Day four of Toronto Argonauts training camp saw the team conduct its traditional Double Blue scrimmage game. A year ago, the annual camp tradition took place in mid-July, and a lot has changed for the Argos’ and CFL since then.
The Argos defence won the evening at Alumni Stadium, besting the team’s offence in the 45-minute scrimmage. It’s not a surprising outcome. After all, in the early stages of training camp, defences are typically one step ahead of offences. And based on all reports, that certainly was the case at Alumni Stadium.
Toronto Argonauts New DB Making Strong Impression
Toronto’s offence had some bright moments in the Double Blue scrimmage, like when Megastar RB Andrew Harris took his lone carry of the evening for 10 yards. But it was newly minted defensive coordinator Corey Mace’s unit that had several players shine in the team’s first competitive on-field action of 2022.
Namely defensive back Maurice Carnell IV, who had two interceptions in the scrimmage. Including one that saw his defensive teammates erupt in joy.
Maurice Carnell IV, a late free-agent pickup in April, is making his case for a roster spot. On Day Three of training camp, as reported by Mike Hogan over at Argonauts.ca, Maurice Carnell IV had knockdowns at the goal line and in the end zone on successive plays.
Once upon a time, Maurice Carnell was a Toronto Argonaut, albeit for an extremely brief cup of coffee back in June of 2018. The San Diego, California native has been trying to break through in Canada for quite some time, and Carnell has been on the fringe of the Hamilton Ti-Cats roster since 2019.
Primarily a practice squad player, The North Alabama standout has rarely seen regular-season action, dressing for only one game with the Tiger-Cats.
Because the 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID, and there were no preseason games in 2021. Players like Maurice Carnell IV have been denied an extended look to state their case for a position on active rosters. Thanks to the return of exhibition games, Carnell is finally going to get an opportunity to see extended playing time in Friday’s preseason opener in Ottawa.
The CFL pushing back cutdown day to 75 plus non-counters until after the first slate of preseason games gives bubble players like Carnell a chance to have a fair in-game audition. Quite frankly, it’s something that the CFL should consider making permanent moving forward, pushing the mandatory cutdown from the start of training camp to after preseason action.
Maurice Carnell IV faces an uphill battle to be a part of an ultra-talented Argos’ secondary. But he’s getting his chance to shine for the first time in a long time and trying to make the most of it.
WR Jamari Hester Stands Out In Double Blue Game
Toronto’s defence may have dominated on Sunday. But that doesn’t mean that players on the opposite side of the ball didn’t stand out.
Recent NFL imports like RB Javon Leake and WR Isaiah Wright are two players who will be hard to part ways with because of their ability to contribute to offence and special teams. Both Wright and Leake had strong showings in the Double Blue scrimmage.
But one of the more intriguing players who flashed in the scrimmage was CFL rookie WR Jamari Hester.
WR Jamari Hester, who the Argonauts signed back in February, has never had a challenging time standing out from the crowd. The 6’6 pass-catcher from Jacksonville State is one of only three receivers in school history to record over 2,000 yards receiving, and he also corralled 22 touchdowns for the Gamecocks.
Hester, who is coming off a good rookie minicamp, and a good showing in the first few days of camp, is continuing to build up confidence with his new Argo teammates. At Sunday’s Double Blue scrimmage, he and McLeod Bethel-Thompson connected on a pretty touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone, and Hester used his long stems to stay in bounds and complete the score.
It never fails; some unexpected players flash every year in training camp, only to disappear once the regular season starts.
Toronto has one of the deepest veteran receiving corps in the league. And the chances of Jamari Hester cracking the lineup or even making the active roster are very slim. Simply because, for Hester, to make the team, he will need to do it over players who bring value and experience to special teams. Returners like Chandler Worthy, Darece Roberson, Isaiah Wright, Earnest Edwards, and Damion Jeanpiere have a leg up on Hester in that department.
With Toronto starters likely playing very little in the preseason opener against the REDBLACKS. Hester’s best shot to make a lasting impression could be this Friday night. Perhaps if the numbers game eventually squeezes him out on the active roster. A raw but talented player like Jamari Hester can have a strong enough showing to carve a spot on the practice roster.
Early Concerns About The Toronto Argonauts Offensive Line
Argonauts quarterbacks not named McLeod Bethel-Thompson, struggled quite a bit in their first “real action” during the Double Blue game. Particuarly Antonio Pipkin and Austin Simmons, who combined for three interceptions during the session. Chad Kelly, who has had a great camp thus far, didn’t turn the ball over but, by all accounts, didn’t have a lights-out night at the University of Guelph either.
It isn’t very reasonable to read too much into the first scrimmage of camp. After all, its purpose is for teams to iron out some early kinks. But there is one area worthy of concern for Toronto heading into the preseason and the regular season. And that’s their offensive line.
The overall unit had its fair share of struggles on Sunday night. A significant reason is that they were up against an elite defensive line in the Double Blue game. By all accounts, Toronto’s o-line had a hard time keeping players like Shawn Oakman and Shane Ray at bay. Ray took first-round rookie Gregor MacKellar to school in one particular instance.
The Argos are so deep up front defensively with star talent. So you can easily excuse some early struggles from the offensive line in that matchup, especially if it’s a rookie’s first live-action against seasoned vets.
However, two key areas upfront for the Boatmen’s offensive line, Centre and Tackle, are massive question marks heading into the season.
It’s been three years since Left Tackle Isaiah Cage has played a meaningful snap. And in 2019, Cage played only seven games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury.
With longtime stalwart OT Jamal Campbell now gone, there is a question of who will captain the right side for the Boatmen, provided Cage stays healthy. Dejon Allen was a great find on the left side a year ago. But can he have the same success at RT? Midseason pickup from Hamilton, Trevon Tate, was up and down last season, and he was inactive for the East Final when Campbell was on injured reserve. Martez Ivey has a ton of talent as a former five-star recruit and a standout player in the XFL. But he has had the same injury history as Cage, with not nearly the amount of CFL experience.
To add extra uncertainty to Toronto’s depth, Theren Churchill, the ninth overall pick by the Argos in the 2020 CFL draft, has decided to leave training camp in Guelph and football altogether, for the time being, to help his girlfriend with the birth of their child. The Argonauts have been very understanding about Churchill’s choice and have left the door open for him when he returns.
As the days move forward in training camp. It’s appearing increasingly likely that Peter Nicastro is going to miss the team’s season opener. And it’s likely that he misses more time than that. Toronto’s regular-season opener at home against Montreal doesn’t commence until week two. Nicastro, who finished 2021 on the six-game injured list with a knee injury, hopes to be ready by June 16th. But Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has cast doubt on Nicastro’s availability for that game.
Dinwiddie told the media this past weekend that he is considering holding Nicastro back as a cautionary move. “He’s kind of aiming for that, but I might have to hold him back. We have to make sure he’s ready to go. I probably envision him starting a few games into the season.”
Nicastro, the rookie sensation, was arguably the Boatmen’s best player upfront in 2021. Without him, late last year, the offence wasn’t the same. In his place, at centre, are two former Calgary players. Free-agent pickup Justin Lawrence and Jonathan Zamora, who signed on with the Argos late last season when Nicastro went down.
During the Double Blue game, Lawrence was up and down, starting at Centre. And Zamora, who didn’t play well in spot duty last season, struggled with the backups in Sunday’s scrimmage. The Argos’ would prefer not to have to insert Philip Blake back in the middle. It would be a last resort solution. But Toronto could be faced with that decision when the season arrives.
For now, preseason games arrive on Friday. And with it could come some answers to these lingering questions.