The Toronto Argonauts are treating Friday’s preseason finale with Hamilton as a dress rehearsal before a 13-day wait until their regular-season starts in Week 2. The Argos won’t have to travel far this week. They are practicing at Alumni Stadium in Guelph, Ontario.
This coming Friday, the Toronto Argonauts preseason finale against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the University of Guelph will have a different feel than the opening preseason game played in Ottawa. The exhibition closer will set the stage for the 2022 regular season.
In the preseason opener, the Boatmen sat approximately 18 presumed regular-season starters against Ottawa. But this coming Friday, the plan is for key players like QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson and his top receiving targets to see the field to get ready for when the games count. Bethel-Thompson and the team’s top veterans are expected to play an entire half. High-profile Argos’ offseason acquisitions like RB Andrew Harris, WR Brandon Banks, and DE JaGared Davis are expected to make their on-field debuts in Double Blue.
This past Friday’s 23-17 loss to the Ottawa REDBLACKS was an audition for many of the fringe players on the Argonauts’ roster. Several of them who started the game, like QB Antonio Pipkin, WR Chandler Worthy, and DB Treston Decoud, were released Sunday morning. Ten players in total for the first wave of roster cutdowns. The team needed to get to 75 players plus non-counters.
About roster cuts, After Friday’s game, Argos’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie bluntly told the media “Some guys are making these decisions easier for me.”
The Toronto Argonauts football club has some interesting roster decisions to make after they complete their preseason. Their #1 goal is to get ready and field the best team in their home opener against Montreal on June 16th.
Toronto Argonauts Roster Decisions
The Toronto Argonauts currently have 93 players on their roster. Despite a new CBA agreement being reached, there won’t be any new roster or ratio rules in place for the 2022 season.
The CFL hasn’t announced a final cut-down date as of press time. But it’s reasonable to assume that it could come the weekend after the final preseason games are played this Friday, June 3rd.
The standard active roster in 2021 was a max of 44 players. A year ago because of COVID restrictions and uncertainty, the CFL expanded practice rosters and allowed for the elevation of up to five players for each game/week. There was a 10-player practice roster and a special designated five-player CFL practice squad.
In the CFL, there are workarounds for storing players beyond the 44 players who dress for each game. Not only through the practice roster, but also on the one and six-game injured lists. Right now, Toronto has three players listed on their injured/suspended list. C Peter Nicastro, DB Shaq Richardson, and OL Theren Churchill.
Shaq Richardson is expected to be ready for game #1 against the Alouettes. There is still uncertainty attached to Nicastro’s availability. He could miss the opener and beyond due to a delay in recovery from a late-season knee injury in 2021. OL Theren Churchill is away from the team for personal reasons. Toronto has left the door wide open for his eventual return.
Lets’ take a look at three key positions on the Argos offence, and where things could fall in terms of roster management during the regular season.
Toronto Argonauts Positions Of Interest
The Argos are committed to Chad Kelly as the team’s #2 QB behind McLeod Bethel-Thompson. With Antonio Pipkin gone, it will allow the CFL rookie Kelly to get more reps in the upcoming preseason game, practices, and beyond.
But the question remains, will Chad Kelly be ready to run a CFL offence, if, for whatever reason, he is called into duty during the regular season. The Argos’ Grey Cup hopes are living and dying with their team leader McLeod Bethel-Thompson. But if he was forced to miss any action, would the team entrust their hopes on a CFL neophyte on the pivot.
It’s entirely possible, that if MBT were to miss any time during the regular season, the Boatmen could call upon an available CFL veteran to steady their ship. Perhaps, a reunion with Antonio Pipkin could be revisited in such a scenario.
In the meantime, Austin Simmons is Toronto’s #3 QB. Simmons had some positive moments in the preseason opener. But it remains to be seen if the Argos’ will be committed to him for the long term. For now, Simmons seems like a likely practice roster candidate. But head coach Ryan Dinwiddie on Sunday left open the possibility of adding another quarterback to the room.
It’s not talked about enough. But the return of a 21-week regular season, and a 19-game schedule, could be veteran Andrew Harris’s biggest Achilles heel. And ultimately the Argos’ most significant concern this season.
After all, even after a one-year layoff because of the 2020 season being canceled. The 35-year-old surefire Hall Of Famer played in only seven games last season.
