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March 21, 2017

No first round pick, no problem for Argos

Argonauts.ca

TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts aren’t losing any sleep over their current draft position.

Slated to pick 10th overall when the CFL Draft arrives on May 7, the Boatmen don’t have a first round pick next to their name. But as Assistant General Manager Spencer Zimmerman points out, it’s not something the front office is dwelling over.

With no pressing needs, Zimmerman says the Argos are in good shape when it comes to their Canadian content.

“I think prior to me arriving, the guys here right now — Vince Magri and Curtis Rukavina and the rest of that staff — did a great job of having deep Canadian talent,” said Zimmerman. “If you look across the board right now, we’re in a pretty good position with the depth we have to continue to layer that depth.”

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THE CANADIAN PRESS

Argos new general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman (The Canadian Press)

Of course, the Argos didn’t deliberately give up the draft’s top selection when they traded for quarterback Drew Willy last September — things just sort of went that way. But their confidence in the development of their young nationals made that deal an easier pill to swallow, both then and especially now.

In other words, the Argos believe they can take a longer-term, developmental approach to the team’s first pick in the draft.

“We’re not really in a position of feeling the need to have a starter because we have a lot of quality Canadian starters right now and I think that’s a luxury for us going into that process – finding and looking for the best football players to continue to fill in and make the team that much more competitive.”

Jermaine Gabriel, Ricky Foley, Anthony Coombs, Brian Jones, Chris Van Zeyl, Sean McEwen and Tyler Holmes can be penciled in as definite starters for the Boatmen. J’Michael Deane, Corey Watman, Llevi Noel, Daryl Waud will also play prominent roles.

Zimmerman arrived in Toronto in 2016 after four seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He was promoted to assistant general manager in January following the dismissal of Jim Barker. He also took on the acting role of general manager during Michael Copeland’s search for a replacement.

During his first tenure as a Canadian Football League GM, Zimmerman inked veteran tackle Chris Van Zeyl to a three-year contract extension just ahead of free agency. Then he steered the ship into free agency, signing star linebacker Winston Venable from Montreal among several other moves.

Montreal Alouettes

Former Alouette Winston Venable is among key off-season additions for the Argos (MontrealAlouettes.com)

Previously the Argos’ director of scouting and professional development, which requires managing the team’s neg list, player acquisition and personnel evaluation, Zimmerman describes his most recent opportunity as a learning experience.

“I thought the ownership group and Mike Copeland were really supportive of the opportunity and I just tried to relish it,” said Zimmerman. “Our personnel staff really bought in and supported us to get the things done that we needed to get done.

“I thought we got better on the whole and I’m just excited to work with Jim and Marc right now.”

Thus completes the transition from one Jim to another. So now, five weeks past free agency, next on everyone’s agenda is the combine. Then the draft, where the hard work pays off.

It was last year that Argos draft picks Brian Jones (fourth overall) and Llevi Noel (31st overall) turned heads on special teams before debuting as starters in October. Both are ready to take on increased responsibilities in 2017.

“Once they continued to show the level they played on special teams, they got their feet wet on offence at the end of the season,” said Zimmerman. “That experience will allow them to grow as football players in the next year and we’re pretty excited for them.

“They have the skill-set, they have the athletic ability, they have the work ethic, they have the competitiveness,” he continued. “Those are the intangibles they need.

“I know they’ve been working hard and putting in the work that’s required of them to make that jump in their second year.”

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

Vince Magri (middle) hand-times the 40 at the Ontario Regional Combine in Toronto (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Those same intangibles are the ones Zimmerman, Popp and the rest of the Argos’ football operations staff will look for in person this week at the CFL Combine presented by adidas.

Magri, Rukavina and Zimmerman were on hand last Friday in Toronto to watch prospects at the Ontario Regional Combine. They’ll see five of those advancing prospects again this week, along with many more as the country’s top draft-eligible amateur prospects make one final bid to be drafted in May.

The combine is just one piece of the prospect puzzle but an important one.

“The main combine is really meant to validate what you see on film,” said Zimmerman. “And obviously you couple that with when we sit down with Jim Pop and fill in our needs and relate that with our board.

“But until that time in May, you don’t really know what the crop or talent is going to be until you stack it up against where you’re at as a football team.”