Pre-Season Preview: 5 Positional Battles to watch at Varsity Stadium
When the Argonauts host their annual Exhibition game, at Varsity Stadium in Toronto on Tuesday, there is sure to be some faces many won’t recognize. The off-season roster turnover rate in the CFL can be very high, which creates intriguing position battles between international rookies and veterans.
Heading into their first pre-season game in 2015, the Argos have plenty of interesting battles taking place and when the lights go on, the coaches can finally get a real look at who can step up.
Here is a look at the top 5 positional battles to keep and eye on at Varsity.
1. The Backup Quarterbacks.
With news reports out that Ricky Ray will not be ready for week one, it is all but assured that 4th year pivot, Trevor Harris, will be given the start in the Argos home opener at Fort McMurray. However, the backup QB spot is far from decided and these pre-season matches could go a long way in deciding who earns a roster spot and who doesn’t. The two men in question are 3rd year pivot, Mitchell Gale from Abilene Christian, and the sophomore, Logan Kilgore, from Middle Tennessee State. Both should see a lot of playing time on Tuesday once, which should only help the coaching staff in their evaluation. How they manage the offense as a whole, and get players lined up pre snap will be weighed heavily by the staff, as well as how productive they are in the offense. This battle could go beyond training camp if both men perform well.
2. Interior Defensive Line.
The Argos have had a little bit of a revolving door at this position over the years. This year however, the Argos have quite a few returners, even if some of these men have only played in a handful of games: National Cleyon Laing who’s been with the Boatman since 2013 and International’s Delano Johnson, Dexter Davis and Euclid Cummings. Kyle Moore missed his entire first year in Toronto while dealing with an injury but is now 100% and ready to contribute. Tracey Robertson is a big DT that has caught some people’s attention throughout camp, he figures to be in the mix early. The Argos added two young Canadians in the 2015 Draft in Western’s Daryl Waud and Guelph’s Cameron Walker and last week signed National Anthony Dima. These seven men are likely battling for just three maybe four spot, which makes it a very interesting battle to watch moving forward. Being able to kick outside to DE and rush the QB as well as Special Teams play, may just be what puts someone over the top.
Over the last few seasons Toronto has lost key contributors from their passing game to the NFL and free agency. Though mainstays like Chad Owens and Andre Durie are still wearing the double blue, the Argos are looking for some playmakers for all wide receivers positions, specifically from the wideout spots. Anthony Coombs and Natey Adjei are the Nationals that figure to be in competition for starting positions while rookies Mathew Norzill and Kevin Bradfield are doing what they can to get adjusted to the speed of the pro’s and acquainted with the playbook. Toronto has a plethora of rookie International wideouts trying to earn a spot on the team including major college standouts Vidal Hazelton, Kenny Shaw, Tori Gurley and Ronald Johnson. The Argos have also added CFL veterans to the mix in Aaron Kelly and Kierrie Johnson and NFL veterans Kevin Elliot, Kashif Moore, and Diontae Spencer. The group has a good mix of height and speed, which is needed in any offense and figures to play an important role in scoring points. Whoever can stand out on special teams while showing they know the offensive playbook, will increase their chances of making the final roster.
With Jordan Younger back with the double blue, this time in a coaching role, you know the Argos secondary will be a very opportunistic group, looking to generate big plays every chance they get. It appears as though the Argos will have at least three starters returning to the secondary in S Jermaine Gabriel, CB Branden Smith and HB Brandon Underwood (Who also spent time with the Calgary Stampeders). Key reserves and spot starters are also back in S Matt Black, CB Vincent Agnew, HB Alex Suber and CB Shane Herbert. Newcomers who are making a strong push to start with their ability to pickup the CFL game quickly are CB A.J Jefferson and HB Jacob lacey. It is safe to say that the secondary could be one of the deepest positions on the team, should they stay healthy and Coach JY keeps on them. Other DB’s who are trying to make a name for themselves and earn a spot are Devin Smith, Travis Hawkins, Donald Washington, Eric Black, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Matt McGarva.
5. Running Back
Since the initial injury to former Argonaut RB Chad Kackert late in 2013 the Argos have been searching for a true RB to carry the load. Curtis Steele has done an amazing job when given an opportunity over the last two years with 728 career yards off just 126 attempts, for 7 TD’s. He also has 48 receptions for 375 yards and a touchdown. However, his real value has come on special teams and because of this the Argos prefer not having Steele carry the full load. The sudden retirement of Steve Slaton and Bernard Scott just added to the turnover at the RB position for Toronto. They now have 3 guys battling for one or two spots behind Steele (and to potentially start over Steele should they deem it necessary). The heavy favourite right now appears to be rookie Henry Josey out of Missouri, the 23 year old spent 2014 bouncing around the NFL before signing with the Argos in May. He is quick-footed and has great burst. His pass blocking ability is what will make or break him. Also fighting for a roster spot are rookies Lyle McCombs and National Dillon Campbell. Both are young backs who are exceptional catching the ball but as is the story with Josey, how they hold up a blockers will determine their fate. The wild card in the mix is Anthony Coombs, who will get his share of carries as well as they look to get the versatile Canadian involved in a variety of ways.
Written by: Aaron McMillan
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