Ex-Stamps Stars Collide in Argos-Als Tilt
For years, Keon Raymond and Nik Lewis were core pieces in Calgary, leaders on and off the field, playmakers on defence and offence, respectively, and voices that would resonate.
Monday’s visit by Montreal won’t be the first time these friends will line up against each other, but it is the first for Raymond as an Argo at a time when both the Als and Boatmen are coming off losses.
Toronto led in its game against Ottawa last week going into the fourth quarter, but would close out the evening by playing poorly in all three phases.
The Als were wretched, especially on offence, in losing to the visiting Ticats the following night, one of those lopsided losses that irritated Lewis, in his second year with Montreal, to the point where he basically called out his teammates.
His days as a go-to receiving option are clearly behind him, but Lewis, 34, has a respect level not many in the CFL can match, a competitive edge that Raymond got to see first-hand when he joined the Stamps in 2008. He quickly understood the importance of learning from Lewis and all that he had to offer.
“When I came into the league as a rookie he (Lewis) was definitely one of the top receivers in the league,’’ said Raymond. “I was in that SAM (strong side linebacker) position and he taught me a lot about the game. On and off the field, you watched how he conducted himself. In my opinion, he’s a first-ballot hall of famer. Watching all the things he’s done over the years, I’ve got a ton of respect for Nik.”
When you first look at the 5-foot-10, 240-pound Lewis and his body type, you’d think he was a fullback. Raymond thought he lined up on defence.
“He’s one of those good people,’’ added Raymond. “But he’d better be laying off those donuts, that poutine he’s having in Montreal or that smoked meat. I tell the guys, even when we played them in the pre-season, don’t let his size fool you.
“He’s athletic, he’s a playmaker and I think the way he looks is one of the things I noticed when I came to Calgary and others judge him. He doesn’t pass the look test, but he’s a player. He can play football and he deserves the ultimate respect.”
To say Lewis is unique would be to state the obvious. He is gritty, professional, prideful, lethal when running underneath routes and hard to bring down when he’s running downhill.
He’s never been known for his flat-out speed, but there aren’t many in football who tell it like it is or are unafraid to say things that aren’t always popular.
Raymond is a leader on Toronto’s defence, someone whose voice carries a lot of weight and meaning.
At 2-2, the Argos are desperate for a win. But based on how terrible Montreal looked last week, the Als are equally desperate.
Of the two, there’s much more at stake for the Argos, who have yet to win at BMO Field and who looked to have come together following back-to-back road wins in Regina and B.C.
It’s also a divisional game with the Argos having dropped games to Hamilton and Ottawa.
“In this game, there are no more ‘hand-me’ games anymore,’’ said Raymond of the CFL’s parity and how no game and no opponent is a given. “I’ve been in this league, and this is my ninth year, and you can chop up a victory, but the talent is now even across the board now. You have to come in and play week in and week out. Those guys get paid as well.
“For us to think we can overlook any team, we’re fooling ourselves. They (the Als) are a good football team. They’re coming in with their backs against the wall and they’re hungry. First, we’ve got to prove we can win at home. We haven’t done that yet. As a leader, I’m getting our guys on defence to be ready, to play sound football and that we’re communicating, avoiding those self-inflicted wounds because they hurt you.
“At the end of the day, I think we’ll be fine if we play the game we’re used to playing, like we did in Saskatchewan and B.C., and translate that into our home field.”
MCPHERSON IS BACK … AGAIN
One minute he’s competing for the backup job at quarterback, the next he’s gone and now he’s back — an illustration of the mercurial world that is pro football.
Adrian McPherson was summoned by the Argos to provide some veteran presence, much the way they reached out to him last season when the team need an experienced arm if Trevor Harris got hurt.
McPherson was released on the eve of the 2016 season when the team decided to go with Logan Kilgore as backup and rookie Cody Fajardo as the third-stringer.
Fajardo scored a rushing major against Ottawa, his first in the CFL, in last week’s 30-20 home loss to the Redblacks.
Other than adding depth and signing someone with intimate knowledge of the offence, it’s hard to see how McPherson will get reps.
He’s the ultimate pro and team player and there’s always room for such people.
The Argos also announced on Wednesday the signing of international defensive end Michael Buchanan, a Chicago native who played at Illinois with the Fighting Illini.
