Entering the season on a high after Jim Barker returned the Argonauts to the playoffs the year before, nothing went right for Toronto in 2011, and the team returned to the East Division basement. A two-game winning streak to end the year meant the Argos didn’t finish with the league’s worst record (that distinction fell to Saskatchewan Roughriders) but still led to sweeping changes in the off-season.
|Barker made the biggest off-season splash in the league, landing Ray in deal with the Edmonton Eskimos.
It took everyone by surprise; the biggest move of the off-season. A three-player, one draft pick trade that landed the Argonauts former Grey Cup MVP Ricky Ray.
Ray had spent his entire nine-year CFL career with the Edmonton Eskimos, amassing more than 40,000 passing yards and 210 touchdowns, five team nominees for Most Outstanding Player, and several team records.
The 32-year-old signal caller and two-time Grey Cup champion gives the Argonauts an instant and prominent upgrade at quarterback, but Ray was far from the only change made in Toronto over the off-season.
Making just as big an impact will be the change at head coach, where former Montreal Alouettes offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich takes over for Barker, who will now focus solely on his general managing duties.
Milanovich presided over a two-time Grey Cup winning offence during his time in Montreal, and also helped QB Anthony Calvillo win two Most Outstanding Player Awards.
The 38-year-old will now get his first shot running the whole show with the Double Blue, bringing along with him a revamped Argonauts coaching staff. Most noteworthy among the team’s new assistant coaches is defensive coordinator Chris Jones – the Calgary Stampeders former DC; a rising star in the CFL coaching ranks that Calgary wasn’t pleased see move east.
Jones will have work to do, because while the Argos’ additions garnered most of the attention this off-season, a number of departures on the defensive side of the ball are likely to have an impact on the team’s fortunes in 2012.
Barker made some surprising changes to the Argos’ defence, of note releasing two-time East Division All-Star DB Lin-J Shell and letting 2011 CFL All-Star Byron Parker walk in free agency. With the moves, Toronto loses 10 years of combined experience, and 35 interceptions. The all-star tandem re-joined forces in BC.
The 2012 Argos will also be missing a couple other familiar faces on defence. After re-upping with the team earlier in the off-season, S/LB Willie Pile retired prior to this year’s training camp. And after the team allowed him to hit free agency, non-import LB Kevin Eiben ultimately signed with the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Eiben’s role with Toronto had continuously been decreasing, but the 32-year-old fan favourite takes a lot of veteran leadership – and a chip on his shoulder – with him down the QEW.
Toronto’s offence also suffered a significant loss. Dominic Picard signed with the Roughriders as a free agent after three seasons playing home games in the Rogers Centre. Ray, looking to lead an improved offence, will have to do it without last year’s East Division All-Star centre snapping him balls.
By all accounts, the 100th Grey Cup and the festivities leading up to it are going to be awesome. All of that will take place in Toronto in late November, and the Argonauts are doing everything they can to make sure they’ll be a major part of it.
|Boyd, if healthy, is one of the top running backs in the league.
The Argos went all-in this off-season in an attempt to give Toronto fans a home team to cheer for in perhaps the biggest Grey Cup in league history. The team finished in the East Division basement last season, so the massive overhaul Barker undertook over the winter was certainly necessary.
And while chemistry could be an issue with all the new pieces wearing Double Blue, you can no longer deny the Argonauts now have the firepower to at least make a run at the Grey Cup.
Ray is a proven winner at QB and has the capability of being the centerpiece of a team that makes a deep playoff run.
Leading the Argos’ running attack is Cory Boyd, one of the most talented backs in the league. In his two years in the league, Boyd has twice broken the 1,000 yard mark and has averaged more than six yards per carry. Injuries have been a concern for the former league All-Star in his brief CFL career, but Toronto has a decent stable of backup runners, led by Chad Kackert and Canadian Jeff Johnson, ready to step up if needed.
Toronto has also quietly put together a strong group of receivers. Chad Owens the receiver is catching up to Chad Owens the return man in terms of explosiveness and playmaking ability, while Andre Durie has become a reliable threat since converting from the running back position. The Argos lost veteran Jeremaine Copeland to retirement but Jason Barnes, who has some familiarity with Ray from their time together in Edmonton, was added in the off-season.
The offensive line is the unit with the most to prove heading into the season. Picard left for Saskatchewan, neither LT - Rob Murphy (retired) and Edawn Coughman (released) will be back, and RG Taylor Robertson also retired. From an intriguing group that includes newcomers Marc Parenteau, Wayne Smith, and Andrew Jones, to go along with a number of holdovers, offensive line coach Steve McAdoo will be tasked with finding the right combination of five to protect the team’s most valuable asset, a combination the team hopes can be all non-imports.
The team’s defence will also have a very different look this season, and for a unit that finished last in the league in all major defensive statistics categories, the shakeup should be welcome.
With no blockbuster trade on defence, the unit will instead have to rely on Barker’s finds over the off-season to fill the spaces between mainstays such as Ronald Flemons, Ricky Foley, and Kevin Huntley on the defensive line, and Ejiro Kuale and Jason Pottinger in the linebacking corps.
The Argonauts loaded up in the hope that they can play in the 100th Grey Cup as hosts. But for a team that finished last in the East Division, losing twice as many games as they won a year ago, did they stock up enough? And even if they do now have the pieces, will they be able to gel together as a team in time to be taken seriously as a contender? There are a lot of questions to be answered, but with the playmakers they’ve accumulated – and Ray at the steering wheel – the Argos this season have a real chance to make some noise.
||DE Cleyon Laing
||LB H Tonye-Tonye
||WR Quincy Hurst
||TE Luke Willson
||LB Aaron Crawford
||DB Shea Pierre
Having shipped their first-round pick (second overall) to the Eskimos in the Ray trade, and their third-round pick to the Blue Bombers, Toronto had just one selection in the first 23 picks. With the ninth-pick the Double Blue selected DE Cleyon Laing, a futures pick from Iowa State.
Making futures picks was a theme for Barker and the Argonauts, with three of the team’s six picks heading back to school for another year.
Third-round WR Quincy Hurst and sixth-rounders Aaron Crawford and Shea Pierre are available for Toronto in 2012.