Michael Clemons addresses Argos ahead of game vs. Eskimos
Toronto aims for 4th straight win
When Michael (Pinball) Clemons speaks, the Toronto Argonauts listen.
The club's former head coach and current vice-chair delivered an animated 10-minute address to the team following Friday's practice as the Argonauts prepare to host the Edmonton Eskimos.
Toronto (4-2) enters Sunday's game tops in the CFL East Division and riding a three-game winning streak, while Edmonton (1-5) limps into Rogers Centre in the West basement.
It's not the first time Clemons, a star Toronto running back on the field and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame off it, has spoken to the Argonauts while a member of the club's front office. He stood up in front of the team during a losing streak last season and again prior to the Argonauts' victory in the 100th Grey Cup.
So why have Pinball attend an already spirited practice ahead of a mid-August game against a team tied for last in the league?
"I was fortunate to have a surprise visitor and he's always welcome," Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich said coyly before adding: "Pinball played here, coached here and he's a lifetime Argo — and then also the best speaker I've ever been around. He's one of us and the players feel like he's one of them, and he is.
"To have such a dynamic speaker who they feel is part of the family, it's just another voice."
Argonauts defensive tackle Kalif Mitchell is in his first season with Toronto but sees the value in what Clemons has to offer.
"It gives us a perspective of somebody who's not playing, but played the game and also understands how the game should be played," Mitchell said. "He gives it to us raw. He never gives it to us sugarcoated."
One treat for the Argonauts so far in 2013 has been the play of veteran quarterback Ricky Ray.
The 33-year-old former Eskimos pivot, who has missed one game with a knee injury, is third in CFL passing with 1,355 yards and second in touchdowns with 11, to go along with zero interceptions.
But while Ray has completed 34-of-38 passes for 438 yards with five TDs in his last two starts, he and his teammates are taking nothing for granted against the Eskimos.
"The challenge when you're playing well and winning football games is to not let up and start going through the motions and think that we're playing good right now and we'll show up for gametime," said Ray, who joined Toronto after a trade with Edmonton before last season. "We've still got to do the things that have gotten us to this point, which is practise hard, study, and pay attention to all those little details."
With a game against the Calgary Stampeders (5-1 heading into Saturday's game against the B.C. Lions) on deck next week, the Argos could be excused for looking past an Edmonton team that will be minus last season's outstanding defensive player J.C. Sherritt, who is out indefinitely after thumb surgery.
But the Eskimos come in off their bye week following close losses of five points to the Montreal Alouettes and one point to Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"We respect all of our opponents not matter what their record is. We just make sure that when we go out we carry ourselves to a certain expectation and a certain standard," Mitchell said. "Every game, no matter what the records or where you've been, the score starts 0-0."
Edmonton's offence, although last in the CFL, has produced 25.6 points per game in its three previous outings.
"It's just about us just going out and playing football. There's a lot of noise and stuff that's going to surround a 1-5 team. We just have to go play football," Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed said this week. "There's no extra stress that we can add to ourselves. That's not good for this football team. We have to be focused on execution and that's simply it."
While the Eskimos are without their heart and soul on defence, the Argnonauts have done well to plug holes on an offence that has seen injuries at all of the skill positions.
Ray missed one game with a knee injury, starting running back Chad Kackert is out long term with a knee injury of his own and receiver Dontrelle Inman has been out with a leg injury.
Inman has been taking first-team reps this week at practice and Milanovich said he's "hopeful" he will be good to go against Edmonton.
Inman's impending return makes for a complicated situation at receiver because of the strong play of rookie John Chiles, who caught two TDs in Toronto's victory over Montreal last week.
In the backfield, the Argos could have a different starting running back for the third time in four games. After Kackert went down, Curtis Steele played well but picked up a groin injury in last week's victory over Montreal. If Steele can't go or is limited on Sunday, former NFLer Quinn Porter will likely come off the practice roster.
Toronto's depth on offence, which includes backup quarterback Zach Collaros' three-touchdown debut in place of the injured Ray in Week 5, has been impressive in the early going of 2013.
"We'll never make excuses. We believe in the guys that are here," Milanovich said. "We've been very fortunate that the guys that have got their chance have played well."