Buchanan spent part of last season on B.C.’s practice roster and has had stints in the NFL with New England and Buffalo.
GREENWOOD IN, OWUSU-ANSAH OUT
Like every other organization in the nine-team CFL, the Argonauts have faced some early-season adversity on the injury front, with a starter going down at a rate of about one a week.
Following an off-day on Tuesday, the Argos were back on the practice for a light workout on Wednesday, a day head coach Scott Milanovich would announce that linebacker Cory Greenwood is a possible go for Monday night’s kickoff against visiting Montreal.
Greenwood hurt his hand in Toronto’s loss to Ottawa last week and will meet with a specialist this Friday.
For obvious reasons, the Argos will know a lot more in the next few days.
If Greenwood can’t go, Thomas Miles seems to be a viable option, Toronto’s third-year linebacker who filled in for Greenwood last season when the latter twice suffered concussions, both times during games played in Hamilton.
“I think he’s going to play on Monday,’’ said Milanovich of Greenwood.
The Argos also announced that defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was placed on the six-game injured list with a torn pectoral, though the reality is that his season is toast.
“He’s done,’’ said Milanovich.
Jermaine Gabriel, Toronto’s starting safety, is out with a concussion, his second in four games.
The Argos follow orders from medical experts, who cleared Gabriel to play after being carted off the field in Week 1 versus Hamilton with a head/neck injury that required hospitalization.
Tori Gurley, a late scratch against the Redblacks with a lower body injury, didn’t take part in Wednesday’s gathering, but Milanovich expects his big receiver to be available for the Als.
IN PRAISE OF CALVILLO
Five years came and went, five years for Scott Milanovich to be around Anthony Calvillo, countless occasions f to admire A.C.’s work ethic and prowess on the field until a concussion ultimately paved the way for the Alouettes quarterback’s exit from the game.
Calvillo now oversees Montreal’s offence, a struggling, limited unit missing some key pieces that was completely exposed by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in last Friday night’s humbling setback at home.
“He talked about not wanting to coach back then,’’ said Milanovich, who served at different times as QBs coach and offensive co-ordinator of the Alouettes from 2007-11.
He couldn’t help but smile when asked if he ever envisioned Calvillo as a coach.
“Great work ethic,” The Argos head coach replied. “I mean, I’d get to the office early and he’d be there at the same time. He was smart, very deliberate in how he attacked the Xs and Os as player and I’m sure he’s the same way as a coach. Great passion and it’s not surprising (to see Calvillo as a coach).”
As Milanovich is well aware, the amount of hours a player puts in pales in comparison to what a coach is asked to commit when preparing for an opponent, something Calvillo is now experiencing in his first season as offensive co-ordinator.
With no Kevin Glenn to turn to, the Als went with second-year quarterback Rakeem Cato last week.
Receiver S.J. Green was out and will be unavailable for the entire season following a knee injury.
Tyrell Sutton, Montreal’s incumbent running back, is out and so too is receiver Kenny Stafford.
It was ugly the way Montreal’s offence operated to the point where it seemed like no play could be produced.
Eventually, Montreal’s stout defence caved in and when a special teams score was yielded, it was game over.
The key for the Argos offence on Monday is to avoid second and predictable, which means making productive yards on first down.
“You get into trouble when it’s second and 10, second and 15 and they (Als defence) can make you one dimensional because they know you’ve got to throw it, you can’t run play action and then they become a problem to protect,’’ added Milanovich.
“If I had to pick one thing, it’s making hay on first down against them to the point where you can keep them off-balance where they can’t make you predictable.”
Milanovich isn’t a numbers guy, but he can tell you how the Argos weren’t good on first down against Hamilton, though they’ve been decent at times.
“Where we’re getting in trouble is the false starts, things like that, where penalties put you back. That’s what it feels like to me,’’ added Milanovich.
The Scullers’ O-line needs to be better as well or quarterback Ricky Ray has no chance of making it through the season.
The Als O-line couldn’t handle Hamilton’s pressure and it got out of hand when edge rushes led to sacks.
Against the Redblacks, the Argos’ protection was good for three quarters.
“In the fourth quarter, they got after us on four plays, which was probably obvious and it stood out,’’ said Milanovich. “We were getting beat. I think they’re fine.
“I always tell our offensive line we’ll play like they play. People will talk about Ricky, the receivers, this or that, but you still win games up front.”