March 6, 2017

Steinberg’s MMQB: All about the big picture


The Toronto Argonauts made the absolute right choice in hiring Jim Popp and Marc Trestman as their new general manager and head coach, respectively. The track record of those two individually, and more importantly together, speaks for itself.

Expectations are understandably high in Toronto, but I think they should be tempered slightly in the immediacy.

Looking long term

Look, I know many Argos fans are over the moon by the hirings of Popp and Trestman and I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a ton of excitement. Instead, I’m just looking at things realistically. While I don’t think it’s impossible we could see a dramatic turnaround in year one, I also don’t think it’s imperative. These were not short-term hires, so instant gratification shouldn’t be the be all and end all.

Upon joining Popp in Montreal for the 2008 season, Trestman had immediate results. The Alouettes went to three straight Grey Cups, winning twice, and Trestman cemented himself as one of football’s elite coaches. The thing is, instant gratification like that is not the norm and the circumstances for the Popp-Trestman duo are much different this time.

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Jim Popp and Marc Trestman were introduced by the Argos on Tuesday, Feb. 28 (The Canadian Press)

First of all, Toronto hired both guys very late in the off-season. While the Argos had a temporary management staff in place, Popp missed out on the most important days of free agency and wasn’t able to add potential impact pieces to fit his vision. While there’s still plenty of time to make trades and prepare for the draft, Popp won’t fully be able to start shaping the Argos in his vision until the 2017 campaign is in the books.

The biggest challenges presented for Trestman with his late hire is filling out his coaching staff. Because it’s so late in the process, putting together the ideal staff is going to be tough because many candidates will have already committed elsewhere for the coming season. From an X’s and O’s perspective, I don’t foresee any issues for Trestman but, again, he might have to wait until the end of 2017 to have his desired coaching group assembled.

The other big difference this time around is the caliber of team Popp and Trestman are taking over. When the latter became Montreal’s head coach in 2008, he inherited an elite group that had gone to the Grey Cup in five of the previous nine seasons and finished first in the division six times during that stretch. Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon were established big time threats and the Als boasted one of the best offensive lines in the league. Things are a little different in Toronto.

The Argos finished 2016 with seven straight losses and won just once in their final 12 games. Furthermore, they traded away their eventual first overall pick for quarterback Drew Willy, who won’t even start the season at the top of the depth chart. Receivers Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer are gone now, too, and this looks like a longer-term project to fix.


Trestman had all-time leading passer Anthony Calvillo the last time he came into the league (The Canadian Press)

I’m not saying we won’t see a modest performance boost in 2017 with Popp and Trestman incoming. For instance, I absolutely am expecting a Ricky Ray renaissance under Trestman knowing how good the latter worked with Calvillo. Furthermore, I think Popp will have enough time to make some subtle personnel upgrades to make the team better than it was last season.

What I’m not expecting is a dramatic reversal that sees the Argos looking like Grey Cup threats come September. Never say never, but when taking all the circumstances into account, I just don’t think a turnaround like that is in the cards. That’s okay, though; Popp and Trestman weren’t brought in solely for 2017. This duo was brought in to build the Argos into long term contenders and I’m pretty confident that’ll happen, even if the team has some growing pains.

Secret weapon?

When reading S.J. Green’s comments earlier this week, it really got me thinking about how much promise there is in Montreal for the coming season. Green told he plans on being ready for training camp in May after undergoing season-ending knee surgery after Week 2 of the 2016 campaign.

“This has been the most invigorating off-season I’ve had in a long time,” Green said. “I’ve been building myself back up from ground zero.”

Those are pretty scary words coming from one of the league’s most physical players and a four-time 1,000-yard receiver. The scariest part, for me anyway, is how much the return of Green for this year has flown under the radar.

Montreal Alouettes

The return of S.J. Green would give the Als a dominant trio of receivers (Montreal Alouettes)

You can understand why the return of Green might not be at the forefront, too. Not only was he injured for the vast majority of last season, but the Als have been extremely busy since the season came to an end.

Think about all they’ve done in the off-season. They said goodbye to Popp and replaced him with Kavis Reed and then quickly went out and acquired quarterback Darian Durant from the Riders. Additionally, Nik Lewis signed on for two more years before Montreal went out and made a big splash by signing fellow receiver and defending East Division MOP Ernest Jackson in free agency. There’s been a lot to talk about around the Alouettes over the last few months.

It’s a pretty exciting time in Montreal and this offence should be fun to watch in 2017.

Durant joins the team coming off a really nice final season in Saskatchewan and will immediately have three really nice targets to spread the ball to. Lewis remains one of the league’s most reliable receivers over the middle and continues to be money on second down. Jackson joins the team with game-breaking ability following two stellar seasons in Ottawa.

And then there’s Green, who says he’s as motivated as ever coming off a disappointing and all-too-short 2016. When healthy, Green is as physically dominant a receiver you’re going to see in this league and has the ability to open things up elsewhere because of the attention he commands. Getting a guy like that back is pretty good anytime; it just so happens he’s flown a little under the radar this off-season.

Filling the void

Henry Burris’s retirement will definitely leave a void both on and off the field for the Ottawa REDBLACKS. He was instrumental in leading them to a Grey Cup title in November and was a commanding, respected voice in the locker room. Now in well-deserved retirement, Burris’s absence will leave a hole, but I think the REDBLACKS are very well equipped to fill it.

That’s not to say Burris is replaceable, because he’s not. Instead, I just think Ottawa is in a really good spot to move on from the loss like that, specifically on the field. With Trevor Harris, and now Drew Tate, I still think the REDBLACKS are poised to be big time contenders in 2017.

Let’s not forget how strong a season Harris was having before being injured and then hitting the skids for a bit. The luxury of having two quarterbacks like Harris and Burris in the fold is the ability to make a quick pivot and ride the hot hand. On most teams, though, Harris doesn’t get supplanted, because on most teams, he’s a number one quarterback, no questions asked.

» RELATED: New personality for Harris, defending champs

Johany Jutras/

Trevor Harris is the go-to guy in the nation’s capital heading into 2017 (Johany Jutras/

Now, Harris enters the season without competition from a legendary veteran. 2016 saw Harris play on a team with Burris while Ricky Ray was his teammate in Toronto the year prior. Harris is the guy now for Ottawa, though, and everything he’s shown in his CFL career suggests he’ll be able to get the job done.

I also liked the decision the REDBLACKS made to acquire Drew Tate from Calgary a couple weeks ago. While injuries and some guy named Bo Levi Mitchell have prevented Tate from becoming a regular CFL starter, we’ve always known he has the ability to succeed.

At 32, and having been a clear backup for the last three seasons, I don’t think Tate is an ideal starter at this point in his career. However, in a backup spot, I think Tate is a nice fit in Ottawa. He can execute short yardage plays well, he is accurate and. most importantly, is a really strong teammate.

Losing Burris, especially after the way 2016 concluded, is bittersweet for the REDBLACKS. But the team has done a nice job preparing for his exit and I think they’re set up very nicely for the coming season at quarterback. As such, I think Ottawa enters the season as East Division contenders once again.