TORONTO — On a short week, Curtis Steele replaces brawn with brain power.
The Toronto Argonauts host the BC Lions at Rogers Centre on Sunday, just five nights after beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers there 38-21. With so little time between games, the speedy running back’s preparation becomes more mental as he tries to maximize the time he’s off his feet.
“You don’t want to overwork your body,” Steele said. “We just want to rest and take more from the mental aspect and be in the film room studying.”
The quick turnaround gave Toronto’s coaching staff just one practice to install the B.C. gameplan. Players had a walkthrough Thursday, practised Friday and will have another walkthrough Saturday.
Steele, 27, is certainly deserving of a little down time. The six-foot 190-pound former Memphis star scored two touchdowns against Winnipeg, rushing for 92 yards on 10 carries and adding two catches for 27 yards while also playing special teams.
Toronto earned its second straight win by running for 174 yards against Winnipeg, which was playing its second game in five nights.
“It’s tough,” Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray said. “You’ve got to get your body rested and relaxed and mentally you’ve just got to move on to the next game.
“They (Lions) have had a little extra time to prepare for us but that’s part (of) playing in the CFL. You’re going to have some short weeks and you’ve just got to adjust to it accordingly.”
Ray was 26-of-33 passing for 297 yards and three TDs versus Winnipeg, heady stats considering Toronto’s offence is minus veteran receivers Andre Durie (clavicle), Chad Owens (foot), Jason Barnes (knee), John Chiles (hamstring) and rookie slotback Anthony Coombs (shoulder). But Ray spread the wealth as 10 different Argos had catches.
However, Toronto’s injury woes continue as receiver Maurice Mann (hamstring) and running back Steve Slaton (singer) aren’t expected to play against B.C.
Ray said the combination of injuries and a short week makes life particularly hard on the Argos’ coaches.
“It puts a lot of stress on the coaches trying to get a gameplan in such a short time and get everything installed,” he said. “For us players, we’ve got to mentally be in it and make sure we’re learning that gameplan for the next game.”
Injuries have been just one challenge this year for Toronto.
After 18 years practising at the University of Toronto campus in Mississauga, Ont., the Argos moved to York University this year. But they’ve now relocated to Rogers Centre for the next couple of weeks before moving into a full-time facility at Downsview Park.
And then there’s the franchise’s uncertain future given its stadium lease expires after the ’17 season and no new home field has yet been secured.
The Argos aren’t exactly packing them in at Rogers Centre, averaging under 17,400 fans in a stadium capable of holding over 50,000 for football. It’s hardly an ideal home-field advantage but Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich isn’t complaining.
“I’m honestly thankful for the job I’ve got,” he said. “It hasn’t been the easiest season but I’ve said it a number of times every team, if not most teams, go through something similar to this.
“If you have character in your locker-room it can build backbone and strengthen your resolve. But you’ve got to win, which is why it was so critical for us to win (Tuesday night against Winnipeg).”
BC will certainly present challenges for Toronto.
Lions quarterback Kevin Glenn threw for 407 yards and a TD while running in for another in last weekend’s 36-29 home win over Hamilton to secure offensive player of the week honours. Shawn Gore (five catches, 117 yards) and Emmanuel Arceneaux (four catches, 103 yards, one TD) were favoured targets.
Running back Andrew Harris ran six times for 29 yards and a TD and added two catches for 30 yards before being forced out with an ankle injury. Harris is the CFL leader in rushing (410 yards) and yards from scrimmage (781) and wants to play Sunday but Lions head coach Mike Benevides says he’ll make the final decision.
“He’s politicking hard,” Benevides said. “It’s a tough deal because as a running back you want to be sure you have no question marks.
“He really wants to but I’m going to have to make that decision for him.”
Glenn made his seventh straight start last weekend against Hamilton despite incumbent Travis Lulay’s return to the lineup.
Lulay spent the first six weeks of the season on the injured list recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
Glenn again took the majority of starting snaps this week.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Kevin,” Milanovich said.
“He’s an underrated quarterback and I think he’s settled in with their schemes and receivers.
“Their weapons offensively are very good.”
Milanovich is also impressed with a Lions’ defence anchored by former Argo defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell and stalwart linebackers Solomon Elimimian (league-best 54 tackles) and Adam Bighill (30 tackles). The unit is allowing 292 offensive yards per game, second only to Edmonton (259 yards per game).
“As long as I’ve been around the league, B.C. has had a very good defence,” Milanovich said. “That’s no different now.”
If Milanovich had an issue with Tuesday night’s win, it was Toronto being flagged 17 times for 122 penalty yards. That came after the Argos had just four penalties in their 31-5 road win over Montreal on Aug. 1.
“There were so many good things going on two weeks ago,”
Milanovich said. “To take a step back (versus Winnipeg) was upsetting.
“I’ve got to find a way to get those guys to understand we can’t have those penalties and be an elite team.”
Punter/kicker Noel Prefontaine, who spent all but two seasons of his 16-year CFL career with Toronto, will sign a one-day contract with the club Sunday and retire as an Argo. He played with two Grey Cup-winning teams (2004, ’12) and was named a league all-star punter a team-record six times.