MISSISSAUGA – For many Argonaut veterans, Thursday night’s pre-season game against the Montreal Alouettes at the legendary Varsity Stadium is a final tune-up ahead of next week’s much anticipated regular season opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
However, for the young players attempting to earn a spot on the Argonauts’ opening day roster, this is the last opportunity to showcase their abilities ahead of Saturday’s final training camp cuts.
After sitting out last week’s game in Winnipeg, Argonaut veterans will suit up for the team’s pre-season finale on Thursday evening. Ricky Ray will lead an Argonauts first-string offence that has not participated in game action since the 100th Grey Cup Championship this past November.
While the starting offence will look to have a strong showing in preparation for next week’s home opener, all the attention will be on the battle for the team’s backup quarterback position. Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros were both very impressive in last week’s 24-6 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Mitchell Gale and Josh Portis also turned in strong performances as they continue to impress the Argonauts’ coaching staff.
“We’re pretty excited. We think we have four of them that are good and all four of them acquitted themselves very well. They all played with calmness, knew what was going on, and that’s half the battle with a quarterback is that when he steps on the field he has some confidence,” commented Argonauts general manager Jim Barker following the team’s first set of training camp cuts. “We’re excited about all four of them and it’s a great problem to have when you have Ricky Ray and have four other guys that are battling the way that they are.”
On the defensive side of the football, the Argonauts continue to piece together a youthful secondary and meddle with different combinations along the defensive line. With the recent release of cornerback Pacino Horne, Matt Black and Jalil Carter are currently the only two defensive backs that were members of the Argonauts’ Grey Cup championship secondary last season.
Thursday’s pre-season finale figures to be a significant test for the Argonauts’ first-string defence as they go head-to-head with an explosive Alouettes offence led by future hall of fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
Despite the uncertainty in the secondary, Argonauts general manager Jim Barker is confident that defensive coordinator Chris Jones can lay the foundation for another successful year on the defensive side of the football.
“Last year we didn’t have Marcus Ball, Robert McCune, and Brandon Isaac until we got to training camp. I mean these are all guys that hadn’t played here before. We didn’t have Pat Watkins, we didn’t have (Ahmad) Carroll, Pacino Horne so we didn’t have any of those guys and they all turned into being good players,” stated Barker. “I’ve seen it happen with him (Chris). We did it in Calgary the same way. I have no issues that our defence is going to be a defence that flies around. Are they going to make mistakes? Absolutely. But they’re going to make mistakes going 500 miles per hour and when you do that, you’re going to have a chance to do some good things.”
The Argonauts defence was stellar in last week’s victory against Winnipeg, collecting three interceptions, two of which were from veteran safety Matt Black. As the defence continues to round into shape, Thursday’s tilt with the Alouettes will loom largely as the Argonauts coaching staff prepares to make its final cut down on Saturday.
“The Montreal game will play very heavy in a lot of these guys’ future,” said Barker. “It’s going to be a fun game for people to watch, it’s going to be a great atmosphere at Varsity Stadium, kind of a throwback, and we’re excited about it.”
As Argonaut fans will flood the bleachers at Varsity Stadium on Thursday night to see their 100th Grey Cup champions, young players competing for a spot on the team’s opening day roster will have one final opportunity to separate themselves from the rest and make a lasting impression ahead of next week’s regular season opener.