Argos’ defence very aware of challenges Lions QB Jennings presents

In Marcus Ball’s mind, Jonathon Jennings is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback.

“He’s a playmaker, he’s dynamic,” Ball said. “The guy can make every throw on the field, he’s young so he’s energetic.

“He’s gutsy, which is a good thing. He’s a gunslinger, he’s trying to get it downfield to make plays and win the game.”

Ball will face Jennings for the first time Friday night when the Toronto Argonauts host B.C. at BMO Field. Ball was with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers when Jennings joined the Lions in 2015, making six starts that season before taking over as the full-time starter last year.

Jennings, a 24-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio, has wasted no time establishing himself as a bona fide CFL star. Last season, he finished third overall in passing yards (5,226) and TDs (27) and second among quarterbacks in rushing (363 yards, 5.3-yard average with four touchdowns).

He led B.C. (12-6) to second in the West Division and a 32-31 win over Winnipeg in the conference semifinal. But the Lions’ season ended a week later, losing 42-15 to Calgary in the conference final.

Jennings completed 22-of-34 passes for 264 yards and ran for 32 yards on five carries in B.C.’s season-opening 30-27 home loss to the Edmonton Eskimos. Toronto’s defence didn’t allow a TD in the club’s 32-15 home win over Hamilton on Sunday, holding the Tiger-Cats to 258 total yards.

“The goal is always to play a complete game but (playing B.C.) it’s a totally different team, a totally different gameplan, a totally different challenge,” Ball said. “They’re a very athletic team, they have a lot of speed, a lot of playmakers who make a lot of big plays.

“They make it happen.”

Veterans Emannuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham anchor the Lions’ receiving corps. Arceneaux was the CFL’s third-leading receiver last year with 105 catches for 1,566 yards and 13 TDs while Burnham (79 receptions, 1,392 yards, three touchdowns) was fourth overall.

But B.C. also had 22 rushing attempts for 130 yards (5.9-yard average) and two touchdowns against Edmonton. Jeremiah Johnson led the way with 92 yards on 14 carries (6.6-yard average) and a TD.

“Hamilton has always had that pass-first mentality whereas this week we’re playing a Wally Buono-coached team where it’s a run-first mentality on first down,” said Toronto defensive co-ordinator Corey Chamblin. “They wear you down with the run then try to get to the play-actions and those things . . . we have to prepare for everything they’re going to throw at us.

“He (Jennings) is a very good quarterback…but the tough thing about it is they’re a balanced offence so as to how we prepare for these guys, we have to see what their plan is coming in and try to adjust to what they’re doing.”

One way defences try to keep a quarterback in check is bring pressure in the form of blitzes. Toronto registered five sacks against Hamilton but Chamblin said B.C.’s penchant for keeping one or two running backs in passing situations makes it tough to blitz often.This team doesn’t go empty (no backs in

“This team doesn’t go empty (no backs in backfield) a lot so they’ll have more protection,” Chamblin said. “They’ll have one back, sometimes two, so that would limit some of the things we do pressure-wise.”

Toronto head coach Marc Trestman, back in the CFL following four years in the NFL, has established a well-earned reputation of being a quarterback and offensive guru. He certainly appreciates Jennings’ skillset.

“He’s exciting, he’s an explosive player,” Trestman said. “He’s got great arm strength and he’s even more dangerous when he gets outside the pocket not only going to his right but to his left.

“We know he’s a difference-maker, we know he can make plays. He’s one of the key guys we have to contain in this game.”

NOTES – Toronto running back Brandon Whitaker went on the one-game injured list Thursday and won’t play Friday. He’ll be replaced by CFL rookie James Wilder Jr. “He (Whitaker) isn’t feeling 100 per cent,” Trestman said. “We feel confident with James Wilder stepping in. We’re looking forward to seeing him run and feel confident in his ability to pass protect so we’re excited about it.”

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