 loss to Hamilton. The Eskimos also released him in 2011 prior to his break-out season amid concerns over an ankle injury.

“Maybe if this (latest setback) had happened earlier in my career I might have gotten mentally down about it but I’ve learned to take the punches as they come,” said Barnes, a quiet, introspective California native. “You can’t be selfish in this industry ... and you embrace your role whatever it is.”

His season ended with just 31 catches for 437 yards and four TDs. But, when Inman was sidelined with a hamstring, Barnes came back and it hasn’t been without an inkling he and Ray could recapture the magic. He had three touchdown catches in a 44-32 loss to Winnipeg on Oct. 19. Ten of his catches have come in the past three games and he says it helps to have a sounding board close to home. He speaks often with his brother and NBA veteran, Matt Barnes. “It’s been tough but I perseverved. I watched my bother getting cut in the NBA and bounce around so I know its part of pro sports. I learned from him just to keep working ... and good things will happen.”

And, they could happen as soon as this weekend. While head coach Scott Milanovich hasn’t announced who his receivers will be for the East semifinal, all of Inman, Mann and Barnes have been taking reps with the first team. For Inman, it would mean his first chance at a playoff game since catching two passes as a freshman for Virginia in the 2007 Gator Bowl. For Barnes, he admits getting a chance to play against his former team in a winner-take-all playoff would be special.

“I know people always like to downplay this kind of thing but they’ve beaten us twice this season. When these kind of games come up you circle them ... to be on the field at crunch time would mean a lot.”

Enough, perhaps, to count as a mulligan against a season gone awry.


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