With a trip to Montreal to face Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes, the Argonauts’ secondary could be in for its biggest test of the season on Sunday.
Just think of how scary it sounds – one of the league’s greatest passers of all-time on two weeks’ rest, throwing the ball to the likes of S.J. Green, Jamel
Richardson, and Eric Deslauriers.
The 2012 Eastern Final matchup is set as the Montreal Alouettes host the Toronto Argonauts. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday's game.
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They’re talented; they have rings; and their numbers speak for themselves.
Bring ‘em on, says rookie defensive back Pacino Horne.
“They’re all good receivers so we’ve got to come to work, we’ve got to come to play and we’ve got to be prepared,” says Horne, smiling, as if accepting the challenge.
“All of them are good in their own way,” he continues. “18’s a pretty good, big, aggressive receiver; 19’s the same way; Deslauriers likes to go get it up top – they’re all good at what they do.”
The Argos’ young secondary – which includes rookies Patrick Watkins, Ahmad Carroll, and Horne – was strong in last week’s 42-26 win over the Eskimos. It contained Fred Stamps, holding possibly the league’s hottest receiver to just three catches for 51 yards.
And above all, it kept starting pivot Kerry Joseph off balance all game, holding the veteran below 50 per cent passing with just 192 yards through the air.
This week, though, it’ll be a different kind of test, as the Boatmen prepare for their fourth meeting of the season against Calvillo and the Als.
“He’s one of the toughest,” says Horne. “They’ve got a great offence, great receivers. He’s got a great arm and he’s quick on his reads.”
“Yeah, we’ve got a good challenge coming up this week.”
The rookie defensive back knows it’ll be a challenge for himself, too.
First garnering attention for his first name back in training camp, Horne says there’s no comparison between his confidence back on day one of training camp, and how high it’s grown heading into Sunday’s elimination game.
While picking up the nuances of the Canadian game, he amassed 34 tackles and four interceptions in the regular season, emerging as one of the top playmakers on the Argos’ defence.
“Pacino’s a gifted athlete and he has exceptional ball skills, but I think what’s biggest with Pacino is that he’s understanding the CFL game now,” says defensive backs coach Orlando Steinauer, who’s coached with the Argos since 2010 after a 13-yard CFL career – including an eight-year career with the Boatmen.
“I think he’s at home out there at field corner. He has the talent to play I’d say at least three other positions on the field, it’s just I see fit that that’s where he’s going to grow on this defence. I’m proud of him.”
All of that raw athleticism aside, it’s his versatility that might be most useful for the Argos going into Montreal.
The Alouettes tend to shift receivers around, meaning every player in the secondary should be prepared to cover Montreal’s very best.
But Steinauer says that while sometimes players might be matched up one-on-one with the likes of Green or Richardson, the important thing is to understand whether there’s support, and where it’s coming from.
“It’s always uncomfortable to be put in the middle of the field and then be one-on-one with a team’s best receiver,” he says. “But if you understand the play call, where your help is at, is this a zero blitz – it’s understanding more than just your own job.”
It’s a concept he says Horne has picked up very well throughout his rookie season.
“You don’t have to always do it on your own if you understand the coverage, and I think he does that,” he says.
For one of the league’s youngest secondaries, Sunday’s meeting with some of the league’s best receivers should be a good measuring stick for how far this secondary’s come. Horne is confident the results will be positive.
“We came from far away,” says the 29-year-old. “We were looking at film the other day and we were just looking at how we were in our first two games, and we were just smiling at each other.”
“Now I think everyone’s starting to come together and everybody’s starting to know what the next person in the secondary can do and what they’re good at.”
Steinauer also has confidence in his group, and says all that’s left to do now is play the game against a team that won’t make anything easy.
“I’m not concerned, I like our matchup. I totally respect all their guys, they’ve been there, done it, they have championship rings to prove it,” he says.
“This is the fun part – you talk about it, but you’ve got to play the game. So that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Horne not dwelling on All-Star selections
Although he wouldn’t outright say it, Horne kind of gave off that vibe that he thought he deserved to be named to the All-Star roster.
He certainly made an argument for himself after showing this season that he’s a big-time playmaker in the CFL, while also being part of one of the league’s top secondaries.
One thing he did make clear is that being an All-Star is an accomplishment every player aims for, and guys notice who makes the roster and who doesn’t.
“People want it,” he says. “They come, they train all season to get that award, and sometimes when they don’t get it they feel like they should’ve gotten it.”
But while he may have felt slighted, all of that’s in the past.
“When I didn’t get it, some people were probably disappointed,” says Horne. “But we don’t make the decision. It doesn’t matter if I make it or not – as long as we win games, that’s all that matters.”
“As long as my team wins I don’t care if I’m all-pro or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as we win.”
Watkins, a fellow rookie like Horne, didn’t practice on Thursday because of what Head Coach Scott Milanovich described as an injured ankle, and will be questionable for Sunday’s Eastern Final.
While Steinauer says he expects his All-Star defensive back will be good to go, his guys are also ready to go if Watkins can’t play.
“Our system is such where we’re always prepared,” says Steinauer. “That’s a question I always ask the DBs: what position are you prepared to play if there’s an injury, and execute bigger than just play it?”
“You just do what you’ve got to do to get him ready for game day,” he continues. “At this point everybody knows our system. It’s the prep in the locker-room and out on gameday it’s about execution. If he plays, I’m confident in whoever we put in there.”
Watkins, a six-foot-five, 205-pound corner who earned All-Star honours in his first CFL season, had 67 tackles and five interceptions, including one he brought back for a touchdown, to go with two fumble recoveries.