It's 35 degrees, and a heat advisory is in effect. With the humidex, the thermometer tops 40. While the bulk of the Argos have shed their pads and retreated to the shade of the dressing room, some members of the special teams unit remain on the field. It's exceptionally uncomfortable, and it's been a long practice. But, there is work to be done, to hone the field goal process.
Long snapper Chad Rempel fires one back to back-up quarterback Jarious Jackson, who pins the ball to the tee a split second before Noel Prefontaine boots it off, toward the uprights. It drifts a little and is wide right.
"Don't worry about it," Prefontaine says to either Jackson or Rempel.
Something went awry, causing the kick to miss the target. They immediately repeat the process. Snap. Pin. Boot. This one is right down the middle. There are smiles. The adjustments have been successful.
|Jackson Switching Sides|
"It's a little different. As a right handed quarterback, I've been used to catching the ball and getting the laces in my right hand, and feel them under my fingers. Then you flip everything around and you have to feel them under your left hand. It's a little awkward but I think I've gotten accustomed to it. I'd say I'm very comfortable with it now."
"We just did some stuff today that's new and it seems like it's working out," said Prefontaine immediately after his prolonged practice. Coming off a 2-for-4 night last Saturday, he knew some re-polishing was in order.
"I think between Jarious and I there were some technical things," he said, of the unit's disappointing outing in Edmonton. "But it wasn't necessarily the hold on all of them and it wasn't necessarily my technique on all of them."
In a 19-15 loss to the Eskimos, a single on a 32-yarder and nothing on a 25-yard attempt that slammed into the upright made a big difference. Those misses were certainly not the only reasons for the Argos coming up short, as a variety of penalties and miscues completed the picture. Still, for Prefontaine, they got to him, personally.
"For a new football team, with a lot of new guys, we thought we played a pretty good football game," he began. "Considering that and having the experience that I have and being a leader on this team and not coming through was disappointing, to say the least."
So there they were, three entrenched vets with nothing to prove, hard at it with extra reps, looking for answers.
"It was just us having to make some minor adjustments and we did so today," said Jackson. "I think we tweaked it in a good way."
In the world of field goal kicking, where the time between snap and kick is approximately 1.3 seconds, every little, nuanced thing comes under scrutiny.
Consider that Rempel is expected not only to snap the ball at the right height and velocity but also with the correct number of rotations. If he does it perfectly, Jackson catches the ball with the laces in just the right spot, and will not have to spin it on the tee.
So you can see that even the slightest of changes can mean a lot. In the case of the Rempel-Jackson-Prefontaine connection, that change is as slim as Jackson's finger.
Prior to signing with the Argos in the off-season, Jackson was the valued placement holder for Paul McCallum and the B.C. Lions. For McCallum, Jackson says he set the ball with two fingers on top and had gotten used to that. Now, with the day's 'tweaking' done, he'll set it with one for Prefontaine.
"It's probably like an inch or two that we're talking about here, but, that makes a huge difference," said Jackson, of the little bit more of the ball Prefontaine can see with a one-finger hold. "My job and Chad Rempel's job is to make it as easy as possible for Pre and we both take our job seriously, so, anything we can do to help Pre make every kick possible, then we'll do it."
Even with the pedigree of smooth and efficient holding that Jackson provides, good chemistry between the snapper, holder and kicker takes some time to emerge. Added to that incubation period has been Jackson's need to switch to the opposite side of the ball in order to hold for the left-footed Prefontaine, after years of setting the table for the right-footed McCallum.
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"It's a little different," explained Jackson. "As a right handed quarterback, I've been used to catching the ball and getting the laces in my right hand, and feel them under my fingers. Then you flip everything around and you have to feel them under your left hand. It's a little awkward but I think I've gotten accustomed to it. I'd say I'm very comfortable with it now."
With that adjustment fully under his belt, Jackson is feeling he can be as smooth as ever and can concentrate on the other little things that will make his kicker feel confident and as close to automatic as possible.
"All kickers are quirky in their own way just like most quarterbacks are quirky in their own way so I totally understand," he explained. "That's why I was the first to tell Pre 'hey, anything I can do, whatever you need me to adjust, just let me know because I want t make it as comfortable as possible."
For Prefontaine, that's good to have, although he knows that no matter how much you practice, no two attempts are going to look exactly the same.
"You always have to adapt. It's never going to be perfect," he said.
As for last Saturday's disappointment, the Argos' special teams captain keeps it on an even keel.
"After 15 years I can't sit here and say that I've never been through any adversity, right? This is just another point in time where I'm dealing with something that I need to rectify and I'm looking forward to trying to do that on Saturday (against Calgary)."
THE EXTRA POINT
Prefontaine keeps his sense of humour intact, even when asked about how many uprights he's hit in his career.
"It'd be better for me if they put an upright in the middle, that'd be better," he said, laughing.
Jokes aside, the man who holds the club record for consecutive field goals with 16 (2004) would like to see a little something reborn from the old days.
"I'd like to see them bring the drop-kick back and make it worth four.
It's such a hard thing to do, right? Obviously, it was more a part of football back in the day than it is now. To do a drop-kick would be pretty neat, but it's gotta be worth more than the 3 points that you get (for field goals)."
A freelance broadcaster and writer, Don is also the in-stadium announcer for Toronto Argonauts home games. A familiar voice to Toronto sports fans, he hosted the morning show at The FAN for more than 10 years. Follow Don on Twitter @CFLLandry