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Argos News And Notes: Keeping The Band Together, Montreal-Hamilton Watch

The Argos are back practicing this week at Lamport Stadium as Toronto prepares for the East Final on Sunday, December 5th, at BMO Field. The Argonauts will be awaiting the winner of this Sunday’s East Semi-final between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Montreal Alouettes.

Argos News And Notes

Hamilton-Montreal Watch

After a week off from practice and film work, the Argos players are back with their coaches prepping for two very familiar opponents in Hamilton (8-6) and Montreal (7-7). Nearly half of the Argonauts’ (9-5) regular-season games belonged to meetings with these two heated Eastern rivals. (4 versus the Ticats, two versus the Alouettes).

Toronto split the season series with Montreal. Winning at BMO and losing at Molson. However, the Boatmen’s 37-16 loss against Montreal with first-place on the line in October was undoubtedly their worst overall performance of the season. The Argos were dominated in all facets by the Als last month.

At the time, the humbling defeat by Toronto put them in a tie for first place with Montreal at 6-4, who owned the tie-breaker.

Two weeks later, it was Montreal losing tough back-to-back games to Saskatchewan and Winnipeg that opened the door for Toronto to capture the Eastern crown.

The Als overall .500 record may not look daunting to outsiders. But the Argos experienced first-hand what the Alouettes are fully capable of when they are playing at their best. And the last time these two rivals clashed, Montreal didn’t have former Argos pivot, Trevor Harris, at the controls.

An entirely different wrinkle to this potential East Final matchup.

Paralysis By Over Analysis Of Hamilton

The Argos coaching staff has prepared for Hamilton four separate times this year.

They have to go into this week facing the reality that they could be facing the Ticats for the fifth time. At this point, what could either Toronto or Hamilton show that each rival hasn’t seen yet?

That’s the challenge facing Ryan Dinwiddie, Chris Jones, and the entire Argos coaching staff heading into this weekend and potentially beyond. There’s no doubt that Toronto will be watching how Hamilton and Montreal play each other in a do-or-die scenario this Sunday.

Despite squaring off four times this year, The Argos haven’t faced the Ti-Cats with their trio of top playmakers, Bralon Addison, Brandon Banks, and Don Jackson, all on the field at the same time. On Sunday, the Cats are expected to have their full arsenal of weapons on offence.

The oddsmakers are having trouble setting a line for Sunday’s game between the Als and Tiger-Cats. By game time, Hamilton should be the slight favorite because they are at home. But the uncertainty over who will lead Hamilton on the pivot, Dane Evans or Jeremiah Masoli, is what has many pressing pause on the Ticats future prospects.

Facing Hamilton at home, with a chance to go back to Hamilton for the 108th Grey Cup, would be an interesting scenario for Toronto. The last time the Grey Cup was played in Hamilton was 25 years ago when Toronto, led by the legendary Doug Flutie, defeated Edmonton in the snow 43-37. It was one of the most infamous CFL title games of all time.

Keeping The Argos Band Together

The finality of a playoff game can have a funny way of washing an entire season away with just one loss. A cold, brutal defeat in the playoffs can precipitate significant changes, no matter how successful a one-year campaign was.

Sometimes even winning it all leads to multiple changes where key figures branch out to new horizons.

In many ways, Toronto has taken an all-in approach in 2021, shooting for the moon with an entirely revamped roster. The Boatmen have very few sailors on their boat from 2019. And it’s fair to wonder how many of the hired guns will return for 2022. Will the 2021 Argos look the same when the 2022 season arrives?

You have to figure that no matter what happens in the East Final. Rookie head coach Ryan Dinwiddie will be back. Despite a series of missteps and ups and downs during the season. The first-time head coach has held his own and impressed anyone who has followed the team closely.

The question then becomes what happens above Dinwiddie.

It’s hard not to notice the Elks house cleaning in Edmonton, where the team’s president, general manager, and head coach were all fired at season’s end in one fell swoop. The Ottawa REDBLACKS are also in the market for a new GM.

