TSN reporter Mark Masters was at Rogers Centre on Friday, as the Toronto Argonauts practiced in preparation for Sunday's Eastern Final tilt with the Montreal Alouettes (TSN, Noon et/9am pt).
East Division all-star Patrick Watkins once again sat out practice on Friday with Jalil Carter taking first-team reps at the boundary-side corner.
We're not sure what's going to happen with him," said head coach Scott Milanovich. "We're going to give him until game day and he'll workout and see how he's feeling and we'll make a decision then."
Milanovich will not risk playing Watkins if he's not at least close to full strength.
"Nobody's 100 per cent at this point," he said. "It depends how close he is to 100 per cent. He's got to be pretty healthy to play DB against Montreal with how they throw the ball."
Carter and Watson are actually friends off the field and spent part of practice talking to each other on the sideline.
"We hang out a lot outside of football," said Carter, who hasn't played since August and was just added back to the practice roster this week. "He always gives me pointers whether I'm up or not. He always helps me out.
"It was weird. The first day I seen him [in training camp] we had a long conversation. I had never met him before, but it was an instant thing. We clicked and he's my good friend."
What does Carter have to say to Argos fans nervous that Watkins may be replaced with an untested rookie with just four CFL games on his résumé? His answer: trust defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones.
"Coach Jones does a good job grabbing guys," said Carter. "He grabbed some pretty good players. To the fans, I assure you, Coach Jones did a good job picking out his players."
Per team policy, Watkins was not made available for interviews.
At the end of their final full practice before the Eastern Final the Argos got a visit from Michael "Pinball" Clemons. The team's vice-chair, who coached Toronto to its last Grey Cup win in 2004, accepted an invitation from head coach Scott Milanovich to address the players.
"He just happened to stop by practice today and I'm going to take advantage of him any time he's around," said Milanovich, "so I asked if he wouldn't mind saying a few words and he was gracious enough to oblige."
Clemons had the players chanting and swaying during his approximately five-minute address.
"In a message like this the biggest thing you want them to remember and realize is they got enough, they got what it takes," said Clemons. "The last time I spoke to them was before the Winnipeg game [a 29-10 win on Sept. 29] and that was a big game and they went out and had a convincing win and that was great."
"When he came out to talk to us earlier it was, 'No matter what happens, no matter how deep the water is, you're going to keep stroking, keep fighting,'" said Ricky Ray. "That was the same message today, that we got here by fighting all year long and now it's time to go out there and make something of it."
"What I say is highly overrated," said Clemons. "What they do is the real difference. We just talked a little bit about how you finish in the playoffs and getting to the big show."
Friday's workout was confined to half the field at Rogers Centre as construction crews started to prepare for the Grey Cup halftime show. Milanovich admits he did think about changing venues before deciding it would be too much trouble.
"We didn't know what the weather would be like so [going outdoors wasn't an option and] to go indoors [somewhere else] we wouldn't had any more room than this so we were fine here today," he said.
"Day three is a Red Zone day," said defensive captain Jordan Younger, "we'd only be working on the short half of the field anyway."
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
Montreal's big-bodied receiving corps can be imposing. And, for the Argos, the only way to fight fire is with fire.
"Everyone in the CFL knows these guys are the most physical, possessive receivers in the game, very big and very strong and if you don't get physical with them it's going to be a long game defensively," said linebacker Marcus Ball.
"They're a physical group," said linebacker Brandon Isaac. "They like to push, pull and in our preparation we got to be ready for that. We got to want it more than they do. That's what it comes down to. The X's and O's have been drawn. They know what we like to do, we know what they like to do so we just got to execute, be physical and make plays.
"They have some great receivers. We're just trying to battle and get under their skin and hopefully they'll make a mistake."
Isaac and Ball tried to get under the skin of Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green before their last game in Montreal on September 23. A heated conversation during the pre-game warm-ups led to a bit of a scrum.
"They were trying to get their team pumped up and we were doing the same," said Isaac. "We going to fuss, we going to fight, but at the same time we got to get out there and play football."
"It was just friendly chatter," said Ball, "getting the guys amped up, you know what I mean? [Richardson's] a great athlete so me and him we get at every now and then, nothing disrespectful, it's all about the game."
There are other more practical ways for Isaac, Ball and company to rattle the Montreal receivers.
"Knock them off their routes," said Isaac, "be very physical, get to [Anthony] Calvillo, pressure him, give him different looks, disguise well. There are things you can do, but you have to make the sacrifice and get after them because they're big guys."
SOMETHING TO PROVE
After six years in Montreal Etienne Boulay was unceremoniously dumped by his hometown team during the off-season. A concussion-shortened 2011 campaign made the Alouettes lose faith in the safety. But the Argos scooped him up last July and now the 29-year-old has a chance to get the last laugh on his former team.
"Of course any time someone thinks your career is over or you're not good enough to make their team you kind of have a little something to prove, a little chip on your shoulder," Boulay said. "I get a chance to go home and chances like that don't come up very often. They released me and I have a chance to go back there and prove them wrong."