TORONTO – The defending Grey Cup champions have seen it all before. It’s a simple case of players attempting to do more than what is necessary.
With temperatures in Toronto sizzling above 30 degrees Celsius this week, the Argonauts turned their attention to correcting glaring deficiencies on the defensive side of the football ahead of Friday night’s game in Winnipeg.
However, the persisting mistakes are not as complex as originally anticipated. The adjustments that the Argonauts have made this week focus on executing the team’s defensive game plan and adhering to each player’s specific responsibilities.
“We had a lot of stuff that we didn’t execute on as far as techniques and different leverage points but after we finished watching film, it wasn’t as bad as we thought,” commented Argonauts defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell following Wednesday’s practice. “It was just more that responsibilities weren’t covered.”
The Argonauts defence is currently ranked last in 11 different defensive categories through three weeks of play, including most points against with a disappointing total of 97.
Despite the early season struggles, the Argonauts realize that the season is still young. While many players continue to adjust to their new surroundings, the team understands that it will take some time in order to develop a comfort level that will have everyone on the same page.
“Guys need to be comfortable with the guys that are out there. Guys need to be understanding of their areas of the field and we play different types of defences so they just have to understand where they fit in,” said Mitchell. “We’ve got a lot more communication, the comradery is there so as long as we see that, we always have a chance to do great things.”
Something that certainly isn’t lacking on the defensive side of the football is effort. Argonauts defensive coordinator Chris Jones preaches fast paced and high intensity football, a philosophy that contributed to the Argonauts’ defensive success a year ago.
“I see a lot of guys just trying to give it their all and give their best. I see a lot of guys going hard, you don’t see a lot of guys loafing, which is a good thing; you don’t see guys giving up on plays, they’re going out and trying to make the best play,” explained Mitchell.
The Argonauts’ hulking defensive tackle understands the trials and tribulations that can be presented over the course of a grueling 18-game schedule. In order for the Argonauts to eradicate their defensive woes, Mitchell says it begins with establishing an identity, more specifically, a team-first mentality.
“One thing about it is that we’re not in camp. It’s not showcasing, it’s a teamwork concept,” stated Mitchell. “We’ve got a lot of younger guys and it takes just a little while longer for them to understand that… they’ve learned it already, but they have to understand why it’s important.”
Mitchell is not overly concerned with the Argonauts’ sluggish start to the 2013 campaign. The veteran defensive lineman is confident that the team will use their 1-2 start as extra motivation to consistently improve and be prepared for every challenge that may be presented over the course of the remainder of the season.
“Looking at 1-2 as our record and going ahead, I don’t have any worries that we won’t get it done on the other end,” said Mitchell. “When every weekend comes up, I’m sure every single team is as ready as they are going to be. I don’t look at one game and say one team is better than the other. The (Blue Bombers) have a lot of things they can beat us with as far as what they have with their running back and they have a good receiving core.”
Cornerback Patrick Watkins shares the same sentiment as his veteran defensive lineman and adds that trust is a pivotal factor in overcoming the Argonauts’ defensive woes.
“The trust factor is going to be there. The coaches trust each of us. The thing that we’re going to work on is the learning curve as far as adjustments, being in the right place at the right time, and learning how to bait quarterbacks,” said Watkins as he addressed the media following Wednesday’s practice. “With it being week three, last year I had a learning curve. I went through the same thing a lot of guys are going through now so I understand what’s going on.”
Watkins is entering his second season as a member of the Argonauts and missed a majority of this year’s training camp while tending to a personal matter in his home state of Florida. The 30-year-old is not making any excuses for the team’s poor defensive play and says that if the Double Blue are to correct their defensive issues, it begins by bringing an elevated level of intensity to practice.
“If I want my teammates to be better, I’m not going to go out there and play half-speed at practice, I’m going to go hard and make them work better,” stated Watkins.
The Argonauts defence embraces the role of being the underdog. Last week against Saskatchewan, the Roughriders made it a point of emphasis to exploit the Argonauts’ new-look defensive front as they handed the ball off to running back Kory Sheets 26 times, resulting in 178 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the Argonauts defensive front is using last week’s loss as extra incentive in preparation for Friday night’s tilt with Blue Bombers star running back Chad Simpson.
“I think it’s very similar to last week. Again, they have a great O-line for running the ball and they also have a shifty, mobile running back. I think we’ll be better this week because it’s kind of like round two,” said Argonauts defensive lineman David Lee. “Last week was really the first week we got consistently run on so we’ve had a week to adjust, a week to watch film to see where things went wrong so I think we’ll be ready.”
“When you’re given more responsibility, you really have to step up,” added Lee. “We’re expecting them to come out hard. They know that we’re 1-2 and we really want to get back to .500. We’re not starting the season quite how we’d like so they know that we’re coming and I expect nothing less from them.”
When asked about the Argonauts’ approach towards containing the Bombers’ offence and pressuring quarterback Buck Pierce, starting defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell remarked, “Anybody who has the ball in their hands can do different things. We have to get Buck to feel that he can’t sit in the pocket and make him feel that he has to move. That’s our job to get that done. He’s not just going to do that… we (have to) make him do that.”
The significance of Friday night’s game in Winnipeg cannot be understated and with the clustered Eastern Division standings, the Argonauts are determined to get back on track with a victory on Friday night.