Pinball believes this could be the best Argos team he's been a part of
Michael "Pinball" Clemons has seen a lot of success in his time as a member of the Toronto Argonauts.
The former all-star running back and returner helped the team to three Grey Cups as a player, one as a head coach, and three more as a front office executive.
However, the 58-year-old general manager believes this is the best version of the team that he's ever seen.
"At this point it's the best team [I've been a part of] and there's no question about that," Clemons told TSN150's First Up on Thursday. "Until we reach the end [of the season] we really can't assess that and I think you can argue that the [late 1990s] teams that went 15-3 and won back-to-back championships [were better]. But, to this point this team has done better because it's done more in all three phases of the game in terms of giving ourselves an opportunity to win."
The Argonauts are sitting first in the East Division with a 10-1 record and have an opportunity to clinch the division with a win over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night.
Toronto is dominating the CFL offensively, leading the league by scoring 35.2 points per game and are among the top three in passing yards and touchdowns. Defensively, the team leads the league in sacks and have forced the second most turnovers in the league.
The Argos also protect the ball at an elite level with the fewest turnovers in the league.
With the team playing at a championship level after 11 games, clinching the division with six games remaining in the regular season can create a new set of problems.
"It would be both a blessing and a curse [if we clinch the East on Friday]," said Clemons." It allows us to have the guys who are banged up to have a break, but we want to make sure that we don't lose the context of what we're here for. Going down the stretch you want to be playing your best football going into the playoffs."
The Argonauts leadership group have used themes as a tool to keep the team on track over the last couple of years. Last season, the team's theme was "good is the enemy of great" as a way to push themselves to not be satisfied with anything but a Grey Cup championship.
After defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Grey Cup game last year, the coaching staff made an addition to their philosophy to keep the team hungry.
"We followed up [last year's theme] with the idea that we need to be two per cent better every day," said Clemons. "Our guys have a very singular focus, they want to go 1-0 every week. We want to be better by two per cent on a daily basis, not just game-by-game. We do understand that it's a challenge and doing it is not the same as saying it."
One of the key factors of the success the Argonauts have had this season has been the play of starting pivot Chad Kelly.
Kelly was in the unfavourable position of having to replace McLeod Bethel-Thompson as the team's starter after the latter led the team to a Grey Cup victory.
However, 6-foot-2 quarterback has taken the opportunity and ran with it, throwing for 2,881 yards with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions to enter himself in the Most Outstanding Player conversation.
Clemons says he saw the signs of Kelly's talent last season as Bethel-Thompson's backup, but tempered his expectations for the good of the team.
"There were times last year where we thought we were holding him back a little bit," Clemons said. "We didn't want to alter Bethel-Thompson's confidence as he moved forward because he was given the [starting] reins for the first time last year. It was trying to balance [the process] of giving Kelly the time to learn the game while not taking the confidence away from Bethel-Thompson who was our leader."
Clemons credits Kelly's leadership as one of the reasons for the team's dominance throughout the season. Kelly doesn't use emotion to bring the team together, but uses his work ethic.
"The real point of difference [this season] is that Kelly is the leader in the locker room and galvanizes the guys in a way that's not emotional," said Clemons. "He's spirited and all that but the pragmatic part of him as guys staying late, watching film together, and put a little bit of extra time into what they're doing.
"I think the defence has responded because [when they see] the offence staying late they think they have to stay as well. It's what you don't see is the tangible difference in Kelly this year."