Canadian linebacker Williams gives Argos roster options, versatility
GUELPH, Ont. — Different team, different city, same mindset for Jordan Williams.
The Canadian linebacker is preparing for his third CFL season but first with the Toronto Argonauts. B.C. dealt Williams to the defending Grey Cup champion this off-season for a 2023 first-round the Lions used to take Southern Utah defensive lineman Francis Bemiy ninth overall.
Despite a solid start to his CFL career — first player taken in 2020 draft, league's top rookie in 2021 — Williams finds himself within a deep Argos linebacking corps that includes returnees Wynton McManis ('22 CFL all-star) and Canadian Henoc Muamba ('22 Grey Cup MVP, top Canadian) and fellow newcomer Adarius Pickett (free agent, Montreal).
"I always come to camp with the same mindset," Williams said. "That's to be the best version of myself and let whatever happens, happen.
"Absolutely, we're stacked at linebacker … we're loaded at the position. Whoever is most resilient, whoever is the most consistent that's who the coaches will put out there to play."
Another productive season could also prove beneficial financially for Williams. He's in the final year of his CFL rookie deal and slated to become a free agent in February 2024.
The six-foot, 232-pound Williams was the first player taken in the 2020 CFL draft but no football was played that year due to the global pandemic. He was the league's top rookie in 2021 after posting 92 tackles (most ever by a first-year player), five special-teams tackles, a sack and interception.
Last season, Williams registered 89 tackles, seven special-teams tackles and three forced fumbles with the Lions. As a Canadian, Williams gives Toronto plenty of roster flexibility as well as lineup options as he played both the strong-side and middle linebacker spots with B.C.
Williams should get ample opportunity early to impress given Toronto is easing McManis back as he continues to recover from a late-season knee injury.
"Wynton has been cleared but at the same time we can't have him doing contract drills and re-aggravate it," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. "We'll probably get him the last week of camp … we're going to be smart about it."
Dinwiddie said having a dearth of talent at linebacker is a pleasant problem to have.
"We might have a rotation, we'll see … we want to play the best players, that's the most important thing," he said. "We feel good about all of those guys.
"We feel like there's good competition there. If a guy goes down, the next man up will be able to do the same job."
And Dinwiddie likes Williams's versatility as well as the roster flexibility he gives the Argos.
"We potentially could play two Canadian linebackers for our ratio," Dinwiddie said. "He's a heck of a player.
"We watched all of his stuff with B.C. and obviously played against him. The guy flies around."
Williams said a rugged Toronto defensive front allows linebackers the luxury of often playing clean and being able to run to the ball freely. Although the Argos lost veteran defensive lineman Ja'Gared Davis in free agency (Hamilton), they did land stalwart defensive end Folarin Orimolade from Calgary and return towering tackle Shawn Oakman (six foot nine, 287 pounds) along with Canadian Robbie Smith (who had the Grey Cup-clinching blocked field goal versus Winnipeg) and American Dewayne Hendrix.
"This defence is for linebackers who like to run and hit and I believe I like to run and hit so I think I fit in well," Williams said. "Coach Mace (Argos defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace) made this defence to where linebackers are basically plug and play so if you're a guy who likes to hit and run fast, he'll find a spot on the field for you to make plays."
Williams said he wasn't with Toronto last year, it hasn't been hard to sense a championship aura within the team.
"Practising here you get to know what a championship mentality is," he said. "This team practices very hard and that's what it takes to win.
"When you get into those meetings rooms or when coach goes out there and gives you a pep talk before practice, that's what gets you back into football."
Williams reiterated it was his decision to broach the idea of a trade with B.C. because he wanted to be closer to family that's living here. Williams played his college football at East Carolina.
Williams, 28, was born in the U.S. but is deemed a national because his mother is Canadian.
"It feels good to be back home," Williams said. "I'm on a new team now … I just have to perform."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2023.