Argonauts.ca is providing you with a two part pre-season primer on your 2018 team. Part two deals with the defence and special teams.
It’s somewhat fitting that a group that was mostly overshadowed by the offence came up with perhaps the two biggest plays of the year. The Grey Cup game turned on a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Cassius Vaughn and was sealed by an interception by Matt Black.
Most of that Grey Cup winning unit returns this season.
Three of last year’s starting front four are back in Double Blue.
In the middle Cleyon Laing and Dylan Wynn anchor a deep group of tackles. Both players were named East Division All-Stars for their efforts a year ago. Wynn was a virtual unknown when he arrived last year, but made the team after a fantastic camp and two strong pre-season games. He was given the chance to start when Ken Bishop and Alan-Michael Cash were both injured. Laing is one of the most underrated players in the league by fans, but not by opposing coaches and players.
Bishop is back and is joined by returning Canadians Linden Gaydosh and Jeff Finley, each of whom played well when given the opportunity.
Shawn Lemon returns at end after missing a half-dozen games with an injury. The “Lemonator” recorded eight sacks in 12 games. The departure of Victor Butler leaves a starting job open on the other side. Troy Davis did not look out of place when he filled in while Lemon and Butler were out of the lineup, ditto for Justin Tuggle, who was also a force on special teams. They’re both in the mix for time in the rotation as is newcomer Frank Beltre, who returns to the CFL after a year with the NFL’s New York Jets. He had played in Calgary for three seasons prior to heading south.
There are three Canadians competing for jobs at end. Cam Walker was a late re-signing and returns for a fourth year. Evan Foster enters his second season, while the Argos added former Western star John Biewald, who was released by Ottawa before returning for a final year with the Mustangs.
Two new players are also in camp, Sadat Sulleyman and Hassan Barry.
If there’s a recurring theme surrounding the Argos defence, it’s the tremendous depth the team has at each position. Last year’s starters at the middle and weak-side positions are both back.
Bear Woods and Marcus Ball were late additions to the team a year ago and were major contributors for both their play and their leadership. Woods will miss the early part of the season after having back surgery.
It’s perhaps the position to most closely monitor in camp. It’s not just a question of who starts, but where those starters play. Between the five spots on the back end plus the “Sam” linebacker spot, the possibilities are endless.
It’s pretty safe to pencil in newcomers Ronnie Yell and T.J. Heath as starters. Yell joins the Argos from B.C., while Heath returns to the Argos after a season in Winnipeg where he recorded five interceptions. Yell is likely to start at one cornerback position, while Heath – a CFL All-Star last year – will probably fit in as a halfback.
Matt Black and Jermaine Gabriel split the reps at safety in ’17, and the odds are they’ll do likewise this season, but the possibility always exists that they could play the field cornerback position. That might not be likely, but it’s certainly something the coaching staff will think about. Matt Webster is also back and didn’t look out of place playing safety in the first pre-season game at Hamilton.
Cassius Vaughn primarily played the “Sam” spot a year ago, but he also lined up at safety on occasion. His versatility is a huge asset. He’ll start, but it’s a question of where he’ll line up on a regular basis that’s intriguing.
Three veterans return, each of whom is capable of starting. Alden Darby played very well before an injury. His highlight play was a 75-yard pick six against Montreal at BMO Field. Qudarius Ford isn’t the biggest player on the field, but possesses outstanding one-on-one cover skills. Johnny Sears Jr. not only provides experience, but versatility to the group. He’s capable of playing virtually any spot in the secondary.
One of the newcomers has already established himself as a more than capable player. Trumaine Washington – a true rookie out of Louisville – was all over the field against the Ticats.
Others in camp include a handful of first-year International players and returning Canadian Robert Woodson.
Players are learning multiple positions, so what the starting group looks like in the regular season opener at Saskatchewan is anyone’s guess. The possibilities are seemingly endless.
Ronnie Pfeffer won the training camp battle against Swayze Waters and will assume the kicking duties. Pfeffer has a strong leg and his punting skills have improved tremendously since he entered the league.
The primary returner will be Martese Jackson. He made a name for himself by amassing 357 return yards in a game against Winnipeg. Jackson scored three touchdowns on returns last year.
The super-reliable Jake Reinhart returns as the long snapper. He’s established himself as an elite player in that role, and as a former linebacker at Guelph, he’s a sure tackler as well.
Mike Archer takes over as the Defensive Coordinator after Corey Chamblin left the team in the off-season.
Archer was the linebackers coach a year ago and should step into the DC role with very few transitional speed bumps. He won an SEC title as the Head Coach at LSU and has experience with multiple major NCAA programs. He was also the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach for seven seasons.
This year’s Argonaut team not only has great starting defensive talent, but a wealth of depth across the board. It will be interesting to see what the depth chart looks like when they play the Riders to open the season.