Argonauts taking responsibility for team penalty woes
Toronto is CFL's most penalized team through first 11 games
Jordan Younger and his teammates have taken the issue of addressing the Toronto Argonauts' penalty woes into their own hands.
The Argos held a players-only meeting Tuesday to discuss the contentious matter and with good reason. Through 11 regular-season games, Toronto is the CFL's most penalized team (124 calls for 1,147 yards).
And that was especially evident in the club's 28-23 road loss to the B.C. Lions, a game that saw Toronto flagged 13 times for 124 yards.
Younger said players haven't decided yet on what form of punishment will be handed out — be it fines or offenders running sprints or gassers after practice — but all were in agreement the issue needed addressing.
"We just have to find a way to get better and be more accountable to our teammates," he said. "We're not looking at it as the end of the world kind of thing but we know if we eliminate the penalties it will give us a better chance to win games."
First-year head coach Scott Milanovich has continually preached the importance of discipline to his players since training camp. But it seems the message has often fallen on deaf ears as Toronto is the only CFL team to have amassed over 1,000 yards in penalties this season.
This time, however, Milanovich is hopeful peer pressure will help resolve the issue.
"Any time they take accountability for their actions and for the team it's much better than when a coach stands up and says something in front of them," Milanovich said. "When you [a coach] say too much it becomes in one ear out the other.
"It's better when it comes from their peers, it's much more important in my opinion. Hopefully it will carry some weight. Clearly something needs to be done to get it rectified and I think it's a good start."
Despite the penchant for penalties, Toronto (6-5) has succeeded on the field, currently standing second in the East Division behind first-place Montreal (7-4) heading into an important road contest Sunday against the Alouettes.
Plenty at stake
With so much riding on the final seven regular-season games — like top spot in the conference and home-field advantage for the division final — the reality is a bad penalty in a big game could come back to haunt the Argos.
"Last week is a perfect example," Milanovich said. "One play never makes a difference but you could look at a number of those penalties and say, 'If we hadn't had this one we would've scored a touchdown. If we wouldn't have done this one they wouldn't have scored.'
"I don't think we even need to wait for that [bad penalty coming back to hurt Argos]. I think it has been proven."
"We got 12 penalties [against B.C.] and I'm going to say three of them I can live with," he said. "The others were unacceptable.
"Some are going to happen, like a facemask, that happens in football. You're going to get some holding calls when you play an aggressive bump-and-run man-to-man. But there are too many unnecessary penalties."
Still, Milanovich drew a lot of positives from Saturday's loss to the defending Grey Cup champions and the team that sports the CFL's best record at 8-3.
"I'm not the least bit discouraged about the way we played," he said. "Certainly we can play better and execute better but you also have to give them credit, they're a good football team and we battled them for four quarters.
"We would've liked to play tighter relative to the penalties and some of the mistakes but we didn't and still had a chance to win. I've said it a number of times, those guys believe they can beat anybody when they play well and I think they still believe that."
Addressing the penalty issue is a touchy matter, though, because all coaches want their players to be aggressive, to play on the edge and attack at top speed. Often that leaves players precious little time to react to an on-field situation and decide to let up.
"It's a fine line when you want to be aggressive and physical and do all those things," Milanovich said. "But then you have to play smart and pull off a guy when he's a yard out of bounds and not take a penalty that is unnecessary.
"Those are the ones that are upsetting and concerning, the personal foul penalties. There's going to be the occasional pass interference penalty when you play man-to-man defence but the thing we have to cut out is the personal fouls, the shoving after the whistle, things like that that are just unnecessary."
And quarterback Ricky Ray knows exactly where the players can start addressing the issue.
"I honestly believe it starts in practice," he said. "If guys are being lazy in practice or making mistakes in practice we've got to get it cleaned up before the game."