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Training camp is done, the pre-season is in the rear-view mirror, and the Toronto Argonauts can now focus on the 2019 regular season, which kicks off Saturday afternoon at BMO Field (4:00, TSN, TSN 1050).
The 2018 disaster can now be officially considered a thing of the past. Since wrapping up the season on a cold, rainy, November Saturday night in Ottawa much has happened in Argoland. The coaching staff has changed significantly, as has the personnel, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It’s the dawn of a new era of Argos football.
There’s also one more significant change to the group en masse, optimism has returned.
“The team in general feels and looks different,” explained defensive tackle Cleyon Laing, whose play was one of the lone bright spots last year. “We have a different bit of swagger. Last year I feel like we were a bit more passive, I feel like this year we’re a lot more aggressive in our overall mindset. We’re blitzing, we’re doing our thing. An aggressive mentality is something you’ll definitely see different from us.”
Laing talked about how detailed this defence is compared to a year ago, mainly because the Defensive Coordinator who led them to the Grey Cup has returned.
Corey Chamblin has added the Head Coaching duties to his role as the DC. His attitude has also undergone an adjustment, saying this year he’s going to stop and smell the flowers a bit more, instead of being consumed by process rather than results.
“You have to appreciate a win,” he explained to Argonauts.ca. “The thing that I told the coaches and the players is for us perfection is winning. There’s always going to be something to clean up and I think you can put too much stress (on the mistakes), and lose that winning vibe because you’ve focused too much on the things that didn’t turn out right instead of the biggest accomplishment, which is that you won.”
Perhaps the Argo happiest about the calendar flipping to 2019 is quarterback James Franklin. For whatever reasons, he and Marc Trestman never meshed. The offence wasn’t designed to best take advantage of Franklin’s skill set, and the QB lost his confidence both on and off the field.
That was then, this is now.
“Last year was frustrating for a lot of reasons,” Franklin admitted to Argonauts.ca. “Looking back at it I could have handled it differently…my attitude wasn’t what it should have been.”
He says the biggest difference is having a better attitude, while the offence that new Offensive Coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine has installed offers the quarterback something he didn’t have in the old system.
“A lot of freedom and a lot of trust,” confided the quarterback. “He gives us a lot of options. If a guy is open we can throw it to him and he’s great with that. He has a really good feel for the game.”
It’s tough to be overly critical of the Trestman/Milanovich offence when it contributed to the Argos winning two Grey Cups in six years, helped Chad Owens win a CFL Most Outstanding Player award in 2012, and led Ricky Ray to perhaps his best-ever season in 2017. The system was an ideal fit for Ray’s skill set and mentality.
But the future Hall-of-Famer has moved on and it’s now Franklin’s team. The early returns point to a fantastic marriage between player and coach, and the QB loves the OC’s play calls and the in-game interaction.
“If the receiver or quarterback tells him ‘Hey, this was there, let’s try this,’ he’s like, ‘Okay, we’ll come back to that,’” said the Missouri product. “He’s just really laid back. He just seems to really understand the calls and (says to the QBs) as long as it’s there, as long as you have reason, you can throw it.”
That will allow Franklin the option to throw long if the QB can justify the decision, which makes it more fun for both players and fans alike. It offers the potential for more big plays, and with the talented receiving corps employed by the team, it could lead to some memorable moments for Argo fans this season.