For the first three seasons of his CFL career, Anthony Coombs looked like he may never become the player the Argos envisioned. General Manager Jim Barker traded up three spots in the first round of the 2014 CFL Draft so they could select the running back/receiver with the third-overall pick.
At the time, management hoped that Coombs would become a player in the mold of Brandon Whitaker. They saw him developing into someone who could line up in the backfield, yet look comfortable in the slot as well.
Ironically, Whitaker would come to Toronto just as the 2015 season was to begin. He’d assume the starting running back spot, while Coombs struggled to acclimate himself in a new position in the sometimes overwhelming world of pro football.
There were flashes of what could be – a remarkable play in double overtime in Saskatchewan where he somehow kept his knee from touching the ground while lunging forward to score a game winning two-point conversion comes to mind – but that seemed to be the exception.
That’s changed, and it might just be a matter of experience.
“I was really comfortable last year,” Coombs said in a TSN 1050 interview. “I think each year that you go through in your career you’re going to be more comfortable, that just comes with experience. In your fourth year, you’re going to be more comfortable than your third.”
The Winnipeg native is poised to demolish his career highs of 57 catches and 486 yards set two seasons ago. He’s on pace for 111 catches for 1,050 yards.
One of the biggest differences in Coombs game is his willingness to get moving north/south in a hurry. In the past, he’d make a move when he first caught the ball, which usually didn’t work. Now he’s making the catch and immediately turning downfield, which is a big reason why he’s third in the CFL in yards after the catch.
“I probably got to that level by failing a lot,” admitted Coombs. “You try east/west, you try certain things and you realize that’s not going to work. Part of being comfortable out there is me failing so many times on the field in my first three years. I know when to get north and when to maybe make a move and that’s just from trial and error.”
Former Argo running back and current radio broadcaster Jeff Johnson has been frustrated watching Coombs development. He’s seen the talent since day one but has been waiting for the 24-year old to take his game to the next level.
“We saw glimpses of it when he first came on the scene,” Johnson told Argonauts.ca. “We’d see the quick step and the downhill, but we’d see that maybe ten percent of the time. That’s what we’re seeing now, we’re seeing Anthony Coombs catch the ball and head north/south, make one move, split guys and going for it.”
If Coombs is exhibiting more confidence in himself, the coaching staff is showing an equal amount of faith in a player who provides the offence with great versatility.
“He can run the ball effectively, he catches it,” explained Head Coach Marc Trestman. “He’s a really outstanding route runner as we saw last week. He’s a great student of the game. He studies, he works hard at it. You never hear anything out of him, he just comes to work every day, really like most of our guys, and works hard and is working to get better.”
Coombs has reacted to the Trestman offence well. How does it compare to what Scott Milanovich was running previously?
“There’s a lot of similarities,” explained Coombs. “Both emphasize detail. If I were to pick a couple of differences, I feel like Trestman is, I don’t want to say vanilla in his approach, but with Milanovich I remember we had a lot of double moves and he dressed things up a lot, where Trestman is all about the detail and executing things to perfection.”
So what’s next for Coombs? Johnson certainly has some ideas.
“I’d like to see some more action out of the backfield,” said Johnson. “I’d like to see where Coombs is in the backfield with Whitaker or Wilder at the same time where they’re crossing and Coombs actually has the ball in his hands.”
That’s certainly not out of the question. With the way Coombs is developing, and with the faith the coaching staff is showing in him, the possibilities are seemingly endless.