Argos' QB Lemon adjusting to the CFL game
Published Tuesday, July 13, 2010 6:56PM EDT
TORONTO - Three weeks into the CFL season Cleo Lemon admits he's still adjusting to playing a different game in a different country with a different team.
But at least the first-year CFL quarterback will have some familiarity to build upon Thursday night when he leads the Toronto Argonauts into their home opener against the Calgary Stampeders (TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET) for the second time in less than two weeks.
The 30-year-old Lemon, who played for four teams in eight NFL seasons, made his CFL debut in Toronto's 30-16 season-opening loss to Calgary on July 1. In that game, the Stampeders predictably brought pressure against Lemon to disrupt his timing as well as keep the Argos offence off balance. The move worked as Lemon was sacked three times and finished 16-of-28 passing for 192 yards and an interception while being sacked three times.
Last week in Winnipeg, Lemon seemed more confident and in control in leading Toronto past the Bombers. Lemon finished 15-of-23 passing for 162 yards and no interceptions and also had three carries for 22 yards, including a nine-yard TD run.
More importantly, the Argos (1-1) had no turnovers in halting an ugly nine-game losing streak with the victory, the club's first since a 25-22 overtime win on Sept. 11, 2009, against Hamilton.
"I'm getting there," Lemon said of his progression as a CFL starter. "It's one of those things where you get more looks on the practice field and I'm getting more game experience.
"You've got to kind of get settled in but we're going up against an aggressive defence and I definitely have to be more patient but at the same time be more aggressive and take care of the football.
"It's tough to go out and get a win on the road and for us to accomplish that in Winnipeg gives us a lot of confidence going into the home opener and to build on that momentum would be great for us."
Both teams are playing on a short week. Toronto defeated Winnipeg 36-34 on Friday night while Calgary (2-0) earned a 23-22 road win in Hamilton on Saturday and has remained in Steeltown this week preparing for the Argos.
But Lemon doesn't believe his task gets any easier despite facing the Stampeders defence for the second time.
"I wouldn't say easier because these guys are opportunistic," he said. "You have to be really disciplined in your reads and hopefully that's what I'll continue to do."
Argos coach Jim Barker took a little heat when he named Lemon his starter because Lemon had no previous CFL experience and backup Dalton Bell performed well in exhibition games. But Barker says he sees Lemon getting better every day.
"Every snap he takes, every snap he watches, every game he watches on television he becomes more and more in tune to what the CFL game is all about," Barker said. "Obviously, Cleo is a work in progress and he's continuing to grow.
"But he has those qualities you have to have to have success in this league and as long as he maintains his composure, doesn't do too much and does the things to manage the game we have a chance to be pretty good."
Lemon certainly got plenty of support against Winnipeg. Tailback Cory Boyd rushed for a game-high 109 yards and a TD while Chad Owens returned a missed field goal 117 yards for a touchdown.
Barker said the emergence of a consistent running game would prove very beneficial to Lemon.
"Everything softens up when you can run the ball," he said. "What was most impressive to me was at the end of the (Winnipeg) game when we were up by six points and we needed to run the ball to run the clock.
"You can tell a good running team when you have to run the ball when the other team knows you're going to run ... that's what we're striving for, to be a team that can run the ball when we want to."
Calgary's offensive line was decimated this off-season with the retirements of Jeff Pilon and Jesse Newman and departure of Dimitri Tsoumpas (NFL's Miami Dolphins) while the club rebuilt its linebacking corps as well as opted to go with rookie kicker Rob Maver after veteran Sandro DeAngelis left to sign with Hamilton as a free agent.
And yet despite the adversity, the Stampeders are tied with Saskatchewan atop the West Division. But head coach-GM John Hufnagel is wary about Toronto.
"We need to play good football to have a chance to win," he said. "It's their home opener, they got a win last week and will be coming out ready to play.
"We have to come out to meet that intensity."
Stampeders' receiver P.K. Sam will make his first return to Toronto since being dealt to Alberta for slotback Jeremaine Copeland in the off-season.
"The whole trade process was a compliment to me," he said. "I don't feel pressure. I feel the whole staff felt I could bring something and I just have to go out there and do it.
"It's part of the business. I try not to get too attached because when you do you can get your emotions caught up and it can hurt you in a lot of ways. It can turn into a 'Me game' or 'Me wanting to do this or that.' I can honestly say that's not the case at all. If I have one catch or 10 as long as we leave with more points, I'm cool."
Prior to heading to Calgary for the season opener, Copeland was very vocal about how he had circled July 1 on his calendar moments after being dealt and that he was heading to Alberta with a huge chip on his shoulder. Copeland, who spent five seasons with the Stampeders, said the chip remains but he's not bent on revenge.
"It's not like I hate anyone there or hate the organization," Copeland said. "I just want to win.
"That's the competitor in me and the way I'm always going to be."