One of the best-kept secrets during the Argos’ successful 2021 season is how great the team’s front office has been. The team of General Manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons, VP of Player Personnel John Murphy, and Director of Scouting Vince Magri have done a phenomenal job reshaping the Boatmen from also-rans to legit contenders.

Toronto has arguably the best Canadian starting roster in the CFL. Several young standouts also flank the Boatmen from recent draft classes like Kurleigh Gittens Jr, Peter Nicastro, and others. The international scouting has been phenomenal as well. Look no further than all the American rookies that have contributed at a high level this year, like DJ Foster, Shawn Oakman, Treston Decoud, Dejon Allen, and several others.

Not only should John Murphy be in high demand for several positions around the league. But Canadian Football League teams need to seriously start considering Vince Magri to head up their football operations. Magri has not only excellent knowledge of national players but also a keen eye for international players. A former player himself, it amazes me that Magri is being overlooked. Perhaps that’s exactly what Toronto wants.

The ultimate package deal for a struggling CFL franchise would be to pair John Murphy with Chris Jones. The duo that ruled the roost in Saskatchewan would make a ton of sense for a franchise like Edmonton. Murphy and Jones are a great combination of football minds who have had a significant amount of success, identifying and getting the most out of players in the CFL.

Outside of the recent run of Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea in Winnipeg and Calgary’s stellar tandem of Hufnagel and Dickenson. Jones and Murphy might have the best track record of team building in Canada.

Chris Jones has already won it all in Edmonton as a GM and head coach. It makes perfect sense for the Elks to hand the keys of their franchise over to Jones again, with Murphy by his side again in lockstep.

The Argos could reshuffle the deck when it comes to some of their players in 2022. But the most significant changes could come with the people in charge of picking those players.

Argos Injury Report/Roster News

With 19 days between the end of the regular season and the East final. The watch has turned to who will return for Toronto off their injured list. The lengthy time off gives banged-up players a chance to heal and injured players an opportunity to reenter the picture.

WR Eric Rogers is off the team’s six-game injured list and is back practicing. As Toronto’s most physical receiver, Rogers should give the Boatmen a significant boost in both the pass and run game.

I am hearing that rookie standout C Peter Nicastro (knee) is hoping to be back by the East Final. The same goes for Argos defensive player of the year nominee LB Dexter McCoil (knee). Both standouts missed the Boatmen’s last handful of games at the end of the season.

With Cameron Judge and Henoc Muamba at full health. The Argos could have their full complement of linebackers for the East Final if McCoil returns.

A return of Nicastro would slide Philip Blake back to guard on the opposite side of another stalwart in the trenches at Dariusz Bladek.

However, what’s not clear yet is whether RT Jamal Campbell (strained quad) will be able to return for the playoffs. A severe strain can typically keep a player out for up to two months. Campbell has missed five games. The nearly three weeks between the end of the season and the final create a window for a speedy return. But at the moment, it looks unlikely that Campbell will be back in time.

The same goes for RB John White (knee), who appears to be a long shot at making a return to the Argos lineup. However, DB Jamal Peters, who started several games earlier in the season outside at cornerback, appears to be on the comeback trail.

During the week off, Toronto brought back DB Tarvarus McFadden, who spent time with the Argos earlier this summer. The 6’2 versatile ballhawk, a Jack Tatum award winner at FSU, has the skill set to get a more extended look in Canada.

In their secondary, Toronto has already hit on league newcomers Jalen Collins, Treston Decoud, and Jamal Peters. McFadden has a similar skill set to those players. In the XFL with the Tampa Bay Vipers, the league named him to their All-XFL team. Eleven of those players that made the list are either on NFL or CFL rosters right now.

There are many unsung heroes in sports. The people behind the scenes who help aid players back to health or keep them in top shape don’t always get their just due. The Argos family lost longtime trainer Fred Dunbar recently. People like Dunbar, who spent 14 years as a trainer with the Boatmen, not only help keep players in good health but in good spirits.

The Argos haven’t been at full strength all season long. But the East final might be the closest they are going to get to it. The Double Blue is just one more step and victory away from a trip to the Grey Cup. A trip back to Hamilton for all the glory, a journey that the franchise took 25 years ago.

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Mike Mitchell Reporter
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