Forde: Joseph's fate is nothing new in Toronto

Duane Forde
9/17/2008 11:58:30 AM
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When Toronto Argonauts head coach Don Matthews announced that Cody Pickett would be his new starting quarterback, Kerry Joseph didn't just get benched. K.J. officially got "Argoed".

Okay, so the word "Argo" isn't really a verb but, if it were, the entry in Webster's Dictionary would look something like this:

Argo (är'-go) verb 1. the act of attempting to pound a square peg into a round hole 2. the act of devaluing an asset by concealing the traits that made it valuable in the first place

Joseph was Argoed in the sense that:
a) He's a quarterback who's most effective when he's threatening to escape the pocket and has the option to run or throw, yet the Argos insist on employing him as a pocket passer.
b) He proved last season that he can be the best player in the entire CFL if placed in the right system, yet the Argonauts chose not to tailor their offensive package to his strengths when they acquired him.

The verb "Argo" may be new but the concept certainly isn't, as Joseph is by no means the first player to be Argoed. In fact, he's among some impressive company. In 2001, the Argonauts' biggest free agent signing was slotback Archie Amerson, who was coming off of a season in which he had amassed 1198 receiving yards. In Toronto, Amerson was so miscast in John Jenkins' run and shoot offence that he lasted just one game in Double Blue before being released. A year later, the Argonauts landed the biggest fish in the free agent pond in defensive end Joe Montford. As something of a freelance pass rusher in an otherwise traditional defence, Montford had averaged 21.5 sacks a year over the previous four seasons. In Toronto, playing in then head coach Garry Etcheverry's highly structured system, Montford was held to two sacks in nine games before Etcheverry's midseason firing. In '04, the Boatmen trumpeted the signing of running back John Avery, who had led the CFL with 1448 rushing yards in 2002 before spending the '03 season in the NFL. In four seasons in Toronto, Avery averaged just 565 rushing yards per year and a yard and a half less per carry than he had in '02.  He just didn't fit, as the offences designed by coordinators Kent Austin and Steve Buratto revolved around the passing game. The same fate befell former NFL Pro Bowl RB Ricky Williams when he joined the Argos for the 2006 season. There was nothing wrong with the schemes used by Jenkins, Etcheverry, Austin, and Buratto. The problem was that, relative to those "round-holed" schemes, Amerson, Montford, Avery, and Williams were "square peg" players.

Here's what I mean. To be successful in any sport, a team's systems and strategies must suit the talents of the players being asked to execute them. This alignment of philosophy and skills can be accomplished in one of two ways. The coaching staff can either implement game plans that are tailored to the collective skill set of their players, or the organization can acquire individuals whose abilities match the demands of the schemes that the coaches want to run. In other words, if you have square pegs and round holes, you either need to replace those square pegs with round ones, or make your holes square. Too frequently in the past eight years, the Toronto Argonauts have done neither.

To be fair, the Argos are certainly not the only team in the CFL to ever mismatch acquisitions with the roles they're being asked to fill. They've just made an alarming habit of it, most recently with the CFL's reigning Most Outstanding Player. It's true that a team can't be perfect in its assessment of every player it brings to training camp. However, a team also shouldn't annually miss the boat on its biggest off-season acquisitions, especially when those players are CFL veterans and, therefore, known commodities.

By contrast, Don Matthews' greatest strength has long been his deep understanding of the need to coordinate an individual's skill set with his role on the field. In the past, he has brought in players to suit his schemes. Perhaps the best examples of his keen ability to recognize what players could contribute in his system were Montreal defenders Anwar Stewart, Kevin Johnson, and Duane Butler. All three were released, having been deemed "not good enough" by non-playoff teams before they became all-stars for a perennial contender with Matthews' Alouettes. When he arrived in Montreal in 2002, Matthews also used the opposite tactic of adjusting systems to suit the players he inherited. He did this most notably by shifting the club's offensive emphasis from the running of Mike Pringle to the passing of Anthony Calvillo. The move shocked many, but it propelled the Alouettes to a Grey Cup victory that season. Unfortunately for Kerry Joseph, The Don's midseason arrival makes an overhaul of Toronto's offence virtually impossible. Thus, Joseph remains Argoed.

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