We have already looked at the Argos’ offense, so now it is time to look at the other sides of the ball, by taking a peak at the team’s defense and special teams heading into training camp.
Victor Butler and his 10 sacks may be gone, but the Argos still have an excellent group of defensive lineman that will make life tough for opposing quarterbacks.
Toronto’s Canadian content is strong, led by Cleyon Laing. The two-time Grey Cup champ returned to Toronto last year after a brief stint in both the NFL and with the Ottawa Redblacks to anchor Toronto’s defensive line. Expect another solid year out of the former first-round pick. Jeff Finley provides a reliable backup behind Laing and is capable of starting if need be. Much like Brian Jones, 2018 could be a make-or-break year for another former top draft pick, Linden Gaydosh. The former Calgary Dino has not lived up to the hype that comes with being the No. 1 pick in the draft and has spent the last couple of years bouncing around the CFL. He is likely never going to be the player the Ticats thought he would be when he was picked first overall, but if he doesn’t find a way to contribute soon, he could be out of the league altogether.
Bookending the Argos’ defensive front is a pair of solid pass rushers in Shawn Lemon and Dylan Wynn. Lemon had eight sacks in 12 games last year, while Wynn had six in 15. Expect both players to continue to be solid contributors. The Argos also have some solid backups in Justin Tuggle and Troy Davis, who finished fifth on the team in sacks last year, and they just added former Stampeder standout Frank Beltre. To say the Argos are loaded on the defensive front is an understatement.
With the signing of Taylor Reed and the re-signing of Bear Woods in the off-season, the Argos can make the claim of having one of the deepest linebacking groups in all the CFL.
In addition to Reed and Woods, the Argos have Marcus Ball, who is one of the most versatile linebackers in the league, as well as a rising star in Terrance Plummer, who had a fantastic first year in double blue.
Qudarius Ford, who started in last year’s Grey Cup, and Khalil Bass both have starting experience, and Cassius Vaughn is capable of playing SAM if need be.
The team doesn’t have a ton of Canadian depth at the position, with just Justin Herdman and Nakas Onyeka currently on the roster, but they provide special teams help and both are unlikely see much time on defense anyway.
But any way you shake it, Toronto’s linebacking depth is truly the envy of the league.
The backend of Toronto’s defense is just as good as their front seven and they struck the jackpot in free agency when they brought back T.J. Heath from Winnipeg and brought in Ronnie Yell from B.C. The Argos lost some key players in their secondary over the winter — Mitchell White returned to Montreal, Rico Murray signed with Ottawa and the team opted not to re-sign Akwasi Owusu-Ansah — but Cassius Vaughn returns after a stellar first year in double blue, and the team brought back the oft-injured but immensely talented Johnny Sears, Jr. But the losses are more than made up for with the signings of Heath and Yell.
Toronto’s Canadian content in their backend is pretty good as well, with both Jermaine Gabriel and Matt Black returning for another season. Both are capable starters who can make plays when needed (as witnessed when Black made the game-sealing interception in last year’s Grey Cup win over the Stampeders), so the Argos have zero worries when it comes to their safety position.
With Lirim Hajrullahu heading down the QEW to Hamilton in free agency, the Argos opted to repatriate former all-star Swayze Waters after he was let go by both B.C. and Edmonton last year. If Waters can find the game he had a few seasons ago, the kicking game will be in good hands. If not, it could fall on the lightly tested Ronnie Pfeffer to hold things down. Pfeffer has been a bit on an internet darling over the last few years after he filled in an injured Waters in 2015 with the Argos. Pfeffer has been in and out of the CFL since then, but he has never truly been given a chance to be “the guy” for any team. If Waters goes down, Pfeffer could be called upon again to save the day.
In the return game, the Argos bring back electric return man Martese Jackson, so, yeah, they’re fine there.
Championship teams losing coaches is far from rare, but the Argos are dealing with some major attrition as they saw both their offensive and defensive coordinators leave in the off-season. Offensive coordinator Marcus Brady left the Argos to take a job with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin simply opted not to return to the club for a second season.
Brady’s loss isn’t huge since Trestman was the defacto OC anyway, but the team did promote former Ticats OC Tommy Condell from receivers coach to offensive coordinator in a move that will put two of the league’s best offensive minds together. It will be fun to see what those two can cook up in the lab together.
Replacing Chamblin is former LSU head coach Mike Archer. Archer has vast coaching experience over a 40-year career, but he has zero CFL experience. While that is not a huge deal, it could pose a problem for the Argos at the start of the season as Archer gets acclimated to the intricacies of the Canadian game.
But regardless of who the Argos have on their coaching staff they are still being led by Marc Trestman, and as long as he is around everything should be fine.