Rookie DB Trumaine Washington gets first CFL start replacing departed T.J. Heath

Trumaine Washington’s patience has been rewarded.

The rookie cornerback will make his first CFL start Thursday night when the Toronto Argonauts host the Ottawa Redblacks. Washington was impressive during training camp but started the season on the practice roster.

Washington cracked the active roster in Toronto’s 38-20 home loss to Winnipeg on July 21, making three tackles. But on Sunday, the Argos dealt veteran cornerback T.J. Heath to the Montreal Alouettes, in part because they had a capable replacement in Washington.

“Always when you send a player the calibre of T.J. Heath . . . it’s who’s the next man up,” Toronto head coach Marc Trestman said following Wednesday’s walkthrough. “We all saw some the explosiveness and play-making ability (Washington) had in the pre-season.

“Without a next man up to fill in that void, it would’ve been a much more difficult decision (to deal Heath). We expect him to do a more than sufficient job.”

Washington, 23, was certainly a playmaker for Toronto over its two exhibition games. The five-foot-eight, 190-pound former Louisville star had nine tackles, one sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in those contests.

Once the season began, the Argos kept preaching patience to Washington, who admitted that was much easier said than done.

“Man, it’s been stressful because I’m very confident in my game and I know I can be out there with those guys,” he said. “Replacing a guy that’s a CFL all-star is tough . . . but I’m up for the challenge. ”

“I feel like maybe one day I can be one of those CFL all-stars.”

Thursday night’s game is an important one for Toronto (1-5), which has dropped three straight and remains tied with Montreal (1-5) for last in the East Division. By comparison, Ottawa (4-2) stands atop the conference, its only two losses coming against the unbeaten Calgary Stampeders (6-0).

A win would move Toronto into a second-place tie with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2-4) while a loss would drop the Argos eight behind front-running Ottawa.

“It definitely puts us in a tough situation if we go 1-6,” said veteran offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl. “We definitely don’t want to go 1-6.

“Every game is meaningful, especially at home. We want to put something on the field our fans can be proud of.”

Van Zeyl said Toronto has been its own worse enemy this season.

“It’s been a little bit of a comedy of errors,” he said, “If it’s not one guy one play, it’s another guy another play.

“We really just need to play a clean game and play our game and when we eventually do that, we can beat some of the best in the league. We’re just trying to find consistency and not finding ways to hurt ourselves and once we do that I think we’ll be in a good place.”

Trestman echoed those sentiments.

“We just haven’t been consistent with anything,” he said. ”We haven’t been consistent with scoring, we haven’t been consistent with turnovers, we haven’t been consistent on any level.

“If we’re consistent, if we play clean football, if we play smart football it will translate into a highly competitive game and a game we’ll have an opportunity to win.”

Toronto quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson will make his first CFL start Thursday night. He replaces James Franklin, who was 1-3 since taking over from the injured Ricky Ray.

Bethel-Thompson has certainly taken a long, winding path to his first career CFL start, having played for nine teams in three different leagues since 2011, some on multiple occasions. The six-foot-four, 230-pound San Francisco native, who turns 30 on Friday, joined the Argos on May 23, 2017, and served as Ricky Ray’s backup in last year’s Grey Cup victory over Calgary.

Bethel-Thompson, who has completed his only two CFL passes for 10 yards, tipped his cap to an Ottawa defence that’s allowing 21 points against per game, second-lowest in the league.

“No doubt it’s a good defence,” he said. “They play aggressively, got a good front and good guys on the back end.

“I’m excited. I think iron sharpens iron. To play against a team like that you’ve got to bring your best and that’s the most exciting part.”

Trestman said Bethel-Thompson demeanour hasn’t changed since being named the starter Sunday,

“Here’s a young man who couldn’t be more deserving of this opportunity,” Trestman said. “He’s not a guy we brought in two weeks ago to play, he’s got the respect of every player and coach on this team.

“Everybody is pulling for him, everybody’s going to do the best they can to try and lend a helping hand (Thursday night).”

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