Argonauts ‘politely challenged’ by tough early schedule: Pinball

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The long-awaited unveiling of the 2021 schedule has fans, players, and coaches alike completely ecstatic, but in typical CFL fashion, not everyone is entirely thrilled by how the planning worked out for them.

Toronto Argonauts general manager Pinball Clemons joined The Rod Pedersen Show on Friday and discussed how his team will have to face what many would consider the toughest slate in the league.

“We are actually, I would say, politely challenged by the place that we’re in in this 14-game schedule. We play seven games, half of our games, either against the two teams that finished first last time we played or the team that won the Grey Cup,” Pinball admitted, taking care to emphasize that challenge.

“50 percent of our games against the two guys that finished first and the other guy that won the Grey Cup.”

Toronto plays the reigning champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a back-to-back in Week 2 and 3, then takes on the runner up Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Labour Day and the rematch in Week 5 and 6. They meet West Division top seed Saskatchewan in Week 7, before seeing Hamilton twice more in Week 10 and 15.

That tough schedule for a rebuilding team was unavoidable, but it doesn’t play into the best laid plans made by Clemons and vice-president of player personnel John Murphy.

“That’s the nature of our league though. This is a tough league. When we put this team together, we were thinking of a team that would mature in the second half of the season and the reality is if you don’t mature in the first half, I don’t know if you’re going to have that chance,” Pinball acknowledged.

“Typically in the second half of the season you can do a lot of work, but in a shortened schedule like this, I think that we’re going to have to produce earlier rather than later. That’s our greatest fight.”

Careful not to mistake acknowledging the challenges for throwing up the white flag however. Clemons believes the Argos have the pieces in place to overcome that early season hump.

“We certainly have talent. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve increased our Canadian talent. We have more playmakers. Our offensive and defensive lines have both gotten better. The middle of our defense certainly has gotten better. On the back end, we’ve got guys like Shaq [Richardson], Robertson Daniels, Arjen [Colquhoun], and guys like that, who are maybe are a little bit more proven than the guys that last dressed for us last year,” he said.

“We look at some of our playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, especially in that receiving core, and then two quarterbacks. Not just Nick [Arbuckle], who is our proposed starter, but we also have McLeod Bethel-Thompson and got him back after leading the league in the passing yards in 2019. There are some real positives and some things that we’re encouraged about.”

That will be put to the test on August 7, when the Argos take on the perennial contender Calgary Stampeders, one of the lightest matchups they face in the first half of 2021.