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The good news for the Toronto Argonauts is that they have a lot of quality Canadian receivers. The bad news is that they have some tough decisions to make.
There isn’t a CFL team that doesn’t have some uncomfortable moves ahead, but for General Manager Jim Popp, Head Coach Corey Chamblin and company, the Argos have multiple positions where there’s intense competition, one of them among the corps of Canuck pass catchers.
Returning are Llevi Noel, Anthony Coombs, Malcolm Williams, Jimmy Ralph and Alex Charette. New to the team are 2018 third-round draft pick Regis Cibasu and Kurleigh Gittens Jr., selected 23rd overall this year.
The number who make the roster and start will be determined in part by the ratio and where Chamblin intends to play his mandatory seven Canadian starters, something that hasn’t been decided yet.
One can assume on defence that one National will start at tackle and another in the secondary. That leaves five on offence to be split between the offensive line and the receivers/fullbacks. They could go two, three or four Canadian offensive linemen with the other Nationals starting at receiver, but first, they must figure out who is going to make the team.
“A lot of that will be determined by the first pre-season game,” Chamblin told Argonauts.ca. “All of those guys are going to play, so it gives us a chance to evaluate them and see where they are and what they can do.”
One thing that makes the coach happy is that the quality depth doesn’t pigeonhole them into a predetermined ratio scenario.
“We have options, that’s a good thing,” Chamblin continued. “Personnel has done a good job of bringing them in, but I think by the second pre-season game and that bye week (Week One) we’ll have a greater sense of who’s going to be where.”
Chamblin is insistent that non-starters contribute in other facets, which gives Charette an advantage because he’s so good on special teams. Ralph may be at a disadvantage because he hasn’t played specials in the past. If he’s going to make it, it will likely have to be as a starter, and over the last few practices, he’s taken most of his reps with the first group.
“I’m focused on the ‘Z’ position so I’m playing to the field,” said Ralph. “But we go in motion a lot, so I’m playing all over the place. I’m getting comfortable with the playbook and starting to understand everybody’s role. That’s what I’m trying to do because that’s one thing I’ve learned, be familiar with all the positions because it not only helps you in your own position, but it helps you understand what you have to do to open things up for other people.”
What helps Ralph is that he’s a precise route runner with exceptionally good hands. You have a better chance of seeing an albino Bigfoot riding a unicorn than seeing Ralph drop a pass. That doesn’t mean he’s not anxious about the camp battle, something the Argos have discussed en masse.
“We had a team meeting on Sunday where we were talking about how insecurity creates humility which leads to greatness,” explained Ralph. “I can relate to that because when you get those anxious feelings, you get those one-on-ones you compete, you care about it, you want to do your best so you get those anxious feelings that push you to be better. Guys out here, whether they’re Canadian or American, we’re all pushing each other to get better.”
This is Ralph’s third camp with the Argos, while for Cibasu and Gittens Jr. this is a new experience, though Cibasu attended camp with the Chicago Bears last year before returning to the University of Montreal.
Cibasu is 6’3”, 240 pounds and is working out with the receivers and with Declan Cross and Simon Gingras-Gagnon at fullback, who line up at tight end in many formations. That’s something that should be perfect for someone of Cibasu’s size and pass catching ability.
He’s impressed with the tempo of practices and the skill level of the players in camp.
“Guys are really fast,” Cibasu told Argonauts.ca. “There’s a lot to take on in the playbook and all the technique. There’s a lot I’ve learned and I’m pretty happy to have the support of the veterans.”
Cibasu’s combination of size and speed makes him ideal to play special teams. He’s been working on kickoff return, punt and punt return. Gittens’ contribution to specials would be as a returner, though with Chris Rainey, Kevin Fogg and Chandler Worthy on the roster, he’s not exactly at the top of the depth chart there. He’ll get a chance to make his mark as a receiver.
“This is a lot different, I can tell you that for a fact,” the Laurier product said of his first pro camp, “My mindset coming in here is taking in everything I can from the older guys like S.J. (Green), Derel (Walker) and the other veterans that we have. It’s me being a willing learner and coming in to go to work and just learn.”
So, what’s the most important thing he’s learned so far?
“S.J. said ‘If you act like a pro your career as a pro will be very long,’” Gittens recalled, “That’s one thing I took in if I want to play a lot of years in the CFL.”
Words to live by for all the players at a very crowded training camp who are attempting to crack the Argos opening-game roster.