Andrew Harris was at his usual best when the Bombers needed him most in the playoffs and Grey Cup. Including rushing for 136 yards in the West Final victory against Saskatchewan. But there is significant doubt, as to whether Harris can hold up physically at an advanced age, and be the same workhorse he has been his entire career.
Because of these concerns, the Argos’ depth at RB behind Harris will be pivotal. The Argonauts need to keep Harris healthy and fresh for their most important games.
American rookie Javon Leake had a stellar debut for Toronto in the preseason finale. Leake showed that he could be the answer for replacing the CFL’s #1 pass-catching back a year ago, D.J. Foster. However, the dynamic satellite back, Leake has never been a bell cow player, even dating back to his days at Maryland. But with the Argos’, he might have to shoulder more than just passing back/kick returner duties.
Because the Argonauts want to play more of a downhill running style than they did a season ago. A.J. Ouellette and rookie Daniel Adeboboye seem more suited to be Andrew Harris’s caddy. Carrying all these running backs on the active roster is not feasible. So who gets the nod on the active roster, and who starts the season on the practice squad could be determined by Friday’s final evaluations.
In American and Canadian football, the fullback position has increasingly become less prevalent. Fullbacks are often overlooked, and underutilized. Toronto is no exception. However, last season, the team carried up to three players at the position on game day. The Argos’ fullbacks were regularly the team’s most reliable weekly contributors on special teams.
For players like long-time Argo, Declan Cross, to remain on the roster. Value on specials could be the determining factor. Cross has certainly provided great value in this area, and in the locker room for several years now.
A wildcard to watch out for in Toronto’s backfield is another national player in tweener Dion Pellerin. The Waterloo stand-out, and 2020 draft pick, played in 14 games last season. He saw some action on offence as mostly a blocker but he did catch a game-winning 2-point conversion from Bethel-Thompson in an overtime victory over the B.C. Lions last October. Pellerin had four tackles on specials in 2021 and also blocked a punt for a touchdown against Ottawa last October.
Pellerin has been transitioning to playing the fullback position permanently with Toronto. But it’s his experience as a featured runner, that could come in handy during the long season. The added versatility coupled with his ratio value could make Pellerin a valuable swing-role player on game days.
Offensive Line Depth
Americans on the outside. All Canadians on the interior. That’s the makeup of the Argonauts’ offensive line heading into the season.
Toronto is happy with their situation at offensive tackle. They have one of the more talented CFL pass blockers in Isaiah Cage returning to captain the left tackle spot. And because Dejon Allen, who will now be on the right side, has a year of experience on the blindside, the team is comfortable with the in-game solution he brings to the table, if anything were to happen to the hard-luck Cage.
Martez Ivey and Trevon Tate are battling for the swingman spot at offensive tackle. The hope is that one of the two or both emerges as viable in-season options.
The interior of Toronto’s offensive line is where questions arise.
Dariusz Bladek is firmly entrenched at right guard. Justin Lawrence will most likely be Toronto’s opening-game starter in place of Peter Nicastro at Centre. Toronto’s brain trust signed Lawrence away from Calgary in the offseason, because of his versatility to play multiple positions. Can Lawrence reward the organization’s faith in him when the season starts?
Provided that he remains on the roster, the 36-year-old veteran linemen Philip Blake is penciled in as the Argos left guard on opening day. Blake, a Toronto native, will be 37 in November. The grizzled vet has been a true warrior and battled through a multitude of injuries a year ago. The team is planning for its future without him. The question is when does that future become now?
Based on the REDBLACKS preseason game. The future might have to wait.
First-round pick Gregor MacKellar had a rookie-like performance in his first action in an Argos’ uniform last Friday. MacKellar has room for growth. But based on his debut efforts, it doesn’t appear that MacKellar will be able to replicate the lightning in a bottle results the Argos got from Peter Nicastro in 2021.
Shane Richards, based on his play last season, is going to be the first man up on the interior. Dylan Giffen, and Theren Churchill, when he returns are going to be two vital depth pieces this season. Jonathan Zamora, despite his ability to play Centre, is firmly on the roster bubble. He has struggled in his limited duty, thus far with Toronto.
The Argos have a new offensive line coach in Kris Sweet. And a new philosophy in terms, of their desire to become more of a power-based rushing attack. Isaiah Cage and Peter Nicastro will need to get on the field, stay healthy and play at a high level for that goal to be accomplished.
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