What a difference a couple of months make.
If you were to get into a conversation with Toronto Argonauts Linebackers Coach Kevin Eiben in January, he would have spoken about the prospects of a healthy Bear Woods, his anticipation that Jordan Moore was going to re-sign after opting out last year, or how excited he was to have Canadians Nelkas Kwemo, Nick Shortill, and Jack Cassar to work with.
Boy have things changed.
Not only does the coach still have Woods and the Canadians to work with, but Moore re-signed, and the Argos made a major splash in free agency by acquiring the CFL’s 2019 Most Outstanding Canadian, Henoc Muamba, and Cameron Judge, the runner up in that category. The potential to start two game-changing Canadians at the second level opens up a ton of ratio possibilities for Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie.
Eiben is beyond thrilled to see how the defensive personnel has evolved.
“I was pretty stoked to see all the defensive linemen signed because it all starts up front,” Eiben told Argonauts.ca in a Zoom interview. “I knew that whatever backers we put in to play, that we had a great front four. If we have four guys that get after the quarterback, it makes our job easier. I knew our time would come to address the linebacker position.”
Cameron Judge was the primary target, but he wouldn’t sign on the first day of free agency because he had scheduled a workout with the Las Vegas Raiders. There was also no guarantee that if he returned to the CFL that it would be in Toronto.
Judge officially became an Argo on February 17, eight days after free agency began. In this case, the organization’s patience to not rush him through his NFL process, or give him an ultimatum, paid off.
“Now that I’ve gotten to know Cam over the last few weeks, I’m pretty impressed with him as a man,” gushed Eiben. “I know what kind of football player he is, and I can’t wait to get in a room and start working with him.”
The Argos went into the Judge negotiation aggressively, hoping that they would be able to convince the Montreal-born backer to head to Toronto, so his signing didn’t surprise Eiben. Muamba on the other hand was just icing on an already beautiful cake.
“He’s a hell of a linebacker,” Eiben said of Muamba. “It gives us options on the defensive side of the ball on where we’ll start our Canadians and who will be our Canadian starters because we have options.”
Eiben knows a thing or two about what starting a pair of elite Canadian linebackers can do. After all, he and Mike O’Shea gave the Argos an incredibly talented duo for several years. O’Shea patrolled the middle en route to a place in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, while Eiben was a five-time All-Star as a weak-side linebacker and is second to O’Shea in career CFL tackles by a Canadian, a stat kept since 1987.
“I think we probably have the best Canadian linebacking corps in the league,” said Eiben without trying to sound boastful. “You look at Judge, Henoc, Nick Shortill, Nelkas Kwemo, Jack Cassar, Paul Kozachuk, those guys are studs.”
The more names the coach rattled off, the more exhilarated he seemed to become. He quickly turned to the American players at the position, something that has been largely ignored by both fans and media because of the excitement over signing Judge and Muamba.
“Let’s not forget about Bear Woods,” Eiben gushed. “We’ve got Jordan Moore, Reshard Cliett, we’ve got Jason Beck and Cameron Glenn. Who knows how we’re going to do the Canadian ratio because we have options. All these guys are not just great athletes, but they’re physical and they want to punish you.”
One of the keys to starting a Canadian at any position is having quality depth behind the starter. The Argos are certainly in a good position with the players mentioned above and could easily make the two linebacking spots. Kwemo didn’t look out of place when he started at the end of the 2019 season, while Shortill filled in for an injured Simoni Lawrence for an extended period in Hamilton that same year and proved he was a more than capable WILL linebacker. The team is also anxious to see Cassar in action at the pro level.
That depth gives the Argos plenty of options. Offensively, it’s assumed the plan is to go with four Canadians on the o-line, but they could go with three. They could go with one or two starting Canadian receivers. A team must start a minimum of seven Canadians, but the Argos have the capability of starting more than that.
“We’ve got some great Canadian defensive backs,” Eiben was quick to point out. “Arjen Colquhoun, Robert Woodson, Matt Boateng, so we could go with a starting Canadian DB. Upfront we have Fabion Foote, Sam Acheampong and Robbie Smith. We’ve got some Canadians on the defensive side of the ball where we’ve got options.”
Glen Young is the Argos defensive coordinator, himself a Canadian linebacker who starred in the CFL – including for two seasons with the Argos – after spending time with four NFL teams. He obviously appreciates the additions and Eiben is thrilled that Young has that much talent to work with.
“It’s a great thing for Glen. We’ve pretty much evolved the entire defence, it’s a whole new squad. We get to work together from scratch. We can’t wait to get to training camp and see them fly around and make plays. We as coaches have to put them in a position to make plays because their athleticism will take over.”
There’s another chance for the Argos to add talent on May 4, the night of the CFL Draft. There are several defensive players that will be selected in the first couple of rounds, including some top-end linebackers.
The rich could get richer.