The biggest question mark that involved the Argonauts as they headed into training camp two weeks ago surrounded the quarterback position.
Ken Dorsey made it clear in the early stages he had plenty to learn about the CFL game and a fortnight later, that remains the same. Danny Brannagan, trying to buck the unwritten CFL rule that Canadian quarterbacks don’t have a place in the league, never was considered a serious contender.
That leaves Dalton Bell and Cleo Lemon.
Based on his play in the two pre-season games, Bell should be the Argonauts’ starter when the Boatmen step between the lines on the night of Canada Day in Calgary to take on the Stampeders.
Bell, simply, has been better than Lemon, and as such, deserves the privilege of being named the Argos’ No. 1 quarterback.
But expect the announcement — likely on Tuesday as the Argos reconvene for practice at Erindale after two days away from the field — that Lemon has won the job as the starter, and will be the one taking the first snap against the Stamps.
Yes, Lemon has a greater ability to move out of trouble and, at least in Montreal against the Alouettes on Saturday, carried the ball with few problems. Lemon gained 45 yards on five carries, while Bell rushed once for five yards. A week earlier against Hamilton, Lemon had 18 yards on one run, Bell five yards on one run.
And both did their part in helping Cory Boyd rush for 147 yards against Montreal.
Barker said months ago that he wanted an explosive offence, one that could complete the long ball and keep defences guessing. That’s where Bell has separated himself from Lemon. Bell has produced a couple of touchdown drives, while Lemon could not get the Argos in the end zone.
Both men seem sure of themselves in the pocket, but where Lemon has overthrown receivers, Bell has hit the target. Coincidentally, both attempted 26 passes in the two pre-season games. Lemon completed 10 for 99 yards, with no reception going longer than 16 yards. Bell completed 18 passes for 341 yards, his longest connection for 56 yards with slotback Andre Durie on Sunday. Accuracy has to count for something.
Scoring touchdowns for the Argos in the past couple of seasons has come about as easily as British Petroleum’s ability to cap a leaking oil well. Lemon didn’t produce any majors in the pre-season. Given that, how will Barker justify making Lemon his starter on July 1?
Neither Bell nor Lemon has taken a snap in a regular-season CFL game. But Bell has the advantage of having been through this same process last year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. While Lemon took a respectable course and helped his mother through some health issues, Bell was on the sideline with the ’Riders, slowly getting a grip on the nuances of CFL football.
Lemon requires more time to learn, and there would be no shame in giving him that time while Bell starts for the Argos out of the gate.
What no one really wants is a two-headed starter, where Barker doesn’t really favour one quarterback over the other. Two years ago, Rich Stubler tried that approach with Kerry Joseph and Michael Bishop. It resulted in a fractured locker room and Stubler and Bishop were gone long before the season ended.
Barker might consider that Lemon played mostly against Montreal’s defensive starters, while Bell got the backups.
And Bell tossed two interceptions, while Lemon was picked off once. Bell also was completing passes in a downpour.
Lemon began each of the pre-season games and had the opportunity to demonstrate he could be the starter. It’s not a knock against Lemon, because he does have the tools to be a solid CFL quarterback, but to this point, nine days before the 2010 season kicks off, Bell has been better.
Barker, for now, might beg to differ.