The Toronto Argonauts have a lot to look forward to in 2014.
Long gone are the glory moments of the 100th Grey Cup, back to reality, which is an almost total rebuilding effort on defence in effort to get back to the 102nd Grey Cup come November 30th.
First and foremost, this year has such special optimism because they get their quarterback back. With Anthony Calvillo out of the picture, Ricky Ray is the best in the league. He did have issues staying healthy last year but in the time he played he was remarkable. Completing 77 per cent of your passes and finishing with a 21:2 touchdown to interception ratio is an accomplishment that other quarterbacks envy and respect. His quarterback rating was 126.4.
If Ray can stay healthy for the year, the Argonauts will always be in position to win it all. Health really is the only issue as age, now creeping into the mid 30s, is still not a significant detriment.
Other positions? Absolutely. If you are a running back or defensive back, when you lose that athletic burst or reactive ability, you lose a lot. But quarterbacks, more than any other position, are cerebral more than physical and as long as the first dominates the second, you can continue to play at a very high level.
The next aspect of success could be a re-designed defence. Losing Chris Jones, now the head coach with the Edmonton Eskimos, was intense as Jones transferred his intensity successfully to the players he directed.
But when a coaching void is opened it is usually filled quickly, and the combination of Tim Burke and Casey Creehan will develop their own style based on experience, not experiment. Toronto will be a much more "upfield" team, depending on a front four to pressure and a back eight to react. As a coordinator, Burke has always been successful, and as a linebacker coach so has Creehan.
Then after Mike O'Shea left to become the head coach in Winnipeg, the void was filled by Jim Daley, who knows this league better than any. Losing two assistants to head coaching jobs says a lot about how good the defensive staff was, but it could be even better potentially with the positions filled in the present.
Running back will be a battle. With Chad Kackert retired, it appears to be a three-man competition between Steve Slaton, Curtis Steel, and Anthony Coombs. Can Coombs be an 18 game starter? Very unlikely, but possible. Nothing would be better than to see the University of Manitoba star be the next Jon Cornish. If he does, then everything falls into place on offence and with ratio flexibility.
Overall, from last year there are major priorities for improvement. Toronto ended the season with the best red zone offence and the best red zone defence. 69 per cent of the time the Argos produced touchdowns over field goals on offence. And only 46 per cent of the time Toronto allowed touchdowns, forcing opponents into field goals.
Inside the 20, the Argos were the best in CFL football. Outside the 20s: a priority to improve.
On average, teams produced 389 yards of offence, 289 of which was through the air. Those totals were both eighth in the league. Toronto finished dead last in rushing yards as well, with only 85 produced per game. And that eighth-place reality is for the second year in a row.
But you can rationalize that with a +18 takeaway/giveaway number and arguing what happens between the 20s is not as significant as what happens from the 20 in. But all that yardage against takes time away from Ray and the offence; that has to be improved.
So looking into the future one year at a time, Toronto will have a good team. Looking into the future more than one year, Toronto needs a new home for the team.
BMO Field is an excellent choice but the financing is still floating in space. Because the stadium was built with tax payer money, there is no reason not to include all. If it was privately funded, than those who paid for it can use it as they see fit. But it was paid by the public so should be open to public use, and that includes the Toronto Argonauts.
To me, expansion will create more revenue for all and the location and design can be adapted for all. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Both Hamilton and Montreal will be better and are better right now than at this time last year. Ottawa is a complete unknown but is not to be looked at as a guarantee win day. Toronto is somewhere in the middle, catching up perhaps to Hamilton and Montreal but way ahead of Ottawa.
But with Ray at quarterback the catch up is more of a threat than a desire. Two years removed from the Grey Cup means a new team in Toronto.