TORONTO — Jim Barker hates telling a football player he’s been released, especially one he has a history with.
The Toronto Argonauts GM gave 14 players their pink slips Saturday night to reach the 46-man limit. Included was veteran receiver Romby Bryant — who goes back six years with Barker — and defensive back Alonzo Lawrence, a starter last year.
“He (Bryant) has been with me since back in Calgary and he’s such a phenomenal pro,” Barker, who served as Calgary’s coach and in its front office before returning to Toronto following the 2009 season, said Sunday. “The ones that have been there the longest are the hardest but they’re all hard.
“These guys come in and you just hate to have to do it but it’s part of what the business is.”
Bryant, 34, missed much of last season after being injured in a pre-season game against Montreal. He was limited to eight receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Bryant’s best season was with Calgary in 2010 when he had 78 receptions for 1,170 yards and 15 TDs. He was also part of the Stampeders team that lost 35-22 to Toronto in the historic 100th Grey Cup game in ’12 at Rogers Centre.
All CFL teams cut their rosters down late Saturday night. Track all the moves heading into Week 1 here.
Bryant began his CFL career with Winnipeg in ’08 and recorded 304 catches for 4,557 yards and 33 TDs over seven seasons.
The six-foot, 218-pound Lawrence had 44 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a sack last season, his first with Toronto.
In both situations, Bryant and Lawrence were beat out by younger players.
“I guess some of it is a philosophical deal, do you take a younger guy when they’re similar (with veteran) and that’s for the most part how we feel,” head coach Scott Milanovich said. “If you’ve got two guys who are in the same neighbourhood, you go with the younger guy who has more time but Romby can still play.
“If you would’ve asked me a week ago I would’ve said Romby would be on our active roster. If you would’ve asked me a week ago I would’ve said Alonzo was probably a starter. We just had some guys step up and play a little better and that’s a good thing for us.”
Offensively, Barker said young receivers Terrrell Sinkfield and Darvin Adams impressed throughout camp. Sinkfield had eight catches for 100 yards and a TD in Toronto’s 41-23 exhibition win over Hamilton on Thursday while Adams added three catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
“You just kept expecting one of them to fall off and they never did,” Barker said. “They just got stronger as camp went and grasped what we’re trying to do.
“Those two young guys made it difficult to keep Romby.”
Meanwhile on defence, Milanovich said Lawrence got caught up in shuffle within the secondary.
“We moved Brandon Smith from halfback to field cornerback and he also has return ability on special teams,” Milanovich said. “Brandon Underwood moved to halfback and really picked it up quickly.
“Jamie Robinson has settled in as the Sam (linebacker). Alonzo was a field corner and some of these other guys have a little bit more versatility and can play more than one spot.”
Also released were: national long-snapper Michael Benson, national receivers Evan Pszczonak and Tore Corrado, international defensive linemen Padrick Scott and Dexter Davis, international receiver J.D. Falslev, national offensive linemen Kirby Fletcher and Thomas Griffiths, international punter/kicker Josh Jasper, international linebacker Eddie Lackey, international defensive back Andre Martin Jr. and international receiver K.J. Stroud.
Toronto kept four running backs — Curtis Steele, Jeremiah Johnson, Canadian rookie Anthony Coombs and the injured Steve Slaton — and three fullbacks — rookies Alexandre Dupuis and Brendan Gillanders and veteran Zander Robinson. Milanovich said the club will go with a running back by committee as it attempts to replace Chad Kackert, the ’12 Grey Cup MVP who retired prior to training camp after a slow recovery from a serious leg injury late last season.
“That’s just a position you need to have some depth at,” Barker said. “In Curtis Steele, we have a guy who’s also one of our top special-teams players.
“There’s a lot of guys who made this football team because of what they do on special teams. You’re going to look at our roster and say, ‘Wow, you’ve got seven running backs.” The thing is they’re all special-teams picks, a lot of them. That’s just part of putting your roster together.”
Toronto opens the ’14 season Thursday night in Winnipeg. And despite the Argos managing nine sacks in their exhibition win over Hamilton, Milanovich said his team has plenty of work to do before it can consider itself a Grey Cup contender.
“I don’t take a lot of stock in what happened in the pre-season,” he said. “I just got done telling the team we’re an average football team right now.
“But a defence that gets after the quarterback energizes a team. I hope we’re able to do that Thursday night.”