July 29, 2019

Hogan: Argos channel their inner pinball

It’s not an easy proposition.

Putting a positive spin on an 0-6 record, coming off a game where they were shutout for the first time in a decade, is virtually impossible. Then again, nobody said pro football was supposed to be easy.

For Toronto Argonauts Head Coach Corey Chamblin, part of his job description at this stage is keeping the team strong mentally while it continues trying to find its way into the win column.

At this stage, however, the coach sees more problems in terms of being assignment friendly than having a perfect attitude.

“It’s just about executing,” the coach told Argonauts.ca. “I look at the league there’s always someone missing a tackle, someone’s always missing a throw, we’ve just had an enormous amount of those things and you can’t have those on each play.”

Despite the ‘oh fer’ this year, the amazing thing is that the Argos aren’t out of the playoff race – in fact, they’re far from being out of contention. Entering Week Eight they’re just two wins behind Ottawa and a half-dozen points behind the Alouettes.

That’s not something the coach uses as a motivational tool.

“That’s not even something in my mindset,” admitted the coach. “It wouldn’t matter if we were four points ahead in a playoff spot. The biggest thing right now is trying to set a culture where every day is about winning. Right now you have to learn how to win, that’s when you’re up, keeping the lead, when you’re down, finding a way to come back.”

A team that can boast Michael “Pinball” Clemons as one of its best-ever players and coaches could borrow from one of his greatest qualities. The Pied Piper of positivity could simply state that the Argos can make the playoffs by playing well against their East Division rivals. The Boatmen have five games left against the Als and Redblacks, they also have two games remaining against Hamilton, a team now forced to answer a rather large question at quarterback with the season-ending injury to Jeremiah Masoli.

If the Argos are going to make a run for a post-season berth it will be largely due to the play of the defence, which was on the field in Edmonton for 38:15, yet yielded just 13 points in each half.

The defence has once again been led by Cleyon Laing. The team’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player a year ago, the interior lineman has four sacks in the last four games, which has moved him into a tie for third place in the league in that category.

The Edmonton native is trying to get through the team’s struggles by concentrating on something he can control – his own play.

“My motto for the past couple weeks has been try to do your job the best you can”, said Laing. “Whatever your motivation is, whether it’s to make it to the Grey Cup, whether it’s to win a game, whether it’s to feed your family, I love my contract and I want to keep it. Whatever it is that motivates you to get this first ‘W’ and get it rolling, we’ve got to find that.”

Laing says that like Chamblin he’s not checking out the standings, he’s just focused on trying to get that elusive first win. Trying to stay positive through this particularly nasty streak has had its challenges.

“It’s definitely not easy,” conceded the Iowa State product. “You have a lot of outside sources that are questioning why things aren’t going our way, and not having a solid answer as to why is a frustrating aspect of it.”

While Laing leads by example, Alden Darby Jr. is more a vocal leader. The defensive back has rebounded from a tough start to the season and has contributed two interceptions and a goal-line fumble recovery in the last three games.

“At the snap of a finger the table can turn just like that,” said the Arizona State grad, before emphasizing that this team is close to turning it around, drawing from first-hand experience. “My first year in 2017 I was a part of a team that was 9-9 and won the Grey Cup. Being a part of something like that and understanding how things can shift like that at the snap of a finger and knowing we’re right there.”

The Long Beach, California native maintains the Argos aren’t that far away from turning the corner.

“Teams may see scores and they may see stats,” said Darby, “But if you really break down the film you see how close we are to being great, then you’ll understand why in this locker room we’re not tripping, we’re not folding at all.”

Players like Darby and Laing are essential to the team remaining strong mentally. They’ve been through tough times on the field before and that ability to draw from experience and share it with some of the younger players is vitally important, especially when things aren’t going exactly as the team had planned.