What a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time the Argos were a team in turmoil. Coming off a disastrous 5-13 season, where they lost 11 of their last 12 games, in 2016, the Argos fired general manager Jim Barker and let head coach Scott Milanovich walk to take a coaching job in the NFL. The team did well in naming Jim Popp and Marc Trestman as their respective replacements, but many still wondered if the Argos had enough to compete and if the late hiring of both Popp and Trestmen would make for a rough first season for both in double blue.
Jump ahead to November and all that worry was proven to be for naught as the Argos were the last team left standing, hoisting the Grey Cup in Ottawa after beating the heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders.
The Argos now head into the season with expectations high and a bullseye on their backs. It is a lot easier to be the chaser than the chased. Lucky for them, they look to have the talent to not only take the best shot from the other eight teams but also have a chance to do something no team has done since the 2009-10 Montreal Alouettes: repeat as champions.
The Argos roster is loaded from top to bottom, and over the next couple of days we will take a look at the team’s roster. Today, we start with the offence.
The rich got richer this off-season when the Argos made a deal to acquire Edmonton backup QB, James Franklin. The acquisition of Franklin and the return of Ricky Ray gives the Argos the best 1-2 combination at quarterback in the entire CFL. Ricky Ray started 17 games for the Argos last year, the most he has started in a season since 2014, but the Argos were still wise to invest in a backup like Franklin who will be the team’s starter in the future when Ray steps aside (possibly after this season). Behind those two are a number of intriguing prospects, none more so than Noah Picton. The 2016 Hec Creighton award winner was signed by the Argos, but he is a long shot to make the roster. The Argos also have Dakota Prukop and McLeod Bethel-Thompson vying for that No. 3 spot. But no matter who the third guy is behind Ray and Franklin, the Argos are just fine at the position.
After an off-season full of drama the Argos return with their ace in the backfield back for another season, and with a new contract to boot. James Wilder, Jr., last year’s top rookie, has set his sights high for 2018: he wants to be the league’s first ever running back to rush and receive for 1,000 yards in the same season. Can he do it? I don’t know, but it is going to be fun to watch him try.
Behind Wilder are mostly unknowns, with Boom Williams standing out amongst the pack. The former Kentucky Wildcat rushed for 2,512 yards in 33 games before declaring early for the NFL Draft. While he is unlikely to make a run at Wilder’s spot, keep an eye out for him as injuries to running backs always thrust unknowns into featured roles.
The Argos also boast one of the best fullbacks in the entire league in Declan Cross. Cross scored twice in the Grey Cup and is used in a number of ways in Marc Trestman’s offence.
Despite the loss of Grey Cup MVP DeVier Posey to the NFL, the Argos still have a plethora of talented pass catchers ready to make plays. First and foremost is S.J. Green, who had the best season of his career in 2017 despite missing almost all of 2016 with a knee injury. Expect Green to continue to be one of the league’s top receivers in 2018.
Armanti Edwards and Anthony Coombs return and expect them to continue to play at a high level, while former Ticat Brian Tyms is hoping to see a much bigger role with the Argos after he signed in Toronto following his unceremonious release in Hamilton early last season.
Toronto’s Canadian receivers leave a bit to be desired outside Coombs. Jimmy Ralph had a breakout rookie season after going undrafted in 2017, but his numbers were rather pedestrian (26 catches, 278 yards). Malcolm Williams started in the Grey Cup and had a decent 2017, so perhaps we can expect more of him in year two. Alex Charette landed in Toronto last summer but made no impact on offence in the five games he played. This could be a make-or-break year for former first-round pick Brian Jones. The No. 4 overall selection in the 2016 draft played in just nine games a season ago and caught zero passes. It is put-up-or-shut-up time for Jones in 2016. Llevi Noel is a solid special teamer, but has seen very little action on offence over the first two years of his career. The Argos will probably start two Canadian receivers, so one out of this pack will need to prove that they can be a consistent contributor or else it could cause problems for Toronto’s ratio.
The Argos return their entire offensive line from last year’s Grey Cup game, including all their starters and two backups. The East Division’s top offensive lineman Sean McEwen returns at centre, with veterans Tyler Holmes and Chris Van Zeyl rounding out Toronto’s Canadian content up front.
Returning American starters William Campbell and Brandon Washington will see little push as the team has just one other American tackle currently under contract, while Canadians Corey Watman and Chris Kolankowski will continue to provide great depth.
Barring any late signings prior to camp, the Argos’ offensive line is likely set.