Naylor: Barker unsure whether Lemon can be star in CFL

Dave Naylor
11/23/2010 5:47:21 PM
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If there's a down side to the 2010 Toronto Argonaut season it is that the team seems no closer to learning who its quarterback of the future will be than it was a year ago.

It was hard to miss how abruptly the message in that regard changed from head coach Jim Barker on Monday, one day after his offence sputtered yet again in a 48-17 loss to Montreal in Sunday's Eastern Final.

For the first time all season, Barker delivered something less than a full endorsement of Cleo Lemon and confessed to being unsure whether he has the potential to be a star in the CFL. What was apparent almost everyone this season, it turns out was also clear to Barker, even if the head coach wouldn't admit such until the season was over.

The fact is that Lemon in his 19th start of the season on Sunday looked a whole lot like Lemon in his first or second start of the season. The timing, the instincts needed to use the field when the play starts to break down, just don't appear to be there. And while the Argos had a remarkable season built on belief, defence, special teams and occasional divine intervention, to be successful in three-down football at some point you need to be able to throw the ball down the field with some consistency.

And that never happened.

Barker's experiment of riding Lemon throughout the season was a noble one, given how little patience is normally afforded struggling quarterbacks in this game. And given that the Argos were coming off a 3-15 season, it was an ideal time for Barker to manage the position with the long-term in mind.

That all would have all been fine had Lemon shown enough to inspire belief that he could be the real deal. But in two playoff games against Hamilton and Montreal, Lemon failed to engineer a single sustained touchdown drive, their only score with Lemon running the offence coming after the Tiger-Cats turned the ball over deep in their own territory in the division semifinal. 

So the question becomes whether it's possible to go into next season, where expectations will be higher, banking on a player who made so little progress during the course of the season.

Would the Argos have be further along in their search for an answer at quarterback had they opted to give backup Dalton Bell 19 starts or maybe nine? There are some people around the CFL who think so, just as many think the Argos are doomed in 2011 if Barker insists on Riding Lemon into next season.

But if Barker believes Bell can be the answer, it's fair to ask why he didn't give him more opportunity when Lemon's poor play would have left no one second-guessing at least a temporary switch. Third stringer Ken Dorsey didn't see the field at all this season, despite having as much NFL experience as Lemon. And as for Canadian Danny Brannagan, the sentimental favourite, his biggest obtsacle isn't his birth certificate but his combination of smallish stature and marginal mobility. 

Which all adds up the possibility that next year's Argo starting quarterback is not on the roster right now and that Barker may be faced with the same dilemma he had when he took the Argo job last winter: does he engineer a trade for a quarterback with CFL experience or roll the dice by handing the ball to someone who's never played three-down football?

Coming off a year in which Barker could do no wrong and for which he will surely be named the CFL's coach of the year, an awfully important decision awaits him headed into 2011. 

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