David Alter is a reporter and sportscaster for Toronto's Sports Radio THE FAN 590. David covers the Toronto Argonauts and has covered football at every level dating back to 2003.
If there is one player on the Argos roster who represents how different the 2009 team is compared to this year’s crew, it has to be cornerback Byron Parker.
In the off-season of ‘09, Parker used his option to give football down south another try – signing with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. It was just under a year ago when the Eagles released him and among a group of players in order to make room for a quarterback that goes by the name of Michael Vick.
“I had a pretty bad experience in Philly” says Parker. “Coming back to Toronto after Philadelphia, I came back happy. They (Philadelphia) called me to come back and I told them no because I thought I was at a place that I wanted to be at the time, and a place that I thought wanted me as well.”
Upon Parker’s return to Toronto, he found himself relegated to a backup role, deemed to have fallen behind because he was not around during Argos training camp. He would ultimately be dealt to the Eskimos a month later.
Parker would finish out the rest of the year in Edmonton before heading into the off-season to ponder his next move.
“They (Edmonton) didn’t call me during the off-season which was kind of a shock to me. Not that I’m not bitter about it because I’m happy to be a member of the Double Blue” says Parker.
Parker elected to return to Toronto after current defensive backs coach and former teammate Orlondo Steinauer made a big push to management to bring him on board.
“It’s funny because I don’t see Orlondo any differently now as a coach because he was like that as a player, running film” says Parker. “He does expect more from me though because he’s watched me grow from a player who was new to the game, to a guy who can be a leader on this team.”
It’s clear that Steinauer has seen Parker in a different way, as he has counted on Parker to be a leader to help some of the younger guys like Evan McCullough and Michael Grant adjust to the game. With Parker sitting out of a couple of games early in the season, the younger guys stepped into the line-up with Parker’s input.
“There were growing pains when it comes to the secondary but there has been positive things and it leads for a lot of room for improvement which is very encouraging” says Steinauer. “Byron’s been a part of that and the younger guys are learning from him.”
Serious adjustments were made in the Argonauts’ back end, including moving Jordan Younger over from the secondary to strong side linebacker. Willie Pile shifted within the secondary to be the team’s starting safety and became the captain of the defense.
Parker never adjusted in terms of the title of his position but he did adjust his body to grab more speed and be the aggressive corner that head coach Jim Barker wants him to fulfill. Parker used his new found speed to create a huge pick-six against the Lions, which helped lead the Boatmen to their third victory of the season.
“I have put on a little weight as I try to adjust to the aggressive type of corner, it’s been fun” Parker says.
In a media Football 101 session that Barker led prior to the start of training camp, the coach constantly talked about the need to have an aggressive corner that is instinctive and can make the big play. Feeling that they had lost that, Barker explained that it was the need for that type of player that led to a decision to bring Parker back.
Despite the tumultuous time in Toronto the year before, Parker is having fun. He’s being utilized to the best of his skill set and both the player and the team are reaping the benefits.