June 8, 2018

Hogan: Breakdown of Argos vs. Redblacks

GUELPH, ON - June 7, 2018: Ottawa Redblacks vs Toronto Argonauts in preseason football at Alumni Stadium. Photo by John E. Sokolowski

It’s the story of two receivers trying to catch on with the team.

In Thursday’s pre-season game against Ottawa, the pair tried to solidify their standing with the Argos, just three days before the first regular-season roster is set.

The duo took different routes to Toronto, but both featured prominently in the Argos final pre-season game.

At first glance, Rodney Smith’s size stands out. Listed at 6’6”, 219 pounds with long arms, it appears like he could touch both sidelines at the same time.

He possesses height, wingspan, soft hands and pedigree – he was Florida State’s leading receiver as a junior before bouncing around the NFL for a handful of years.

Smith is in the running to replace DeVier Posey, off to the NFL himself to try and catch on with the Baltimore Ravens. The newcomer wasn’t able to play in the Hamilton pre-season game due to an injury, so the Argos wore him out against Ottawa.

The Miami native was targeted six times. He ended up with five catches for 26 yards, including a nice grab along the sideline where he fully extended himself while keeping both feet in bounds.

Needless to say, Chad Owens or Pinball Clemons would not have been able to make that catch.

Smith played essentially the entire night, something Head Coach Marc Trestman says was part of the game plan.

“This was Rodney’s only opportunity to show us,” said Trestman after the game. “He was at practice for the week. We saw him early on, he’s competed and he’s certainly got a lot of talent, so he’ll be a guy in the mix and part of our decision making as we move on through the weekend.”

For the 28-year-old receiver, getting into an actual game rather than just practice was a big part of his learning curve.

“I needed those game reps so I can get used to this style of play,” Smith told Argonauts.ca after the game. “It’s real different from down south so I definitely needed it.”

Smith was impressed by both the speeds of the game and the players. With that said, it’s not his speed, but his size that separates him from most other receivers. There was an opportunity Thursday to show his red-zone skills that unfortunately never materialized.

In the second quarter, quarterback James Franklin rolled out to his right to extend a play from the 10-yard line. It gave Smith the opportunity to become isolated in single coverage at the back of the end zone. It had jump ball written all over it.

Franklin spotted the mismatch at looked to throw the ball in that direction, but it slipped out of his hand and went high into the Guelph night. When it eventually landed it didn’t make it to the goal line and should have been intercepted.

It was the only time Smith was targeted that he didn’t catch the ball, but it didn’t come within 20 yards of him. For him, it was the one that got away.

“Man, that’s what I dream about,” he told Argonauts.ca, “Anytime I’m with a DB I always think that the ball is mine regardless of the situation, but definitely I thought I was going to get a touchdown right there.”

It wasn’t a perfect night for Smith, who fumbled after one of his catches, but he showed flashes of what he might become in this league.

Also on display at Guelph was a player who has made many big plays at Alumni Stadium.

Alex Charette was a star with the OUA’s Guelph Gryphons before playing with the Alouettes for two seasons. Jim Popp drafted him while the general manager was in Montreal and jumped at the chance to become reunited in Toronto, where the receiver played five games for the Argos, performing mostly on special teams.

Charette had the biggest play of the night on Thursday on the first play of the fourth quarter. McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit him over the middle and 63-yards later Charette found himself standing in the checkerboard end-zone he knew so well from his days at the U-of-G.

“It was a middle adjustment,” said the St. Catharines native of his TD. “I saw the middle wide open. I knew the ball was coming and just had to run for my life at that point.”

And run he did. Forty of the 63 yards came after the catch leading to the touchdown at his alma mater, a feeling Charette admitted was a ten out of ten.

The 26 year-old is well liked and well respected by the coaching staff. In fact, he was named a captain for the pre-season game against Hamilton, something he certainly didn’t see coming.

“I was actually in shock initially,” admitted the receiver. “I was here last year, but was still sort of a new guy but it was definitely an honour. He (Trestman) thought highly of me so I was excited about it too.”

Like his adjustment on his TD catch, Charette made the right read about his head coach. Trestman does like the former Gryphon.

“I want to find a way for Alex to make this team,” said Trestman. “I’ve said that to the team. He was a captain last week. He’s a meaningful guy on special teams as well as in our locker room.”

Like Smith, it wasn’t a perfect night for Charette. He had a drop along the sideline that he admitted he’d be thinking about more than the touchdown.

The Argos have some difficult decisions to make. While it’s better to have too much talent than not enough, it means some talented players will be relegated to back-up status, demoted to the practice roster, or released altogether.

Smith and Charette are two players the Argos really like, but how they fit into the plans at this stage will be known by Sunday morning when rosters for the opening week of the season must be set.