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Rookies Poised To Make Early Impact On The Toronto Argonauts

The theme of the Toronto Argonauts in 2021 is their newness. The Double Blue is barely recognizable from the last time they took the field in 2019. Very few crew members from the Boatmen’s last season remain on board. Players like OT Jamal Campbell, QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, FB Declan Cross, LB Bear Woods, and a select few others survived the roster purge.

Since the last time they took the field in 2019. The Argonauts have completely revamped their team philosophy, front office, coaching staff, and roster. The boat is indeed back, but it has a lot of new sailors. And for all the hype attached to the Boatmen’s high-profile additions and changes, what’s flying under the radar is the number of first-year CFL players who are positioned to make an impact for Toronto immediately. On both the Canadian and American sides.

Toronto Argonauts “Rookies”

The two-year layoff and the structure of the CFL have contributed to a unique dynamic, where some teams are trotting out two years’ worth of draft picks in 2021. Players like 2020 first-round pick WR Dejon Brissett are technically CFL rookies because there was no 2020 season. The Argonauts have several rookies from the last two draft classes that will play roles this season. Like linebackers Trevor Hoyte and Jack Cassar. Two former teammates in college from separate drafts teaming up again to aid the Argos special teams and depth.

Setting aside, traditional rookies. One of the unique aspects of the CFL is that no matter what a player’s experience is abroad, NFL veterans like Argos’ newcomer Shane Ray are starting all over as rookies in the Canadian Football League. The game is so different in Canada for players who have played college football and in pro leagues in the united states.

As rookies in a new league. The odds are against these players making a CFL roster, let alone adjusting quickly to become instant contributors. This summer, American newcomers have had an even steeper uphill battle to earn roster spots with no preseason games this summer. But several players on Toronto’s roster who fall under this classification have bucked the odds and this trend.

The Toronto Argonauts have several players on both sides of the coin.

Canadian and American rookies might not only contribute this Saturday in Calgary in the team’s season opener. But they could very well be sitting atop the team’s depth chart at several key positions. Let’s look at those players and the positions where they could play a factor against the Stampeders.

Toronto Argonauts Offensive Line

Centre/Guard- Peter Nicastro

The Calgary Dinos have produced some of the very best Canadian offensive linemen in the CFL. On Saturday, the Toronto Argonauts 2021 first-round pick, Peter Nicastro, could be captaining the Boatmen’s ship at centre. Across the field on the other sideline from the rookie on Saturday will be former Argonauts’ standout, Sean McEwen. Toronto hopes that Nicastro’s career ends up mirroring that of the former UOC player.

The Argonauts had Nicastro as number one on their draft board earlier this year. And the team drafted him with the centre position in mind. The Argos’ brass loved what they saw of Nicastro on film when he did play centre for the Dinos. The idea was to ease Nicastro’s transition to the pivot, but Cody Speller’s absence has expedited that process.

All indications are that Nicastro will start in week one at either guard or centre. Nicastro has been splitting reps with veteran Philip Blake in practice for several weeks now. Blake could get the call to man the middle, but regardless, Nicastro will be making his first-ever CFL start in his first-ever game. It will be quite the challenge for the rookie in Calgary, no less.

Left Tackle- Terry Poole/Dejon Allen

Projected starting LT Isiah Cage has been dealing with an ankle injury, and he could be on the shelf for a while. In his stead, competing for the starting nod as the Argos’ blindside protector are American rookies Terry Poole and Dejon Allen. Both players have strong college backgrounds and their share of pro experience in the United States, but neither has ever played a CFL game.

Dejon Allen is a tweener type who can play at guard as well. But his athleticism and mobility project well to the Canadian game despite his perceived shortcomings.

Terry Poole is an interesting CFL prospect. The former Seattle Seahawks draft pick doesn’t have an NFL left tackle’s traditional size and length. And the knock-on him has been his lack of aggressiveness at the snap. It’s one of the reasons that despite his draft status coming out of San Diego State, he never received meaningful snaps in the National Football League.

But in the AAF and most recently with the XFL. Poole was given a shot to start on the blindside, and he graded out as one of the league’s best linemen by Pro Football Focus. (3rd overall). Poole had a great 2020 campaign protecting the pocket for Houston Roughnecks star and current Carolina Panthers QB PJ Walker.

But even with Poole’s impressive performance in the XFL. Adjusting to playing on the offensive line in the CFL takes time. The line of scrimmage rules are much different with the one-yard neutral zone. And no amount of practice can prepare you for that adjustment during live games. The Argonauts thought highly enough of Poole’s skillset to trade away Alden Darby for him. The Argonauts coaching staff and the front office could put their faith and confidence in Poole’s abilities to the test this Saturday.

