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Argonauts.ca will provide you with a two-part positional breakdown as we prepare to open the season. Today we focus on the offence. Up next, a look at the defence and special teams.
It couldn’t have been a better finish. The Toronto Argonauts capped off the 2017 campaign with one of the most memorable games in CFL history, a dramatic come-from-behind win over the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup final, featuring a handful of plays that will be on highlight packages forever.
But 2017 is now nothing more than a sweet memory for members of the Double Blue, who now turn their attention to winning back-to-back championships, something that hasn’t happened since the Alouettes did it in 2009-10 under current Argo Head Coach Marc Trestman.
When we last saw Ricky Ray in Toronto he was addressing the crowd at the Grey Cup celebration at Nathan Phillips Square. Nobody – including Ray himself – was certain if he would be back in 2018, or would cap a Hall-of-Fame career with the sensational victory over Calgary.
When the crowd and his teammates started chanting “One more year,” Ray responded with “Only one? Why not two?”
Last year’s Eastern Division Outstanding player ended the ‘will he or won’t he be back’ speculation when he re-signed with the Argos on February 2, certainly great news for the organization, fans, and teammates alike.
While waiting for Ray to make up his mind, the Argos potentially added their quarterback of the future when they traded for, then subsequently signed highly touted James Franklin. Acquired a couple of weeks after the Grey Cup in a trade with Edmonton for Mason Woods and a second-round draft pick, Franklin passed up free agency to sign with Toronto. Argo fans will remember the 26-year old for a game he played against the Boatmen at Commonwealth Stadium on the final day of the 2016 regular season, where he torched Toronto for 335 yards and four first-half TDs in a 41-17 Eskimos win.
Though the future with Franklin looks bright, the club has not anointed him No. 2 QB on the roster. Coach Trestman has stressed that Franklin is in competition with returnee McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the backup spot. Dakota Prukop returns for another year, while the Argos also signed Canadian Noah Picton, the 2016 Hec Crighton Award winner from the University of Regina.
Like at quarterback, the starting running back job is not in doubt. James Wilder Junior was the league’s breakout star of 2017 and it’s intriguing to think what he could do with a full season of games. Primarily a special teams player early in the season, he took over from Brandon Whitaker and never looked back. Wilder had five carries or more just 11 times and still rushed for 872 yards, adding 533 more receiving yards en route to his CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award. If healthy he could flirt with a 1,000/1,000 yard season, something that’s never been done in the CFL.
Martese Jackson is the favourite to be his backup. Jackson proved himself as a returner in his rookie year, giving him an early advantage this year over two newcomers as the Argos will likely only dress two International backs each game.
A newcomer competing for a roster spot worth keeping an eye on is Stanley “Boom” Williams. Williams is 5’8” and is just 22 years old. He rushed for 1,170 yards as a junior at Kentucky before leaving early for the NFL.
The starting fullback is set as fan favourite Declan Cross returns for this third season in Toronto. Establishing himself as a devastating blocker and tremendous special teams player, Cross surprisingly caught 36 passes in the regular season and added a pair of two-point conversions in the Grey Cup.
The biggest question about the Argos receiving corps at this time last year was whether or not S.J. Green would be able to play. Coming off major knee surgery, it took Green all of two series in the season opener against Hamilton to show he was back, highlighted by a spectacular one-handed catch over Simoni Lawrence. Green had the best season of his career, finishing with 104 catches for 1,462 yards, the fifth-highest total by a receiver in Argo history.
Armanti Edwards proved to be a reliable receiver with incredibly soft hands, catching 83 passes for just under 1,000 yards. He’s back and will be another every-down receiver. Anthony Coombs also returns, looking to get back to the form he showed early last season before suffering a shoulder injury.
There is, however, a pretty big hole to fill with the loss of DeVier Posey to the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. The inside track to replace the Grey Cup MVP may be occupied by a returning player and a newcomer.
Brian Tyms, Green’s brother-in-law, knows the offence after joining the Argos in September. At 6’3” he has the potential of being a big-play receiver, particularly in the red zone. Tyms will get a long look as will 6’6” Rodney Smith, another big body out of Florida State who has bounced around the NFL for the last five seasons.
Their size may give them the advantage over newcomer Bralon Addison, who was a standout at the University of Oregon.
There are a handful of returning Canadian receivers who can contribute to the offence or special teams. Malcolm Williams, Jimmy Ralph, Llevi Noel, Brian Jones and Alex Charette all saw varying degrees of playing time in ’17.
There was an evolution with the o-line a year ago, where the team added an International to the starting unit and the dividends were felt almost immediately.
That Grey Cup group is intact from a year ago and will in all likelihood begin the season in the same position. William Campbell will be the left tackle, Tyler Holmes the left guard, CFL East Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Sean McEwen will be the centre, Brandon Washington, the aforementioned mid-season addition will be the right guard, with veteran Chris Van Zeyl lined up at right tackle.
Three Canadians are back, all homegrown talents. Jamal Campbell and Chris Kolankowski from York return. Both saw playing time in 2017, Campbell primarily as a tight end, while Kolankowski is listed as the No. 2 centre and last year played some snaps as a fullback in short-yardage situations. D.J. Sackey from the University of Toronto has also looked very good so far at camp. Newcomer Evan Gill was a late signing, The Manitoba product played with the two seasons with the TiCats.
Marcus Brady left the organization for the Indianapolis Colts, but the Argos didn’t have to look very far for his replacement. Tommy Condell served as the team’s receivers coach last year and will take over as the Offensive Coordinator. Among the new coaches on his staff is the legendary Anthony Calvillo, who brings a wealth of experience to the table as the Argos new Quarterbacks Coach. Imagine the offensive discussions with Trestman, Condell, Calvillo and Ray around the table.
This season could be good. Really, really good.