TORONTO — Hoping to improve a unit that ranked seventh in the CFL last season, the Toronto Argonauts have added a little personality to their defence.
Alan-Michael Cash, Johnny Sears Jr. and Rico Murray are all new to the Double Blue while Cleyon Laing has returned following a one-year absence. Yet the name Argos fans may get to know the most is Winston Venable.
Venable, who signed with the Argos after five seasons in Montreal, describes his game rather succinctly.
“I’m kind of a see ball, get ball type of guy,” Venable told CFL.ca during Mark’s CFL Week in March. “I’m just an aggressive, physical player.
“I like to think I have a high motor and I’m just running to the ball and trying to bring that good energy out there.”
The focus in 2017 will be on what Marc Trestman can do with the Argos’ offence. Trestman built a consistent juggernaut during his five seasons in Montreal and will be leaned on to do the same once again. But the Argos’ defence has undergone a makeover of its own.
Corey Chamblin jumps in as the defensive coordinator, his first coaching assignment since being relieved of his duties part way through 2015. He’s described as a fiery personality with a proven track record on the defensive side of the ball — and he’ll have the players to complement it.
With Shawn Lemon back in the fold along with Laing up front and Venable at linebacker, the Argos have three figures who will be recognizable to fans and opposing quarterbacks alike.
Lemon, who ranked second in the CFL with 14 sacks last season, called Venable a tackling machine who brings swagger and attitude to the front seven.
“He most definitely does,” said Lemon. “He’s a tackling machine and that’s what we need. He’s always been a linebacker you notice on film — very productive in this league and he’ll be good for us.”
After combining for 21 sacks last year, Shawn Lemon and Winston Venable could pose problems for opposing QBs (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
Last year, Venable recorded 88 tackles and seven sacks over a complete 18-game season. He was named a CFL and East Division All-Star in 2015 thanks to his 103 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles.
The 30-year-old was a constant spark plug on Noel Thorpe’s pressure defence, one of the top playmaking units in the league which tied for third among all nine teams with 44 takeaways and fourth with 47 sacks.
With the Argos getting a fresh slate this off-season, Venable is excited to turn his own page.
“It seems like they have a lot of excitement there — new field, new organization,” said Venable. “I’m just looking for a fresh start and I think that’ll be the most exciting part, something new.
“The last couple of years in Montreal have been tough,” he added. “When you’re not winning as much you’d like to be . . .  was the second year in a row we didn’t make the playoffs.”
While Montreal had its problems last season, the Argos struggled to a 5-13 record — the worst in the Canadian Football League. A promising 4-2 start was quickly erased by an injury to Ricky Ray, while Rich Stubler’s defence never truly found its groove.
Now the Argos’ defensive coordinator, Corey Chamblin has his first job since coaching the Riders (Johany Jutras/Argonauts.ca)
In all, you could point to a lack of identity plaguing the Argos throughout 2016 — something Venable, with a little help from Lemon as well as some veteran newcomers, could change.
“I see Toronto going through some changes, from the front office to bringing in different players,” said Venable. “It’s definitely Shawn Lemon’s team — he’s a returning vet, he’s been there before along with a couple of other guys. But if the team needs another leader in the locker-room, whether that be vocal or leading by example on the field, I’m probably the type of guy that can fill that type of role if needed.
“As far as being the face of a team and this and that, I’m just trying to make plays and do my job. If that ends up being my role then that’s great.”