What’s left unsaid is often as meaningful as words uttered.
In a sport as structured as pro football (and in a dressing room as meticulously managed as the Montreal Alouettes’) it simply isn’t done to moan in public about not getting the ball – and the consequences of doing so can be profound.
Ask Jamel Richardson, a receiver who was so much better than the rest of the CFL a year ago he racked up 500 more yards than anyone else, if it bothers him he was thrown to only eight times last week (four on the opening drive).
Ask him if he feels he’s sufficiently involved in the Als inconsistent, error-prone offence, and here’s what he’ll say: “Yep.”
Then, he’ll purse his lips and say nothing.
Prod a bit, ask about the injuries, dropped balls and anemic season stats, and he’ll reply: “It’s difficult for me, I’m not going to say I’m not frustrated, but I’ve got to go out there and continue to do my job, things are going to open up.”
No one can divine what is inside another mind, but the normally-constituted elite pass catcher’s standard view is something close to the title of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson’s book, Just Give Me the Damn Ball.
Funny thing is, the Als aren’t – pretty much the most love Richardson’s gotten is on the team’s official website, which features a large photo and the legend “Jamel est dominant” on its front page.
Empirically speaking, that’s true, Richardson is indeed as dominant a CFL receiver as there is given his size (6 foot 3, 215 pounds) and rambunctiousness in the open field.
Just not this year.
After notching 12 games with 100 or more yards last season, he has none in 2012. He’s caught five or more passes on only three occasions (compared to 13 in 2011); last week, he hauled in only three.
The 2010 Grey Cup MVP has effectively become a third or fourth option.
If the Als, who have a tenuous hold on first place in the East Division and have lost three of four games, are to win anything this year that’s going to have to change. And it may as soon as Sunday in Toronto, where the Als (8-6) meet the Argonauts (7-7) in what is unmistakably a pivotal game.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo said he shares Richardon’s frustration, but added this is the chance for the Als to get out of a rut – a win would go a long way to securing a home playoff date.
“This is a crucial game … guys realize that, for now, our challenge is to get back to being consistent in all three phases,” said the man who threw interceptions and committed a fumble last week in a dispiriting loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “If we take care of the ball, we’ll have a great chance to win.”
It might help if they can find a way to get the pigskin in Richardson’s hands.
Yes, the 30-year-old has suffered through various leg injury problems that caused him to miss three games. Absolutely, defensive backs are wary of the threat he poses, and are trying to remove him as a focal point. Sure, he’s had some notable miscues this season, some of them at inopportune times.
(In the first quarter of the Als’ Thanksgiving Monday 27-22 stuffing at the hands of the Blue Bombers, Richardson clutched his head after dropping a sure touchdown.)
None of that explains why he’s got only 45 catches through 11 games – that’s third on the team, he’s 40 receptions shy of his lowest season total as an Alouette and his four-year streak of 1,000-yard-plus seasons is in serious jeopardy.
Understudies S.J. Green (currently out injured) and Brandon London have become Calvillo’s go-to guys.
In the final minute of the Winnipeg game, the Als quarterback lobbed a jump-ball to London, who’d enjoyed a big game but was in double coverage, rather than look for Richardson over the middle. The pass was picked off.
After the game, Richardson was in high dudgeon, ripping his nameplate from his locker and stomping out.
This week, he blamed his reaction on the loss and the bad memories in conjured of the Als’ 2011 late-season swoon.
It will help erase them if he can make a big play or two this weekend.