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News And Notes From The Toronto Argonauts Final Day Of Training Camp

The Toronto Argonauts’ final day of training camp practices took place on Thursday morning. The team will have meetings tomorrow as they prepare to make final roster cuts. The Argos will have to trim down their active roster by Friday from 76 to 45 players. (44 active, 1 reserve). In the last few days, Toronto has released 15 players in total. That number will increase significantly but with an expanded practice roster of five taxi squad players plus a twelve-man squad. Many of the players let go could be on their way back to the 6ix.

The Argos are nine days from their regular-season opener against the Stampeders. On Thursday, the Boatmen went through a walkthrough as they continue to transition towards regular-season mode. Many questions surround the new-look Argonauts heading into the 2021 season, but one that is still unanswered is who the starting quarterback will be when Toronto plays Calgary on August 7th.

Toronto Argonauts Delaying The Announcement Of Their Starting Quarterback

Toronto Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie told the media today that he doesn’t plan on naming his starting quarterback until the day before the regular-season opener in Calgary.

It’s worth noting that Nick Arbuckle, who has been nursing a grade one hamstring injury, returned to practice on Wednesday and participated in Thursday’s walkthrough. Ryan Dinwiddie and his staff are proceeding with caution, hoping to avoid a tear of Arbuckle’s hamstring, which would put him on the shelf for an extended period of time.

In the last two weeks, Quarterbacks McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Antonio Pipkin have been sharing first-team reps in practice. Bethel-Thompson, the CFL’s leading TD passer in 2019, is coming off a stellar performance in the Argos’ second Double Blue scrimmage game this past Monday. The veteran signal-caller kicked things off by going 9 of 10 with a touchdown on Toronto’s opening drive of the scrimmage.

Arbuckle’s absence has helped McLeod get up to speed with a sea of new faces on offence and Ryan Dinwiidie’s playbook. Based on his performance in training camp, the veteran signal-caller is ready to go if he does indeed get the call in week one.

The decision by coach Dinwiddie not to announce a starting quarterback until August 6th, a day before their season kicks off, has several variables attached. The first of which is Nick Arbuckle’s health. The possibility exists that once practices get ramped up in preparation for Arbuckle’s former team, that a setback could occur. Secondly, the head coach and his offensive staff want to ensure that Arbuckle can put in a full week of practice before giving him the nod to start. They need to know that he is a hundred percent. Dinwiddie is simply hedging his bets, just in case, Arbuckle can’t play. Lastly, there’s a level of gamesmanship involved here as well; with Ryan Dinwiddie making his former team, the Stampeders have to game plan for two quarterbacks instead of one.

Although, most CFL franchises try to avoid carrying three quarterbacks on their roster because it limits them in other areas of the team. It’s within the realm of possibility that Antonio Pipkin could make the final cut as the Argonauts designated reserve player. Pipkin has had a strong summer, showcasing his great mobility and arm strength. And with starting experience in Canada under his belt, Pipkin would make a strong insurance policy if Arbuckle isn’t ready.

Toronto Argonauts Injuries

Lost in all the attention and mystery surrounding Nick Arbuckle and the quarterback position, Toronto has a few other key player injuries worth monitoring as the team makes its way towards week one.

The CFL is a lot different than the NFL in terms of disclosing injuries. The league is still in its infancy stages when it comes to adopting daily injury reports and updates. There’s a level of transparency that doesn’t exist in the Canadian league simply because it’s not mandated. At least not yet, and there is an unwritten gentlemen’s agreement between the media and coaches, where both sides walk a fine line in discussing injured players or revealing/requesting information.

No matter what league it is, players and coaches are always reluctant to talk about or disclose injuries. For many years, legendary football coaches like Bill Belichick have been scrutinized and questioned about their gamesmanship tactics regarding injury reports. Often, there is doubt cast about the injuries disclosed and the severity of the ones that are.

In the last couple weeks of camp, Argonauts’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has mentioned injuries on his offensive line, without going into specifics or who the players were, as the reasoning behind the team signing late additions like Brandon Smith and Mojtaba Mehry. Dinwiddie even intimated in a zoom meeting with the media that part of the reason for the Alden Darby trade to Winnipeg for Terry Poole was because the team needed healthy bodies on their offensive line.

Some of these moves were notably made for players at the offensive tackle position. Presumptive starting left tackle Isiah Cage has missed practice with an undisclosed injury the last several days. In his place, Dejon Allen and the recently acquired Terry Poole have been taking reps. The blindside protector spot on Toronto’s offensive line is something worth monitoring in the coming days. And the roster cuts may provide a hint of where the team could be headed come opening day.

A key player on the defensive side of the ball who has missed practice time with an undisclosed injury this summer is defensive tackle Drake Nevis. The high-profile free-agent signing by the Argos is one of the CFL’s very best-run defenders. Nevis was a huge factor in helping the defending champion Blue Bombers hoist the Grey Cup trophy back in 2019. Although, his injuries don’t appear to be serious. Getting back on the practice field in preparation for week one will be vital for the Argos.

Another player who is in recovery mode and hasn’t been practicing is linebacker Eric Mezzalira. As one of the CFL’s very best special teams players, Mezzalira would give that Argos unit a big boost in replacing standout special teamer Frank Beltre. But Mezzalira doesn’t appear to be ready for the start of the regular season. So he may begin the season on the Argos injured list. Mezzalira is coming off an ankle injury that limited his 2019 campaign with the Stampeders. The Ontario native, Mezzalira, was a shrewd signing by John Murphy, Michael Clemons, and the team’s brain trust. But he could start the year on the one or most likely the six-game injured reserve.

Injuries and the fear of them occurring around the CFL have been a focal point of training camps around the league. With so many franchises suffering key long-term injuries this month. And teams like Toronto, who, to this point, has been fortunate in that department, all things considered, have treaded carefully down the road to the regular season. But the time has nearly come for the Toronto Argonauts to take their foot off the brake.

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Mike Mitchell Reporter
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