The Toronto Argonauts haven’t had a normal work week leading into a game since Week 3. From the Edmonton postponement, followed by COVID issues on their own roster and practice field problems before the Labour Day Classic, to last week’s quick turnaround playing on three days rest in their rematch with Hamilton.
The lead-in to playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday in Week 7 was supposed to be a return to normalcy. But with news breaking on Monday about the departure of Argos’ defensive coordinator Glen Young and defensive backs coach Joshua Bell. The hopes for a “regular” week of preparation were dashed.
Toronto Argonauts Defensive Changes
The 3-2 East-leading Boatmen have had to ride the turbulent waves of a unique CFL season. With their defensive coordinator and DB’s coach on personal leave. Rich Stubler takes over the controls of the Argos defense as they prepare for a road battle with the Roughriders offense on Friday Night.
One of the questions surrounding this game is whether or not SSK QB Cody Fajardo will be leading the Riders’ offense. Fajardo has been limited in practice this week due to a head injury. If Fajardo doesn’t get clearance to play, Isaac Harker will be in line to start Friday’s game. But the Riders also have former Denver Broncos 1st round pick Paxton Lynch and Mason Fine waiting in the wings.
The Argonauts will not change their defensive scheme with Stubler calling the plays. The accomplished veteran coach is using some of his own terminologies. Still, the team will stick with what they have been doing schematically.
Despite reports of an imminent arrival by Chris Jones to join the Argos staff. He is not officially on board with the Boatmen. Even if he was ready to coach. The quarantine process wouldn’t allow for a quick contribution. Chris Jones won’t be a part of Toronto’s staff when they face his former team.
It’s Stubler’s show this week. Argonauts linebackers coach Kevin Eiben is assisting Stubler in this week’s game plan. Both coaches are doubling their responsibilities for Double Blue.
A week ago, the Argos made a schematic change in regards to their defensive line. Because of injuries up front, Toronto has asked their linemen to play a specific one-gap role, with responsibilities against the run, and to free up other rushers. But last week, the team, after registering only two sacks from their defensive line all season, decided to free up the reins and let their d-line get after things. The change in philosophy to giving their linemen a two-way go freed up Eli Harold and early season standout Shawn Oakman. The two highly-touted CFL rookies had 4 sacks combined against Hamilton.
Toronto Argonauts Getting Defensive Reinforcements Back
CFL standout DT Drake Nevis is inching closer to making his Argos debut. Nevis has missed the team’s first five games due to a hip injury, but he is beginning to ramp up his recovery in practice. One of the league’s best run stoppers, Nevis is currently on the Argos six-game injured list. Toronto has only played five weeks because of the Edmonton postponement. But it appears that there is a chance that he could be debut in game #6. When he does return, Toronto’s star-studded line will be getting an enormous boost in the trenches.
DE Cordarro Law has also missed the Argos first five games. He is still a week or two away from making his season debut.
A key player who is set to return to Toronto’s defensive lineup is free safety, Crezdon Butler. The CFL vet missed last Friday’s game against the Ti-Cats due to a head injury he suffered on Labour Day. The Boatmen’s secondary missed Butler severely. Rookie 6th round pick Josh Hagerty struggled in Crezdon’s absence. Butler is back to practicing fully this week.
Another healthy player who is ready to get back to work after missing last week’s game is DE Charleston Hughes. Last Friday, Hughes missed the Hamilton game due to a knee injury. But he’s back practicing and ready to get to work against his former team, the Riders. Hughes, who is surprisingly sackless on the season, will be looking to break out on a playing field with which he is all too familiar.
The Challenges Facing The Riders In Saskatchewan
Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie is fully aware of the challenge that Saskatchewan (3-2) will present to his team. Two weeks ago, the Roughriders were undefeated at 3-0 and on top of the CFL mountain. Back-to-back losses to the 4-1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers have put them in a must-win situation at home.
Dinwiddie said this about the Roughriders mindset going into this game. “The urgency in that building is probably where it needs to be after losing their last two games. They started the season undefeated; they probably feel like they lost a little bit… “This is a must-win game for them”….”We have to go in there and handle the crowd noise and handle their defensive line, that’s the main key for us.”
Handling the Roughriders pass rush on the road will be a challenge for the Toronto Argonauts. The Boatmen have another former SSK player on their roster in Guard Dariusz Bladek, who would love to face his former team on Friday. Bladek, who is nursing a chest and hip injury, has been limited in practice this week.
The Argonauts are without Philip Blake, who is on the team’s six-game injured list. Rookie Peter Nicastro will be tasked with once again making a start at Centre. Friday’s game in Regina will present Nicastro’s toughest challenge to date. Playing without Bladek by his side in the trenches would only make things that much more challenging.
- Update: Dariusz Bladek practiced in full on Wednesday. So barring any setback. He appears to be a go for Friday’s game.
Shane Richards stepped in for Toronto to make his first start last week with Blake out. Peter Nicastro might have to grow up fast in leading the offensive line in enemy territory. Communication on the road will be a key factor towards a potential victory by Toronto.
Four Toronto Argonauts Fullbacks?
On Tuesday, the Toronto Argonauts announced the signing of CFL veteran FB Patrick Lavoie. In a corresponding move, the Boatmen released NFL veteran RB Trey Williams.
The signing of Lavoie is an intriguing one. Toronto now has four fullbacks listed on their active roster. Declan Cross, Dion Pellerin, Asnnel Robo and now, Patrick Lavoie. It stands to reason that with an accomplished veteran like Lavoie joining the team, one of the Argos’ younger fullbacks could be making their way to the team’s practice roster.
Carrying four fullbacks on any professional football roster seems very excessive. Especially considering that it’s 2021 and that the CFL game doesn’t lend itself to power sets on offense. However, close observers of the Argonauts have seen Ryan Dinwiddie and Jarious Jackson employ several two-back, and even TE looks in their offense this season. And it hasn’t been relegated to just the red zone.
Toronto’s fullbacks are some of the team’s best special teams players. But veterans like Declan Cross have lined up all over the field. CFL defenses are not used to seeing tight ends on the line of scrimmage for more than a few plays a game. So much so that Cross has been neglected in recent weeks by opposing defenses and has been wide open on pass routes. Last week, the Argos offense even noticed it and threw Cross a pass that gained 8 yards.
Patrick Lavoie is an accomplished receiver and could factor into the team’s passing game. As crazy as that sounds. Don’t rule it out. Lavoie has 148 career receptions for 1,300 yards and 7 career receiving touchdowns.
Team Captain Declan Cross is no slouch either in that department. Cross has 79 receptions, 700 yds, 7 TD in his career.
Not sure if Ryan Dinwiddie will be installing the infamous “Spider 2 Y Banana” play call into his playbook. But with all the power and RPO sets that Toronto has been playing. You can’t rule it out.
National champion football coach and Argonauts fan Ben Grant from the superb Xs and Argos site and podcast has pointed out in his film study how wide open Declan Cross has been in plays where he has run pass routes. If LaVoie or Cross end up with a big play down the middle of the field in the coming weeks. I am going to refer to it as the Ben Grant special.