At the onset of training camp, Toronto Argonauts general manager Jim Popp told reporters he’s optimistic his club can continue the momentum they built in 2017, when they rode a new brain trust and familiar quarterback to a Grey Cup title.
For Popp, who took over along with head coach Marc Trestman before last season, continuity is key.
“We’re in a great position to build off what we did last year,” Popp said. “(The players) have been in coach Trestman’s system a year. They understand it and know it better.”
Except Trestman all but dismissed the idea that last year’s success would carry over to 2018, made clear that he doesn’t believe in the idea that the Argos are defending champions.
He stressed that 2017 is over and 2018 is a new competition, which the Argos will contest with a new team. The Argos won’t earn credit in the standings for last year’s title, so Trestman doesn’t see the sense in dragging old accolades into a new season.
“As soon as we start taking what happened in 2017 for granted, we’re doing ourselves a disservice,” Trestman said. “There’ll be a new chemistry (in 2018) … That’s what makes new seasons exciting.”
The Argos enter the year with several important questions unanswered.
Last December, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment bought the 144-year-old club, settling doubts about whether they’ll co-exist long-term at BMO Field with MLSE-owned Toronto FC. And sharing an ownership group with the Leafs and Raptors allows the Argos to access MLSE’s marketing heft in a city where the CFL often struggles to sell tickets.
Last season, the Argos averaged a league-low 13,914 spectators at home games, according to the statistical database CFLdb.ca. That represented a 15-per-cent drop from the 2016 season, when they drew an average of 16,380 to BMO Field.
They’re also recalibrating plans for a practice facility. Last summer, they moved their base to the site of the former Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, with an eye toward making the campus their long-term home. But, Popp said the Argos still haven’t settled on a location for 2018 — the team often practises at Downsview Park, on a gridiron adjacent to TFC’s headquarters.
While Popp said the club will soon finalize a practice site, training camp will take place at York University. And when it opened, 38-year-old quarterback Ricky Ray will again step in as the main signal caller.
After two injury-shortened season, Ray played in 17 of 18 games last year, and his 5,546 passing yards represented his best total since 2008.
Ray has entered each of the last two off-seasons expressing ambivalence about whether he’d return, and this winter the Argos traded for the rights to 26-year-old pivot James Franklin while they awaited Ray’s decision. In three seasons as a backup in Edmonton, Franklin passed for 1,449 yards and 12 touchdowns against just one interception.
In March, the Argos signed Franklin to a two-year contract extension, but Trestman grew testy at the suggestion that the club acquired Franklin to replace Ray.
“Ricky Ray is the quarterback, and he’s going to play every down as long as we can play him,” Trestman said.