Nick Arbuckle excels in Double Blue Game as Toronto Argonauts look for answers at QB

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts held the Double Blue Game at Alumni Stadium on campus at the University of Guelph on Monday night. This annual intrasquad scrimmage pits the offence against the defence as they run through a pre-determined number of plays which simulate a variety of different game situations.

For coaches, it’s a valuable evaluation opportunity as players wear full pads, there are officials on the field, coaches in the booth, and fans in the stands, elevating the sense of urgency. With that said, whistles are blown early and players are rarely tackled to the ground, so it’s not a perfect assessment tool.

In general, the defence appeared to be slightly ahead of the offence, which is generally the case at this stage of training camp, but all three Toronto quarterbacks were able to move the ball. On 15 total possessions, the offence scored three touchdowns, four field goals, and a two-point conversion. They also punted five times, missed a field goal, and turned the ball over twice, plus there was a special teams touchdown.

There aren’t official stats for the game, but I did my best to track the numbers, as relevant as they may or may not be. Here’s what I saw from each positional group.

Quarterback

With Chad Kelly, the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, out for at least the first nine games of the season, all eyes have been on quarterbacks Cameron Dukes and Bryan Scott all camp, but another horse recently entered the race. The team brought back Nick Arbuckle earlier this week to add depth and experience to a young quarterback room, but he lit it up on Monday night.

Arbuckle finished the game 12-of-13 for 140 yards with a touchdown pass to Changa Hodge and a two-point conversion to Tommy Nield. He also had one carry for eight yards.

Cameron Dukes, last year’s backup and the team’s current probable starter, saw by far the most action, going 12-of-18 for 115 yards and a touchdown, plus an additional 17 yards on the ground. Bryan Scott, who was the third-stringer last year, went four-of-eight for 89 yards and scored a rushing touchdown from 10 yards out.

Scott had the best pass of the evening in the form of a 61-yard bomb to Richie Sindani, which should probably have gone for a touchdown, but Sindani appeared to slow slightly, allowing cornerback Chris Steele to catch up and knock the ball free.

Dukes got seven drives, Scott was given five, and Arubuckle led three, which is probably telling in terms of how the depth chart looks for now.

Dukes looked composed, used his legs well to escape relentless pressure, and found DaVaris Daniels on a gorgeous corner route in behind Tunde Adeleke for a 30-yard touchdown. This is almost certainly Dukes’ job to lose, but he’s being pushed by two competitors and that’s probably a good thing for the Argonauts. All three quarterbacks looked like viable options.

Running back

It’s difficult to properly assess ball-carriers in this format, so Deonta McMahon’s four carries for 10 yards, Isaiah Bowser’s three carries for six yards, and Khalan Laborn’s three carries for no yards and are probably misleading.

Projected starter Ka’Deem Carey flashed some speed with a 24-yard run to the outside and added an 11-yard catch through the air. He finished the day with three carries for 30 yards.

Daniel Adeboboye was on the field for a few snaps but didn’t log a carry. This is probably more due to the staff knowing exactly what they have in the two-year veteran and former second-round pick and wanting to get a closer look at the other backs.

Receiver

Not everyone out of the anticipated starters got a long look, but DaVaris Daniels and Dejon Brissett both made the most of their snaps. Daniels looked a step faster than he did last season, which you don’t generally say about 31-year-old receivers, but he showed he could still turn on the jets in tracking down a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Dukes. Brissett, meanwhile, showed tremendous hands, hauling in five passes for 35 yards, almost all difficult grabs.

The two receivers who may have shone the most, however, were Richie Sindani and Changa Hodge, though there will be some darts thrown Sindani’s way during film study. The Regina native made four grabs for 114 yards but coughed up the ball twice, with punch-outs from cornerbacks Chris Steele and Benji Franklin, both of which appeared to be recovered by the defence.

Kevin Mital, the team’s first-round pick out of Université Laval, had two catches for nine yards, both of which resulted in first downs.

Dave Ungerer III, who has been one of the stars of training camp and must be considered a projected starter at this point, didn’t suit up for the scrimmage.

Offensive line

There are very few concerns in Toronto about the offensive line, as all five starters from last year’s dominant group were brought back, but they weren’t at their best on Monday.

Starting left tackle Isiah Cage was given a rest day, and all three quarterbacks were consistently under siege from the blind side. The defensive staff was extremely aggressive and creative in their blitz packages and the various combinations of offensive linemen seemed late to communicate and pick up pressure, especially when it came from deep. Far more blitzes got through than the offensive coaches will find acceptable.

Defensive line

There was constant pressure from the defensive line throughout this game, but perhaps no one caused more trouble for the offence than Robbie Smith. The Brampton, Ont. native notched two sacks and was close on a few other occasions.

Deionte Knight, Thiadric Hansen, and LaDarius Hamilton each registered a sack as well. Derek Parish looked as fast around the edge as advertised and might have registered a sack if this were a real game, though the officials allowed play to continue when he pulled up short of Bryan Scott.

Jared Brinkman clogged up the middle well and rookie Ralph Holley out of Western Michigan put together several impressive reps from the nose tackle position. Jake Ceresna didn’t suit up for this scrimmage, so fans didn’t get to see the team’s shiny new toy, who was acquired from Edmonton via trade, on defence.

Linebacker

Linebackers aren’t the easiest to evaluate with limited contact, but all the usual suspects showed up. Jonathan Jones was all over the field making plays, proving what most Argos fans already know: that he will be just fine as a starting linebacker.

Wynton McManis played mostly out of the middle, and while he didn’t necessarily register highlights, he was in on a number of run-stops, while also making it difficult for receivers to find space over the middle.

Quincy Mauger flashed a few times with surprising speed on well-disguised blitzes, and looks to be the favourite to win the starting spot at strong-side linebacker.

Defensive back

With the defence blitzing often — and it was a lot for a scrimmage — the defensive backs were primarily tasked with keeping the action in front of them, which they generally did. There were two noticeable busts in coverage, one on Arbuckle’s touchdown pass to Hodge, and one on Scott’s bomb to Sindani.

Tarvarus McFadden led all defensive backs with four tackles and was a physical presence breaking up receiver screens. Mason Pierce continued to impress with both his speed and awareness and recorded a pass breakup. Tunde Adeleke allowed a touchdown to DaVaris Daniels, but he also broke up a potential touchdown pass from Bryan Scott, almost securing it for an interception.

Special teams

Lirim Hajrullahu didn’t miss a beat in his return to the CFL. He connected on 38 and 48-yard field goals and placed a deep punt perfectly in the corner. Alfredo Lozada Gachuz, the team’s Global placekicker out of Mexico, hit field goals from 15 and 32 yards out, but missed a 49-yarder to the left.

The most interesting play of the day came on specials teams when Jonathan Edouard recovered a kickoff for a touchdown from the bullet position. Xavier Malone and Jordan Byrd were both deep to return the kickoff but, when it bounced at the goal line between them, they began their jog back to the bench despite the play not being blown dead.

The ball settled near the back of the end zone, and Edouard scooped it up for the easy score. Learning opportunities such as this are common in CFL training camps as new American players sometimes find out the hard way that there are dozens of subtle differences between Canadian and American football, especially on special teams.

The Toronto Argonauts travel to Montreal on Saturday to take on the Alouettes at 7:30 p.m. EDT for their first preseason game.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.