Free agency and the draft are now in the rear-view mirror. Over the next few weeks Argonaut.ca’s Mike Hogan will examine the roster by position groups through the eyes of the coaches. This week, a look at the offensive line.
“Right now, it’s a work in progress.”
That was the response by Offensive Line Coach Steve McAdoo when asked the question most Argo fans have about his group at this stage, who is playing centre? There’s an opening there after the departure of Sean McEwen, who signed a free-agent contract with his hometown Calgary Stampeders.
There are options, and because of the Argos depth of Canadian talent McAdoo isn’t forced to slot a Canadian into a specific position, he’ll have more flexibility than most teams.
One option is Phillip Blake, who “Coach Mac” had with him in Saskatchewan the last year and a half. Blake has played the position before, most notably at Baylor University, snapping the ball to Robert Griffin III. Since coming to the CFL from the NFL, Blake has found a home at guard, where McAdoo sees him as a better fit.
“We know that we have guys on the roster that have experience there (at centre),” explained the coach. “I know if all else fails I know that he can go there, but we want to be able to find another centre that won’t miss a beat and keep him at his guard spot.”
McAdoo returns to Toronto, where he spent four years (2010-13) as a part of a stellar coaching staff that led the Argos to the 2012 Grey Cup. Since then he’s split the last half dozen years between Edmonton and Saskatchewan, where he was the offensive coordinator at each stop.
He’s happy to be back in Double Blue and pumped about the incoming collection of linemen he has to work with.
“I’m excited about this whole group that’s coming in,” he said in a Zoom interview from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “I never look at what they did before, other than what I want to correct, I wipe the slate clean. That’s how I get them to understand you’re not a backup, you’re a starter, so you’ve got to prepare that way, think that way and come in and compete that way. You’re coming in to earn a spot and that’s what you’ve got to do. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re in the wrong place.”
As a group the Argos allowed 54 sacks last year, only B.C. allowed more. The bar has been set pretty low for the group to show improvement in that category, and Coach Mac will have a group of players, mostly new to him, to try and mould into a cohesive unit.
Offensive linemen live a mostly anonymous life to begin with, and it’s even harder for fans to get a handle on the players who are new to the league. McAdoo broke down his group player by player for Argonauts.ca.
The notes provided after each player are provided by Argonauts.ca, all the quotes are from McAdoo.
Ty Allen: 6’3”, 300. Played with Memphis in the AAF last year before the league ceased operations. A product of Tennessee State. “Ty Allen is pretty versatile. He’s played centre, guard and tackle. We’ll first try to get him our there at the centre spot because that’s a need. Coming out of college a lot of scouts were saying this is a guy who should be in the NFL, he may have been a bit undersized for them, but I’m excited to see him. He’s got a little nastiness to him too.”
Dariusz Bladek: 6’4”, 300. Signed with the Argos as a free agent after three seasons in Saskatchewan, all with McAdoo. The 11th overall pick in the 2017 CFL Draft. “You’re not going to outwork him. He puts in the time and works his butt off to be better. You can tell that it really means something to him. His improvement has been vast over that period of time. Solid guy, strong as I don’t know what. I’m excited for him to come in here and compete for a guard position.”
Dontavius Blair: 6’7”, 294. A product of West Alabama and the University of Tennessee, where he played right tackle. He’s been out of football for two years by choice and has been chased for that long by Argos Vice President of Player Personnel, John Murphy, who finally convinced him to give football another shot. “Dontavius is raw. He’s got a lot of talent. A big frame who could put on a little bit more weight. He’s athletic. He’s got a big upside. He needs a little more polish, but his upside could be good if he puts in the work and learns the technique.”
Phillip Blake: 6’2”, 311. A hometown product who attended Henry Carr Secondary, Blake signed a free agent deal with the Argos after five seasons in the CFL, the last year and a half with McAdoo in Saskatchewan after being acquired in a trade with Montreal. Selected by Denver in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. “For a long time he’s been one of my favourites in the league. I’ve always thought of him as a top-three, all-star calibre guard. What people don’t really understand about Blake is that he can play centre, he can play guard, and he can play tackle. We put him out at tackle several times when I was in Sask to get out of games when we had a tackle get hurt and he didn’t miss a beat. He’s one of my guys that I know will go out there and compete and get the job done. Playing centre is a possibility, but his natural spot is at guard, so I would love to keep him there, but I know if I need him there, I know he can go there without missing a beat.”
Isiah Cage: 6’4”, 313. Entering his third season in Toronto. He was really starting to establish himself at left tackle before being injured in the game at Moncton against Montreal. He had started 11 consecutive games at that spot going back to 2018. “Isiah is very intriguing to me. I thought before he got injured, he’s got a great upside. I want to get him back and see if he can get back to where he was and then get beyond that. He’s got a lot of athleticism. I think he’s a heck of a guy that I want to see in camp. He’s pretty versatile out there as far as his movement, his core strength and his intelligence. He showed a lot of upside when I was watching him when he played, and when I got here watching him more in-depth.”
