May 30, 2019

O’Leary: Argos’ quarterbacks pass first big test

The Canadian Press

The formula was the same just about every time the ball was snapped on Thursday for the Toronto Argonauts.

The ball met the quarterback’s hands. He was poised as he went through his reads but reacted quickly. He’d find his target, get him the ball and the ball moved down the field. Six times the ball made its way to the end zone and six times, 4,300 school-aged fans at the U of T’s Varsity Field erupted into giddy celebration.

The formula stayed the same, even through five quarterback changes.

Pre-season games should always be taken with a full awareness of them being just that, but the Argos had plenty of reason to be happy with what they saw in their 45-20 demolition of the visiting Montreal Alouettes.

Anointed as the starter after the team’s first practice in training camp, James Franklin was productive in two short series to start the game. He made 3-4 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. He would have had a second touchdown if Derel Walker hadn’t lost an endzone-destined pass off of his knee.

» Boxscore: Alouettes at Argonauts by the numbers
» Argos cruise to pre-season victory over Als
» QB Tracker: Monitoring pre-season playing time
» Adams Jr., Alouettes to ‘learn from’ loss in Toronto


The team’s presumed backup, McLeod Bethel-Thompson came in and continued the efficient pace, making 6-of-7 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns (Walker hung onto this one). Brandon Bridge came in and made 9-of-12 passes for 145 yards, including a highlight reel 79-yard heave to Rodney Smith to start the third quarter. Bridge threw for two TDs on the day. Rookie Michael O’Connor got in and made 4-5 passes for just 29 yards but found the end zone in his first CFL game.

Only Dakota Prukop (5-for-9, 83 yards, one interception) and Noah Picton (0-for-1, zero yards) were unable to get to the end zone.

“I think it’s Jacque (Chapdelaine’s) mindset,” Argos head coach Corey Chamblin said of his offensive coordinator and QBs coach after the game.

“He and I mesh pretty well in terms of wanting an exciting offence. We know we have to score points.

“I’m very excited about this offence. We have the athletic talent, we have the ability. We just have to turn the potential into production like we did today.”

Franklin pointed out the obvious after the game, that every day won’t be like this one. The Als kept some veteran players like defensive end John Bowman and linebacker Henoc Muamba at home for their first pre-season game and across the league at this time of year, defences are often pared down.

“We had some success today and it might not be like that every game but that’s the goal. That’s what we’re planning to do and remembering that it’s possible to have those kinds of games in this kind of offence,” Franklin said.

“The nice part about the offence is that we don’t have to call shots for there to be shots. It just depends on what the defence gives us and a lot of the guys took advantage of that today.”

“They were playing a lot of man coverage, so that makes the reads pretty simple for us,” O’Connor added.

“I think you’ve got to look at the positives and the negatives. It is a pre-season game but you like to see the things you can build upon. You like to get out there, get comfortable, play in a real live game.

“I keep in mind that it is a pre-season game and it’s a long journey. This is just the beginning. You keep that in mind but you definitely take what you can and try to grow from that.”

Chris Rainey is pictured during his first game wearing the double blue (Shannon Vizniowski/

Of the six QBs in the Argos camp right now, only Franklin, Bethel-Thompson and Prukop were a part of last year’s four-win team. For them, Thursday’ win had to feel liberating. The Argos scored 369 points last year, the second-worst total in the league behind Montreal’s 345. All of the records and stats are reset to zero after next week’s set of games, but they can go into the season believing they have something to build on.

“It feels a lot different (than last year’s offence),” Franklin said.

“The nice part about the offence is that we don’t have to call shots for there to be shots. It just depends on what the defence gives us and a lot of the guys took advantage of that today.”

When the Argos named Chapdelaine their offensive coordinator this winter Bridge got a call from one of his favourite OC’s, Jarious Jackson, telling him that he’d like the offence he was heading into with the Argos.

“Jarious told me, ‘You’re going to love playing for Jacques,’” Bridge said. “He gives you a lot of freedom and he lets you do exactly what you can do.

“He takes your opinions, asks you what plays you’re comfortable with and that’s how he calls the game. I feel like that’s why every quarterback of his is so successful. He has a list of plays that the quarterbacks like and he called it according to that.”

The comfort of the Argos’ quarterbacks was obvious through most of the day. After four years at UBC, O’Connor showed no signs of nerves when he got on the field.

“Getting ready for the game I saw myself in the mirror with the Argos jersey and helmet on and that’s when it hit me for the first time,” the 23-year-old said.

“But once you get on the field you’re just playing football. Your only focus is on winning the game and doing everything you can to help the team be successful.

“I’ve been preparing for this the last four years at UBC, getting the same coverages and getting a feel for the Canadian game. I like to think that I’m a very experienced rookie when it comes to quarterbacks in the CFL.”