The Toronto Argonauts will kickoff the 2013 season against the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Rogers Centre, but not before they close the books on a memorable 2012 campaign as the team is scheduled to hoist the 100th Grey Cup banner.
Although the triumph from last year’s championship run is still on the minds of players and fans, head coach Scott Milanovich is focused on the future and building off the team’s past accomplishments.
“I’m very anxious to turn the page,” commented Milanovich prior to the start of training camp.
Despite winning the Grey Cup, the Argos will be eager to improve upon their 9-9 regular season record. The team’s slow start resulted in them being in the bottom half of the league in most offensive categories including sixth in points per game and fifth in yards per game. The eighth overall ranking in rushing yards per game is expected to improve with the emergence of Chad Kackert.
The team did however, play their best football when it mattered most; in the playoffs. The experience they gained from last season will be crucial in finding success again this year.
Here is a look at where both teams stand heading into the matchup and the 2013 CFL campaign:
The Argonauts offence will feature many similar faces from a year ago. The success of the team likely hinges on the play of quarterback Ricky Ray, who is entering his second season in Double Blue. Despite struggling to adjust to his new team after being dealt from Edmonton, Ray developed consistency as the year progressed which fuelled the Argos late season surge. With a year under his belt and an increased familiarity with the weapons around him, the 33 year old signal caller will be key if the Argos are to repeat as CFL champions.
Running back Chad Kackert had a breakout season in 2012 as he became the squad’s top option out of the backfield. After taking over the starting running back role mid-season, Kackert burst onto the scene with 638 rushing yards, 212 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. The 2012 Grey Cup MVP will becounted on by the coaching staff to produce similar numbers in 2013 in order to add another element to an already dynamic offence.
The Argos will once again feature a solid receiving core with the likes of Dontrelle Inman, Mike Bradwell and the electric Chad Owens in the slot. This trio will undoubtedly make life easier for Ricky Ray as they possess the ability to hold on to the football and produce the difficult yards after the catch. The fact that the entire starting offensive line from a year ago remains in tact will certainly prove to be beneficial for Ray as well.
While the majority of the Argos offence is returning, the defence will look vastly different in 2013. As a result of players leaving in free agency, retiring and the desire to pursue other opportunities, the team has lost the entire starting defensive line as well as three of the five starters in the secondary. In order to fill the void, numerous players will be counted on to step up and make an impact this season including rookie Jermaine Gabriel. The linebacking core of Marcus Ball, Robert McCune and Brandon Issac represents consistency on the defensive side of the ball which should take some pressure off the secondary in the early stages.
An interesting storyline to monitor throughout the home opener and as the season progresses is the play of newly acquired defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell. If he can continue to perform at a high level from his days with the BC Lions, he has the talent and skill set needed to make the Argos defence a difficult one to play against.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats shared many similarities with the Argos at the start of 2012 but the two teams moved in opposite directions as the season progressed. Like Toronto, Hamilton acquired a new quarterback to start the year after making a trade with Calgary for Henry Burris. With Burris at the helm, the Ticats finished at the top of the league in points per game and pass yards per game. The high powered Hamilton offence should prove to be a good test for the new look Argos defence.
Toronto will catch a break as they will not have to game plan for the explosive Chris Williams. Last season, Williams was a threat every time he touched the football as he accounted for one third of the Tiger-Cats total scoring. Wideout Dave Stala will also miss the contest after being placed on the nine game injured lost following knee surgery.
Where the 2012 version of the Ticats and Argos begins to differentiate is in the play of their defence. While the Argos defence was stout all season as the offence worked out the kinks, the Tiger-Cats defence was a major disappointment and a large reason for their 6-12 record. As a result, the team has made several changes on the defensive side of the ball under a new coaching staff led by Kent Austin.
Considering the chemistry that has developed on offence and the surplus of changes on defence for both teams, I expect this to be another high scoring matchup between these two long-time rivals.
The road to the repeat begins at 7 pm ET on Friday June 28 and can be watched live on TSN or heard on TSN 1050 Radio.