Toronto Argonauts Defence

Defensive Linemen: Shane Ray, Shawn Oakman, Dewayne Hendrix & Kony Ealy

Defensive Backs: Josh Hagerty & Treston Decoud

Ready or not, here they come. The Toronto Argonauts defensive line boasts some of the CFL’s very best players. Starting with the likes of Charleston Hughes, Cordarro Law, and Drake Nevis. But the hype this summer about Toronto’s defensive front has been attached to some of its newcomers. The team is so deep at the position that other standouts like Eli Harold and CFL vet Odell Willis are not currently a part of the mix. Harold with an illness and Willis with a team excused personal absence.

This Saturday, the Argonauts might be without two of their best defensive linemen in Cordarro Law and Drake Nevis. Both are nursing injuries and are unlikely to play but even with their expected absence. The area that head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has professed the most confidence in is his defensive line.

A big reason for the team’s confidence is the additions and performance of former Denver Broncos first-round pick Shane Ray, NFL vets Kony Ealy, and Dewayne Hendrix. As well as Baylor and LA Wildcats standout Shawn Oakman. All four have received great coaching from Glen Young and Rich Stubler in camp.

The Argos are extremely excited about their development. Shane Ray looks like he is poised to start opposite Hughes on Saturday. The team loves Ray’s talents and work ethic. Ray has turned heads and offensive linemen silly in camp.

Shawn Oakman, at 6’9 287, has always looked the part. With Toronto thus far, he has more than played his part. The Argos love his versatility, and Oakman showed flashes of maturing in the XFL in 2020; he’s taking the next step as a pro in Toronto. And could be an instant factor on the interior of the Double Blue defense.

Kony Ealy, the former NFL and XFL player, is similar to Oakman in that he has the size to play on the edge or at defensive tackle for the Boatmen. Ealy has plenty of starting experience and has also had a strong summer with Toronto.

Very quietly, Dewayne Hendrix has had a terrific summer as well. The former St. Louis BattleHawk at 6’4 270 has been moved all over the defensive formation in camp. Hendrix has the size and versatility to play any position on the Argos defence.

Hendrix won’t be playing linebacker in the CFL, but he has experience there as well. He is currently nursing an ankle injury, so his status for week one is in question. But like his other American cohorts, he is ready to make an impact as a CFL rookie.

Rookie sixth-round draft pick Josh Hagerty and American Treston Decoud were viewed as longshots to make Toronto’s active roster when camp started. But it’s hard to ignore their size (6’3 and 6’2) and their talents.

Decoud, in particular, the former fifth-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2017, has beaten the odds to make the Argos’ roster. Toronto has had Decoud playing defensive halfback, but his future might be at field corner. He’s taken really well to Joshua Bell’s coaching and could be a future starter in the CFL. Perhaps not in week one, but then again, perhaps his time could come sooner than anticipated. It’s working that way for his other fellow CFL rookies.

Toronto Argonauts Wednesday Practice Notes

  • The question of everyday continues to be whether Nick Arbuckle will start Saturday’s game. Arbuckle practiced again on Wednesday but coach Ryan Dinwiddie told reporters that he is still undecided. And that a decision could come after team meetings this evening. Dinwiddie is not revealing his cards publicly but there is a growing sense that McLeod Bethel-Thompson will get the starting nod at quarterback.
  • Coach Dinwiddie also mentioned the possibility of bringing all three of his quarterbacks with him to Calgary. Even if Arbuckle is unable to dress for the game.
  • Projected starting DB Arjen Coulquhoun did not practice on Wednesday after being limited with a hamstring injury on Tuesday. The Argos will need him against Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stamps passing attack.
  • With Drake Nevis and Cordarro Law not practicing. (Hip/Knee). The Argos could be starting three american rookies next to Charleston Hughes on their defensive line in Shane Ray, Shawn Oakman and Kony Ealy.
  • Special teams captain and fullback Declan Cross, one of the few remaining crew members from the Boatmen’s last championship team, told the media how excited he is about the teams prospects this season. Cross loves the new offense and has embraced the leadership/mentor role with players like rookie fullback Dion Pellerin. Who Cross jokingly admitted, has taught him some tricks of the trade.
  • The Argonauts have one final practice on Thursday at Lamport Stadium before heading to Calgary.

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Mike Mitchell Reporter
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