Argos training camp preview, part 1: offence

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.

Quarterbacks

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.

Running backs

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.

Receivers

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.

Offensive line

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.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.
Josh Smith

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About Josh Smith (379 Articles)
Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.

25 Comments on Argos training camp preview, part 1: offence

  1. So the Argos actually have to recruit a Ticats’ guy to write about their training camp???!!!

  2. greenenvy? // May 18, 2018 at 3:44 pm //

    Argos are very good. I’m not sold on their stable of receivers. The only real knowns at import are Green & Edwards who are both very good. At National they have Coombs & Ralph who both came along last year. Jones was a bust. That doesn’t leave much depth there. Other than that, very good, & you can’t beat their QB combo. I really like Cross. Wasn’t that draft pick acquired from Regina?

    • MJ Bandit // May 18, 2018 at 3:55 pm //

      How is Jones a bust? – you mean cause he didn’t get to play receiver at all last season and thus had zero stats? – wow, what a revelation that is. When he did in his rookie season, he flashed some talent. And Llevi Noel made 2 excellent grabs in one game in his rookie season, but has been relegated to a top special teams gunner now; Jone & Noel are IMO more talented receivers than Ralph & Williams who played some last season, but I guess the Argo offensive brain-trust doesn’t see it that way. And Coombs was one of the top receivers in the league last year till he got injured. Cross was easily the most productive pass catching H-back, by a mile, in the CFL last season.

      The Argos Canadian receiver contingent is more than OK and they could start 3 of them in their 5 pack; a more pressing concern would be to find some good new import receiver talent to go with SJ Green & Edwards (Posey gone to the NFL; Jeff Fuller was a flop); maybe Brian Tyms and there’s always lots of new import receivers with impressive resumes for TC ?

      • Jones and Noel only had one or two catches because the coaches didn’t feel they were ready.
        You might have seen them in one game but the coaches see these guys every day and they are not starters.
        The Canadian contingent is no different than most of the other teams, good CIS stats but not quite good enough for the CFL.
        Coombs is not a receiver but a good dependable national running back, he did have 49 receptions in 10 games, most being the short dump off/screen passes.

  3. Cat Fan // May 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm //

    The Argos were rich at QB in 2017?
    Makes you wonder why when Ray was out in August the Als easily handled the backup QBs for a 21 to 9 win.

    Fajardo finished with a completion percentage at 60% with two TDs while Mathews was better at 66% but with zero TDs.

    Popp has improved them by plugging a big hole. Had Ray missed more than one regular season game, there is nothing to indicate a good performance by the backups.

    While I don’t want to take anything away from the Argos jumping on their chances to turn the GC game around but where Jorden goes down preventing the fumble that yielded the 110 yard INT TD to tie the game – the Argos likely don’t win the GC.

    Now maybe the idea is that the added players add so much that the Argos will dominate the West but it does not look like it to me.

    If they end up being back to back GC champs, all the power to them but there is a reason it is tough to win back to back.

    • Well, their guy does have four Grey Cup rings as a starter. Every other QB in the league has a combined three, and that’s if you count Lulay who is not playing. So, there’s that.

      • This also makes him rather old and highly unlikely to have 2 relatively injury free seasons in a row.

      • Of course his stats as a GC winner are going to be higher than the other QBs. He’s been around for 14 years!
        But if Ray does get injured, and that is a strong possibility the Argos will falter. But that can be said for every team in the CFL.
        Ottawa lost their Number 1 an Number 2 for 3 games last year – that made the difference in finishing one half game behind the Argos and that cruicial home field advantage.

  4. I had a good laugh at that QB assessment too. Toronto had absolutely ZERO behind Ricky Ray last year.

    Cody Fajardo is atrocious. He’s serviceable for short yardage sneaks, but the guy has no idea where his throws are going.

    And Joke Natthews has already been dumped onto the scrap heap. It’ll be amusing to see which team is desperate/clueless enough to pick him up.

    Jim Franklin is a massive upgrade over the no-talent deadwood Toronto had last year, but I’m not sold on him nearly as much as some are.

  5. Michael Kulyk // May 18, 2018 at 4:21 pm //

    in popp we trust …..

  6. He’ll never be comparable to Andre Durie but Coombs is a decent player and a legit starting Slotback. Cross is also a dependable receiver in the flat who can grind out son’s tough yardage after the catch.

    After that, Toronto doesn’t have much for NI receivers.

    Noel is an excellent ST guy, but his routes are all over the place and his hands are questionable at best.

    Jim Ralph is a poor man’s Rory Kohlert. Hopelessly unathletic and slowfooted – – don’t ever throw him a jump ball because he’s only 5’10” with a 25″ vertical.

    Brian Jones is another 1st round bust. His speed and athleticism are excellent – – his head and his heart, not so much.

    Jones showed everything you need to know about him back in 2016 – – he made a meaningless catch in garbage time of a blow loss and then did some asinine celebration and gesturing.

  7. MR. Green // May 18, 2018 at 4:45 pm //

    Franklin is in a perfect spot. He’s had some success and now he learns from Ray and Trestman. Has Popped ever found a great QB? Not sure. When one is available he gets after it and builds a good team around them.

    • Jim Flopp stumbled upon AC Calvillo but other than that he’s never found/developed/traded for any other competent QB.

      A quarter century as a CFL GM and he’s found ONE (1) legit QB. As I explained previously, the guy has no clue when it gives to assessing QBs.

      • FactsChecker // May 18, 2018 at 8:10 pm //

        Thank you for sharing your infinite wisdom with us O Wise Football Sage!
        Just so the rest of us know, what is your record as a professional football GM/coach/position coach/talent scout/equipment manager/waterboy?
        Alternatively, what are your credentials to make ongoing, definitive, indisputably accurate (in your mind) football statements?

        • I just call it as I see it, my friend. Do you not watch CFL games? If you do, it should be pretty obvious who can play and who can’t.

          Do you need a degree in meteorology to say the sun will rise in the east?

          Do you need a degree in astronomy to identify the Big Dipper?

  8. I think Canadian running-back Greg Morris will be a pleasant surprise with the Argos.

  9. Elaine Ottoson // May 18, 2018 at 5:43 pm //

    Before we anoint Franklin the best backup, let him get some playing time.
    Let see what he does if he starts a game etc.

    • greenenvy? // May 19, 2018 at 1:54 am //

      We’ve already seen what he can do if he starts a game. Last one he threw 4 Td’s vs Argos in one half. Has thrown about the same # passes career wise as Bridge but more TD’s & is much better passer.

  10. I am so tired of hearing all the negative comments. You are either an Argo fan or you are not. Let’s show support for the team that is putting their talents out there for us to enjoy.

    • And we haven’t even touched on the horrific attendance problems yet.

      You should probably cover your eyes with your pom poms during that discussion.

  11. I’m looking forward to seeing this group on the field – their talent, combined with the continuity from last year, should make them dangerous! Will be interesting to see which of the Ralph, Williams, or Jones sets up for that second Canadian receiver spot!

  12. Chuck Noble // May 20, 2018 at 9:36 am //

    What a difference a year can make!

  13. Coombs can flat out play. Excellent hands and utility slot/RB hybrid in the five receiver set. Takes two yard passes and gets 8 to 12 yards. Ralph had a year off football before making the Argos roster. To say he is unathletic is ignorant. Kid has been a human highlight reel his whole life. He is small for pro standards but warrants a serious look in training camp. Williams looks the part of a pro. Want to see more from him. Jones is a physical freak. If he is healthy, Argos need to find a way to get him snaps. I expected big things from Jones and still think he can become a big time National receiver.

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