TORONTO — With the CFL free agency period well underway, the re-tool for the 2014 Toronto Argonauts has begun. GM Jim Barker and newly named Director of Player Personnel Chris Rossetti are on the grind trying to find the players that will have a chance to don Double Blue once training camp rolls around.
Here’s a look at the work done so far.
Additions: RB Tristan Davis, RB Jeremiah Johnson, RB Brendan Gillanders, WR DeMarlo Belcher, OL Matt Sewell, OL DJ Young, OL Scott Mitchell
Subtractions: QB Zach Collaros, WR Dontrelle Inman, RB Jeff Johnson, WR Julian Feoli-Gudino, WR/KR Trent Guy, OL Joe Eppele
Unsigned FAs: FB Zander Robinson
On the offensive end, the Argos will more or less resemble the team they fielded in 2013 with the only noticeable omissions being backup QB Zach Collaros, who will now head up the offence down the QEW in Hamilton, and WR Dontrelle Inman who took his talents to the sandy beaches of San Diego. The Argos also lost veteran Jeff Johnson to retirement.
The main additions on the offensive end come at the running back position with Davis, Johnson and Gillanders signed to add to the RB depth of Chad Kackert, Curtis Steele, Jerious Norwood and Anthony Woodson. Johnson joins the Argos after playing most recently for the Denver Broncos of the NFL, spending time on both the active and practice roster over the last three seasons.
Davis also comes from the NFL spending time on the rosters of the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins. Gillanders – the only non-import of the new group – was a star for the Ottawa GeeGees and led all CIS running backs in all-purpose offensive yards in his senior year.
With seven running backs on the roster (not including Andre Durie who registered 16 carries in 2013), the RB spot will be a very compelling position battle to watch in training camp.
It will be imperative for members of this group to prove their value on special teams to show they can contribute in multiple phases of the game. Additionally, FB Zander Robinson remains unsigned which could add an opening at the fullback position as the Argos also bid a fond farewell to RB Jeff Johnson, who retired from football this offseason.
While losing WR Dontrelle Inman to the NFL is certainly a blow (50 receptions for 739 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2013), the growth of players such as John Chiles (44 receptions, 725 yards, 8 touchdowns), Spencer Watt (23 receptions, 389 yards, 3 touchdowns) and the always steady trio of Andre Durie, Chad Owens and Jason Barnes leaves the Double Blue passing attack well positioned to build on Ricky Ray’s record setting 2013 season.
Also returning is non-import WR Mike Bradwell who re-upped with the Double Blue just prior to free agency. Though his contributions to the club are mainly on Special Teams and blocking on offence, an increased role with the departures of Inman, Guy and Feoli-Gudino is always possible.
The only wide-out addition comes in the form of WR DeMarlo Belcher who joins the Argos after playing his college football at the University of Indiana. At 6’5”, 213 pounds, Belcher is the tallest of all the Argonauts receivers. If he can utilize that big frame early in camp, it is possible that Belcher could find himself catching Ricky Ray footballs come June.
Other returnees to the passing attack include WR Romby Bryant (8 receptions, 91 yards, 2 touchdowns) and non-import Ezra Millington (no receptions in 2013) who will look to contribute both on offence and on special teams in 2013.
The Offensive Line is where the Argos will see some changes in 2013. OL Joe Eppele was lost to the Ottawa REDBLACKS during the Expansion Draft, while OL Andrew Jones signed in Edmonton after becoming a free agent.
Though the club retained the services of OL Wayne Smith, there will still be holes to fill along the line. Hoping to find a starting spot amongst the big boys will be Argos’ 2013, 8th overall, draft pick Matt Sewell, who signed with the team after returning to McMaster to complete his education, as well as OL Scott Mitchell, a former 2nd overall selection (2011) who the Boatmen signed on the first day of free agency.
Both former first round picks, Sewell and Mitchell could be poised to make an impact and help keep Ray upright in 2014.
The final position battle for the Boatmen will come in the showdown for the Argos backup QB job. Listed as #3 on the depth chart in 2013, QB Trevor Harris may have the inside track with the most years in the Argos system.
However, QB Josh Portis and QB Mitchell Gale should not be counted out as both showed tremendous growth in 2013 with appearances in both pre-season games and Gale getting some action in Week 19.
Additions: Special Teams Coordinator Jim Daley, K/P Josh Jasper
Subtractions: K/P Noel Prefontaine
Unsigned FAs: LS Chad Rempel
With very little to mention on the special teams side of the ball, the biggest addition comes in the form of new Special Teams Coordinator Jim Daley. A CFL veteran with over 20 years of CFL coaching experience, his career began in 1992 when he got his start with the Ottawa Rough Riders working with their special teams and then later their Defensive Line.
He won a Grey Cup in 2001 with the Calgary Stampeders, and also appeared in a Grey Cup game as the Head Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1997. Daley was the Special Teams Coordinator with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2012 when WR/KR Chris Williams set new benchmarks in the CFL for special teams touchdowns and won the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year award.
With K/P Swayze Waters retained, and K/P Josh Jasper added to the roster as a second leg, the only task still ahead of the football operations staff is to fill the spot of long snapper, as Chad Rempel remains unsigned.
And, as mentioned earlier, with the retirement of steadfast Canadian Jeff Johnson the club will be looking to find a new ‘quarterback’ of the special teams unit.