TORONTO – Canadian Football League teams are only as good as their Canadian talent and Argonauts General Manager, Jim Barker, made it a point of emphasis this past off-season to strengthen his team’s Canadian depth.
“This off-season we went out there trying to improve our Canadian depth in terms of giving us options, some ratio options, and things along those lines,” commented Barker during a CFL Season Preview Conference call.
The defending Grey Cup Champions have made several moves in an attempt to bolster their pool of Canadian talent ahead of the 2013 season. In the CFL Draft, Barker selected four players from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) including highly touted offensive line prospect, Matt Sewell, who has seemingly put his NFL aspirations on hold for an opportunity to play with the Argonauts.
“We’re still working on a deal with his agent but we’re very close and he wants to be an Argonaut,” explained Barker in an interview with TSN Radio. “We’re excited that he wants to be an Argonaut and hopefully within the next few days we can consummate a deal.”
With their second round selection, the Argonauts drafted Scarborough, Ont. native, Jermaine Gabriel, an athletic and versatile defensive back that Barker believes is “similar in terms of skill set to Matt (Black).”
This off-season, the Argonauts also witnessed the departure of two Canadians, Ricky Foley and Tristan Black. However, despite the loss of two significant Canadian players, Barker is optimistic about the Canadian talent he has acquired to replace them and firmly believes that there will always be 20-25% annual change on all rosters throughout the CFL.
“We figure every year you have to change over 20-25% of your roster and there will obviously be some changes on defence for us,” stated Barker. “While we’ll be a little bit younger on defence, we’re excited about the direction we’re going. We’ve done some things that we feel improve our Canadian depth.”
In an attempt to shore up the Argonauts’ defensive line following the departure of the aforementioned Ricky Foley to Saskatchewan and Armond Armstead to the NFL’s New England Patriots, Barker acquired non-import defensive lineman Jermaine Reid from the Edmonton Eskimos along with a pair of fifth round draft picks in exchange for the Argonauts’ third round draft selection.
“I think the front four is going to be interesting. We brought in Jermaine Reid. We gave up a third round pick for Jermaine and we also acquired a pair of fifth round picks. We took those fifth round picks along with our fifth round pick to trade up to the third round from Saskatchewan (in the draft). It actually turned out to be a great thing for us,” said Barker in a Season Preview interview with TSN Radio.
With the third round pick acquired from Saskatchewan, Barker selected wide receiver Natey Adjei, a Mississauga, Ont. native who is currently playing football at the University of Buffalo. To round out their 2013 draft class, the Argonauts selected Canadian offensive lineman Michael Di Domenico and linebacker Paul Spencer.
Along with acquiring defensive lineman Jermaine Reid, Barker also managed to reach an agreement with 2012 ninth overall draft selection, Cleyon Laing.
“We have Jermaine and Cleyon inside now. How close Cleyon is to being ready to play, I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on a rookie,” stated Barker.
Earlier in the off-season, the Boatmen re-signed defensive lineman Kevin Huntley and orchestrated a deal to acquire import defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell from the B.C. Lions. Barker believes that Mitchell and Huntley have the ability to anchor the Argonauts’ defensive front while the Canadians around them will work to compliment the duo within Chris Jones’ defensive schemes.
“We have Kevin Huntley back and we’ve acquired Khalif Mitchell. We’ve gone out and worked hard in the off-season to bring in some players to compliment them. Chris Jones does a masterful job. He knows when we need one non-import on the field. It could be a defensive lineman on one play, Matt Black the next play. It could be a lot of different people. He just does a great job of that and players buy into that. Everybody is involved, everybody has roles, different personnel groupings and he does a great job for us.”
The Argonauts already boast one of the most dominant linebacking cores in the Canadian Football League with the likes of Robert McCune, Brandon Isaac, and Marcus Ball. However, this off-season Barker continued to strengthen the Argonauts’ front seven with the acquisition of non-import linebacker Akwasi Antwi from the Calgary Stampeders, and the signing of Brampton, Ont. native, James Yurichuk.
“When you have Marcus Ball, Robert McCune, and Brandon Isaac, a linebacking core like that, it’s easier to find those other pieces. We acquired Akwasi Antwi from Calgary and we think he can work into a rotation there,” said Barker.
As for Yurichuk, he projects to assume a significant role on the Argonauts’ special teams units, filling the void left by fellow Canadian linebacker, Tristan Black. In the secondary, the Argos signed former Wilfred Laurier defensive back, Shane Herbert, a young man who impressed many Argonauts coaches at the teams Florida mini-camp. Mississauga, Ont. Native, Jonathan Hood, also signed with the Boatmen and is slated to be a key contributor on special teams.
“We signed Jonathan Hood and James Yurichuk to improve our Canadian depth,” commented Barker. “Shane (Herbert) was one that turned in an incredible performance (at mini-camp) and we signed him on the spot.”
The Argonauts possess one of the largest contingents of Canadian talent in the CFL. There are currently 31 non-import players on the roster and General Manager, Jim Barker, credits a majority of his team’s Canadian development to Director of Player Personnel, Ted Goveia, and newly appointed Player Personnel Assistant, Chris Rossetti.
“We are excited this year to be able to promote within our personnel department two young Canadian guys. Ted Goveia was promoted to the Director of Player Personnel and has been working close with me. He is now ready to have that title and he’s involved in contract things. He’s a guy that’s been a head coach in junior football, a head coach in the CIS, he’s got contacts throughout Canada, and it’s great to watch a guy that started with the Burlington Braves work his way up to where he is now my right-hand man in the front office,” said Barker. “We were also able to take an intern from last year, Chris Rossetti, who basically was an intern in the media department and then he had another year to play quarterback at Guelph but chose to step aside from that and was a personnel intern for us for the whole season. We were fortunate to be able to promote him to full-time. It’s great to watch these young Canadians work their way up in our front office. I think both guys have done a fantastic job in terms of beating the bushes and finding talent.”
After winning the Grey Cup this past November, Barker and his staff have turned their attention to the long-term future of the franchise while also looking to piece together another Championship caliber team.
A majority of the Argonauts’ long-term success will stem from the development of their young Canadian talent.
Barker is currently focused on the 2013 CFL season and repeating as Grey Cup Champions. However, with that being said, a considerable amount of the Argonauts current roster originates from the development of Canadian players such as Joe Eppele, Spencer Watt, Mike Bradwell, Andre Durie, and Matt Black.
Barker is well aware of the importance of developing Canadian talent and assures that he is always searching for opportunities to improve his Canadian contingent.
“We’re excited about the young additions to our Canadian depth. The goal for us is to always increase our Canadian talent and we felt like we did that. We’re excited about the young players that we’re going to have coming in.”