May 15, 2014

Landry: Coombs a pick worth trading for

University of Manitoba

Back in March, just a moment before Anthony Coombs was to begin his post-combine interview, Calgary Stampeders’ Offensive Coordinator Dave Dickenson walked over to have a quick chat with the University of Manitoba Bisons’ graduating running back.

“You’ll stick around with the receivers?” he asked.

The running backs were done, but some coaches and scouts – plenty, actually – wanted to get a look at how Coombs handled his pass-catching when taking on defensive backs, as opposed to linebackers. Coombs had done what he’d set out to do: Show that he was worthy of being taken off the board quickly at the draft.

Barker persistent in
pursuit of Coombs

“We needed to be proactive and go after him. Anthony Coombs has great quickness, catches the ball well, and we believe he will fit very well into what we do on the field.”

– Toronto Argonauts GM Jim Barker

Interest was building.

Coombs impressed. Everyone noticed. The Toronto Argonauts included and that was something. This was a team that, under General Manager Jim Barker, had shown a propensity to take linemen in the first round.

Yet here they were, trading up with Edmonton to secure the 21 year old’s services with the third overall pick in the 2014 CFL draft. Traded a fair bit to get to that number three spot, too.

Giving up their 6th overall pick, their 15th overall pick, offensive lineman Tony Washington, defensive back Otha Foster and the rights to a negotiation list player, the Argos got to select Coombs, picked up a third round choice (which ended up being used to take University of British Columbia offensive lineman Jas Dhillon) and the rights to one of the Eskimos’ neg list players.

Tells you just how much Barker coveted the explosive playmaker, who was named a CIS All-Canadian twice during his three year University career.

“We needed to be proactive and go after him,” said Barker. “Anthony Coombs has great quickness, catches the ball well, and we believe he will fit very well into what we do on the field.”

Barker, himself, admitted just the other day that he’s known for nabbing offensive linemen in the first round, even if he might be forced to wait for those linemen to appear in double blue. Had to wonder, then, if he was up to plucking one of the highly-ranked linemen that remained – whether it was one he could get in a uniform right away or one of those pipeline projects instead – when the trade was announced shortly before the pick was announced.

That, I must admit, would have perplexed me some. Barker’s stash of offensive linemen has the unit looking solid, perhaps superior, with a couple of those previous picks – Tyler Holmes and Matt Sewell – ready to jump in on a line that already has all-stars Jeff Keeping and Chris Van Zeyl acting as security guards for  quarterback Ricky Ray. (That the Argos had just signed import offensive lineman Jeremy Lewis meant they had another experienced pass blocker to compete for what they hope will be just one import job on the line, if not none).

In Coombs, the Argos opt for the potential that has so many observers comparing him to current CFL stars Andre Durie and Andrew Harris. His highlight reel on Youtube shows off his breakaway speed, kick return ability, pass-catching chops and what seems to be an absolute refusal to take the easy way out on a play. No deking to the sidelines for him.

All of those things would be good in any offence. In the Argos’ scheme, they could very well be a bonus for Coombs as he looks to pave his way. The Argos like to move their pieces around a touch. If Coombs can make his plays from the slot, he may end up being more Durie than Harris. To earn a spot in the backfield on a full-time basis somewhere down the road, he’ll need to show he can pass block and effectively pick up the blitzes when they come. That, too, is vital in what is obviously job number one for the Argos’ offence; keeping Ray clean.

Whatever the future brings for Coombs, one thing is fairly well agreed upon; that the Argos drafted the most explosive offensive player available in this year’s crop.

Beyond that, Barker did not completely ignore the big men. The aforementioned Dhillon will get a chance to scrap with the other young bucks on the line at camp. The team’s final selection, in the seventh round, was Kirby  Fletcher, the AUS all-star defensive tackle with the Acadia Axemen.

If the move to trade up for Coombs was the jaw dropper, the Argos’ fifth round selection was the heart warmer. With that pick, they selected St. Mary’s defensive back Eric Black, the brother of Toronto’s starting free safety, Matt, who gave younger brother a little coaching during the one-on-one drills at the combine. He insists that this pick is more than just a feel-good selection. “(He’s) ready,” Matt tweeted, hours before the draft. “Whoever gets him is going (to get)  a diamond in the rough!”

Rounding out the Argo picks were: Manitoba linebacker Thomas Miles, fullback Alexandre Dupuis (Montreal), and receivers Evan Pszczonak (Windsor) and Tore Corrado (Simon Fraser).

Who will emerge as great Argos? That’s hard to say with certainty, as usual. As Barker put it the day before the draft:

“You gather as much information as you can, you hash it out back and forth, you watch film, you do the best you can to make sure that the guys you take have a chance but, shoot, it is as inexact a science as there is.”