Cameron Dukes looks season-ready: 13 thoughts on Toronto’s preseason win over Hamilton

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

On Friday night, at their training camp home on the University of Guelph campus, the Toronto Argonauts cruised to a 25-14 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

As is common for the home team in preseason, the Argonauts gave all of their projected starters about a quarter of action, except centre Darius Ciraco and receiver Dave Ungerer III who didn’t dress. The visiting Tiger-Cats went with a far less experienced crew and the score was 12-0 in favour of the Argos by the time Toronto’s starters were all pulled, with the Boatmen holding a total yards advantage of 148-to-13.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Put your Dukes up

Cameron Dukes has solidified his role as the team’s Week 1 starter with another solid performance.

Since the suspension of Chad Kelly was announced, neither Dukes nor the team has said or done anything to suggest he wouldn’t be at the helm to start the year, but the addition of journeyman quarterback Nick Arbuckle had some people asking questions. Dukes finally put those questions to rest going 10-of-12 for 129 yards, while also rushing three times for 27 yards and a touchdown.

Without starting Hamilton safety Stavros Katsantonis prowling the middle of the field, Dukes connected with receivers Rasheed Bailey and Damonte Coxie on deep crossing routes. His only off-target throw on the night was a ball in the corner of the end zone intended for Bailey off a scramble.

Dukes used his feet well but unlike last week in Montreal, didn’t escape the pocket unless there was reason to do so. He had a beautiful, tactical 22-yard run on the game’s opening drive, with a blocking assist to Damonte Coxie, and the game’s first touchdown came on a designed quarterback draw for him from five yards out.

Great Scott!

Despite being listed as the third quarterback on the depth chart for the second consecutive week, Bryan Scott got the call when Dukes was pulled early in the second quarter.

I didn’t interpret Scott’s insertion into the game earlier than expected as an endorsement, but rather a need to better assess him alongside more experienced players than he took the field with last week. Scott had a decent outing but was again plagued with inexcusable drops from his receivers. On his best pass of the night, he hit rookie receiver Kevin Mital on a gorgeous corner route that the fifth overall pick took in for an 82-yard score.

Rouge et score

Kevin Mital showed everyone why the Argos were so excited he was available to them with the fifth overall pick of this year’s draft, catching five of six targets for 104 yards and a touchdown.

At six-foot-one and 229 pounds with great speed, the Toronto coaching staff seemed to be experimenting with how to maximize the Laval star’s opportunities to get on the field. He took a carry as a running back out of the backfield and tracked the gunner from the cornerback spot on the punt return team.

The Argos are stacked at Canadian receiver with Dave Ungerer III, Dejon Brissett, Tommy Nield, and Richie Sindani all playing great football along with Mital.

Laborn to run

First-year running back Khalan Laborn, whose rights were acquired in the trade that sent Kurleigh Gittens Jr. to the Edmonton Elks in exchange for Jake Ceresna, was one of the most exciting players on the field Friday night.

Unfortunately, the speedy running back went down with just a few minutes remaining in the game with a scary-looking injury. Laborn had been gashing the Tiger-Cats on that drive but on this particular counter play, he dropped to the ground untouched at the nine-yard line and appeared to be clutching his right knee. He finished with 31 yards on four carries and will undergo further evaluation to determine the extent of his injury.

No carries for Carey

Starting running back Ka’Deem Carey was expected to play but came down with an illness that kept him out. Third-year Canadian back Dan Adeboboye took the bulk of the carries and flashed his hands with a spectacular spinning catch on a play that was called back due to a holding penalty. Deonta McMahon continued to look like a threat to score from anywhere on the field but also had a costly drop on a play that could have gone a long way.

Ceresna finally sails

Argos fans finally got a chance to look at one of Toronto’s most exciting offseason acquisitions, versatile defensive lineman Jake Ceresna. The former Edmonton Elks star, who was held out from the Double Blue Game and last week’s tilt against Montreal, can play both inside and on the edge, allowing Toronto to be flexible in the makeup of their front four.

On one series, he was out there in a speed package with ends Robbie Smith and Derek Parish, and former college end Shawn Oakman. Then on the next series, he took the field with heavies Jared Brinkman and Jordan Williams.

Brink’s truck

I’ve been pushing the nickname “Brinks” for Jared Brinkman since he first signed with the Argonauts in the fall of 2022, due to his four-square stature and power.

Nicknames don’t generally stick until you become a star, so maybe this is the year Brinks catches on. He was dominant on Friday night, and though he was only credited with one tackle, was constantly in the backfield, and recovered a fumble that immediately led to a Toronto touchdown.

The Dark Knight

Several first-year Argonauts flashed on Friday night, such as weakside linebacker Marquis Waters and cornerback Leonard Johnson, but no one jumped out as much as middle linebacker Isaac Darkangelo. He had five total tackles, all crushing hits, and he absolutely obliterated Hamilton QB Harrison Frost on an A-gap blitz.

Permision not Grant-ed

Fans hoping to see newly signed return specialist Janarion Grant were disappointed he didn’t get a chance to take back any punts or kicks against the Tiger-Cats.

Grant is a known commodity in the CFL, so it’s unlikely Toronto was trying to hide him. Rather they needed to further evaluate the other potential return men in Jordan Byrd, BJ Byrd, and Deonta McMahon.

Special details

On the stat sheet, kicker Lirim Hajrullahu was a perfect three-for-three on field goals, but there was one attempt that never got off the ground and he also missed an extra point attempt.

The first was due to an errant snap from newly acquired long-snapper Blaise Barber that appeared to jam holder John Haggerty. The missed PAT appeared to be a good snap, and the rest of Barber’s snaps were on point, but it’s very tough to work new players into such a finely-tuned operation. Barber was brought into action suddenly because long-snapper Adam Guillemette is nursing a foot injury, but he’s expected to be able to play next week in the season opener.

Starting punter John Haggerty had two punts for an average of 53 yards, including a 54-yard dime that was fielded right on the sideline stripe at the Hamilton 14-yard line after being in the air for an eternity.

Dr. Pinball

The University of Guelph awarded Toronto general manager Michael “Pinball” Clemons an honourary doctorate on Friday night for his decades of leadership, community involvement, and his work with the Pinball Clemons Foundation. The CFL legend was grateful and humble in his address to the crowd and received a huge ovation from Argos and Tiger-Cats fans alike.

10 points for Gryffindor

I’ve said this before, but Alumni Stadium in Guelph is the perfect place to watch a preseason CFL game. The stadium was sold out for this game with the campus being located even closer to Hamilton’s catchment than Toronto’s.

At a venue that size, there’s an almost “Field of Dreams” feel to watching a pro football game, and the fan-player interaction was spectacular. At one point, a Hamilton fan had a friendly exchange with Toronto receiver Rasheed Bailey that the entire stadium could hear, and dozens of players from both teams made a point of greeting fans and signing autographs after the game in this intimate venue.

Erm…preseason for everyone

I may have jinxed myself in last week’s article when I pointed out small, but common preseason mistakes and mishaps from officials and the gameday operations staff in Montreal. In Guelph, my broadcast partner Mike Hogan and I were all set to deliver coverage on CFL+ from the play-by-play booth, but technical difficulties from the stadium prevented our audio from ever seeing the light of day.

We had both prepared well for the broadcast all week, as we always do, but our only audience was each other. I’m sure I talked Mike’s ear off, but not being able to do the broadcast allowed me to actually watch and enjoy a fun football game from high above the stadium.

Up next

The Argonauts open their season at home against the B.C. Lions at 7:00 pm EDT at BMO Field on Sunday, June 9.

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