Jamal Campbell: 6’6”, 305. Became the Argos starting right tackle last year and held that spot for the final 11 games of the season. A Toronto native who attended C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate and York University and was the Argos third-round pick in the 2016 CFL Draft. “I tried to get him out to Sask pretty much every year (laughs). This guy has a lot of talent. His agility, his footspeed, his foot quickness, he was just needing the strength. When he was coming into the league, he needed strength and core strength more than anything. He’s worked his butt off and you can see the difference. He’s a natural tackle, those big guys can’t move from tackle to inside. When he came into the league and they tried to move him inside I was like, man you may want to keep him outside and just let him get his bumps and bruises and learn from that. I love this kid. His upside, his athletic ability, the sky is the limit for this guy as long as he puts forth the effort. He’s one of the guys who was thirsty for the knowledge. He’s calling me and trying to get me to do one-on-one sessions and that shows a lot.”
Theren Churchill: 6’6”, 295. The Argos selected him with the ninth-overall pick in this year’s CFL Draft. “Very athletic. That’s a guy who could possibly move inside. We want to develop him as an outside guy. He could be a guy who comes in as a sixth man because he’s athletic enough to play the tight end spot. The biggest draw to him for us was his athleticism. He’s got the frame to put on weight and get stronger. None of these guys coming out of university are going to be as strong as you would want, so you’ve got to be looking at their frame to see if they could put on weight and get stronger. His foot quickness is good and he stays in front of you. Even when he’s going against stronger guys he’s still placing his hands in there and staying in front of you. That’s big, with a lot of young guys you don’t see them latch on and move their feet well. He does.”
Dylan Giffen: 6’8”, 325. The Argos third-round pick in this year’s draft. A First-Team OUA All-Star in each of the last two seasons. He has lost 25 pounds from his final season at Western. “A big guy. He was out of shape, but he had the tools to go and compete on the interior. He’s a nasty, nasty guy, and that’s a plus also. The biggest thing we have to do is get him to understand his length, his height, and then use it. I think he’s got a good upside. We didn’t think we were going to get him (in the draft), but he fell to us. That was a gift that fell in our lap. The potential is there.”
Roubbens Joseph: 6’4”, 325. He was a final day NFL cut in both 2017 and 2018 before joining the Argos last season. Started three games in Double Blue. Played his NCAA ball at Buffalo. “Roubbens is an intriguing guy. When you first look at him, his size is humungous, but he has uncanny quickness for his size. He’s more athletic than you think. He’s kind of raw, you can see the youth in him a lot of times when he’s out there trying to see different things, but that comes with experience. He’s another guy I’m intrigued to see. My first thought is can he, or any other of these guys move inside? I think he can come in and compete for one of those spots.”
Norman Price: 6’4”, 311. He bounced around the NFL for three years before leaving Carolina with an injury settlement last year. A two-year starter at Southern Mississippi. “He’s got tremendous upside. A big body. It’s a question of what kind of shape is he when he comes in. He’s one of the guys that’s probably going to be on the interior, but we definitely still have to look at him at tackle. Right now, we have to figure out where we want to play our Americans. To me, these guys also have to look to go inside, especially if we’re looking to moving Blake to centre. That would open up one of the interior spots, so I’ve also got to see what they can do inside.”
Randy Richards: 6’3”, 303. Started 11 games in his first year with the Argos after starting the previous two Grey Cup games with Calgary. Entering his sixth CFL season. “What Randy did last year was great. When you look at (the 2019 o-line’s) production, I know they gave up a lot of sacks, but if you look at their production you’re going to be surprised as far as the record and the stats go. He has some age on him, so he’s savvy. He has a strong core, if you run into him, he doesn’t move. You run into some guys you can knock them back two or three yards, this guy doesn’t move. It’s going to be a battle out there at left tackle.”
Shane Richards: 6’6”, 337. The Argos made him the first-overall pick in the CFL Draft in 2019. He started the season opener but suffered an injury in that game and missed the next 10 games on the injured list. A product of Oklahoma State. “Raw kid. He has everything that you would want an interior guy to have. I think he is an interior guy. I don’t think you put him on the edge, so he has to learn and develop inside. We’re going to need him. If we go with the three interior guys as Canadians, or the two guards, you’re going to need guys at all spots, you’re going to have to have depth to help you when injuries arise. It’s going to be a good competition in there.”
Maurice Simba: 6’8”, 320. The Argos fourth-round pick in the 2019 CFL Draft spent all but the final game of the year on the practice roster. An All-Canadian at Concordia. Worked hard during the season and dropped roughly 30 pounds. “Now that’s a big one (laughs). He’s another guy that I think should play on the interior. I know he’s a big guy, but I think he should be on the interior because I think that he’s another guy that won’t get knocked around. But as far as understanding everything, he’s kind of raw. He’s got to get down what I’m trying to get across to him. Once he does that, he can play with a lot more confidence, because when you’re out there and you don’t know exactly what to do, you’re a little hesitant. I even looked at him at one point at the centre spot. Size at centre doesn’t bother me, there have been big guys in this league who have played centre. Anybody on the interior has to be able to go and play centre, so I’ve got to work them all at centre because we’ve got to have depth.”
Eric Starczala: 6’5”, 315. The Argos seventh rounder in ’19. He returned to play at Guelph last season. The Cambridge native was a two-time OUA All-Star with the Gryphons. “Still raw. He busted his butt getting in shape and putting forth the effort to get better. Our off-season conversations have been good. He’s a guy that I will start right off the bat at centre and he’ll have to move around at the guard sports also.”