Football players are creatures of habit, used to a regimented routine of meetings, practices and games. And so while the Toronto Argonauts are more than happy to be enjoying the bye week that comes from winning the division, there is an adjustment to a significantly reduced workload.
The team took to the field for the first time since Saturday’s win in Vancouver that clinched first in the East but instead of their typical two-hour practice session, head coach Marc Trestman put his players through a brisk 60 minutes and sent them on their way. The team will practice three times this week but with rest days in between, yet another departure from the usual routine.
“They need to work, enough to maintain some stamina and the things they need to play the game, some mental things as well,” Trestman said. “Then we’ll turn them loose to take care of themselves.”
Quarterback Ricky Ray said he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that teams on a roll – the Argos won five of their last seven games – should be worried about taking a break. The team had their second bye of the regular season in Week 19 but then returned with one of their best performances of the year in the victory over B.C.
“This is what we’ve been playing for all year, to get the bye so I just try and look at the positives.We get a little extra rest for the body and mind, we get the chance to work on the things we need to improve on and we play one less game to get to the Grey Cup,” Ray said. “We had a bye a couple of weeks ago and watching Ottawa win a close game, then knowing what we had to play for going into B.C., I think the guys can learn from that.”
The Argos will also use the time to get healthy. All-star linebacker Marcus Ball is expected to practice next week and should be ready to face the winner of the semi-final between the Ottawa Redblacks and Saskatchewan Roughriders. In fact, after struggling with injuries through much of the regular season, Trestman said they’ve got a different problem now.
“We’ll have some decisions to make with all the healthy guys we have,” he said.
Barring disaster, of course. Even with limited action on Wednesday receiver Armanti Edwards came up limping after attempting to make a catch over the middle. Trestman said it didn’t look to be anything serious but it underscores that there’s risk every time players step on the field.
“You never want that to happen and he looks to be fine but you have to practice, that’s part of the game,” Trestman said.
Defensive back Cassius Vaughn, who was named to the East Division all-star team on Wednesday, says there’s value in preparing for a game even if they don’t know who the opponent is.
“There’s nothing more important than self-scouting and working on our your own skills,” he said. “The mistakes come when you don’t know you’re own stuff, when you’re not all the way locked in.”
Vaughn said he plans to take advantage of the extra time off he’ll get this week, making plans to watch movies and go out for dinner. He says it’s important to decompress and make sure his life is in balance.
“You can’t be ready to fight for two weeks with your fists balled up and think they are going to be just as strong,” Vaughn said. “You have to do other things, focus on your family. I personally feel that if your life is a mess off the field, it won’t be correct on the field.”