Rejuvenated Matt Black sets the pace for Argos secondary

Argos defensive back Matt Black overhauled his training this off-season, cutting back on heavy bench presses and squats, and adding kettlebells and unilateral movements aimed at correcting muscle imbalances.

And a week into training camp, the veteran leader of the Argos secondary is also trying to help his unit find the balance between building on 2017’s Grey Cup season and dwelling on it. The 33-year-old Toronto native says the Argos defence will remember lessons learned during last year’s run to a CFL championship, but recognizes that the club can’t carry 2017’s record forward.

So he’s entering 2018 eager to improve and hopes to set an example for a defensive secondary that has undergone some changes since last season.

“What we’ve done in the past is exactly that: the past. It’s not going to do us any good going forward,” said Black, who made 22 tackles in 11 regular-season games last year. “We have to take the lessons that we learned from last year into this season.”

Two of the five defensive backs who started last November’s Grey Cup are no longer with the club.

Long-time NFLer Akwasi Owusu-Ansah made 30 tackles in 11 starts at cornerback last season, but is currently a free agent.

Cornerback Mitchell White joined the Argos midway through last season and had played his way to the top of the depth chart by Grey Cup week. But he signed a two-year deal with Montreal this off-season.

Black could easily have joined the list of defensive backs the Argos jettisoned. Last August the club released him from their practice roster, leaving Black to ponder his CFL feature.

“We’re hopeful that he lands on his feet next week somewhere,” Trestman said last summer after the roster move. “You never worry about Matt. He’s a class act. Great character.”

But six days later the club brought him back — and on the last play of the season’s final game, Black made the interception that sealed the Argos’ Grey Cup win over the Calgary Stampeders.

That play showcased Black’s chief assets. His experience allowed him to diagnose the play; foot speed put him in position to make the interception; and his hands allowed him to snatch the ball and wrest a CFL title from the Stampeders.

And even as Black enters his 10th CFL season, Argos defensive backs coach Tyron Brackenridge says the veteran safety is still refining his game, rather than simply slowing decline as he ages.

“He knows the game and he’s the guy that can get everybody in position … and help others,” Brackenridge said after Thursday’s practice. “As many years as he’s been in this league, he’s still moving around and thinking, fresh as ever. There’s no drop-off for Matt right now.”

Black credits his longevity to his between-seasons training, which he says began less than a month after the Grey Cup.

He formed part of a group of CFLers who used the Athlete Training Centre in Mississauga as their home base, undergoing sessions with trainer Jacqueline Gradish and former CFL cornerback Shea Pierre.

“When I’m out there now, I feel functionally the strongest that I’ve ever felt,” Black said. “I’m the most fluid and most explosive I’ve ever felt, but I’m not benching as much. I still have all that strength.”

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