As the 2022 season approaches, CFL.ca is getting you up to speed on where each team stands after a hectic off-season that saw players crisscross the country. Five Things To Know will catch you up on where your team left off in 2021, the moves it made and what it might accomplish in 2022.
TORONTO — Thirty minutes.
That’s all that separated the 2021 Toronto Argonauts from a picture-perfect moment that would have seen them top their arch-rivals, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, at BMO Field and advance to the Grey Cup game. The Argos led 12-0 at halftime. That’s not an insurmountable score, but the way they’d controlled the first half of that game, it felt like a touchdown could have been a knockout blow for them. Of course, over four months later, we know what happened next and who took the knockout blow on the chin.
When the dust and disappointment settled over the 2021 Argos campaign, there were a lot of positives to be seen. The Argos gave their on-again, off-again starting QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson some commitment and made him their clear-cut No. 1 guy. That jambalaya of talent that GM Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons assembled over the past two off-seasons came together nicely and Ryan Dinwiddie looked more than comfortable leading a team for the first time as a head coach.
As the Argos gear up to try to make their way out of the East Division this season, here are five things to know about them.
The benefits of continuity
For the first time in a long time, the Argos aren’t going into a season with a plethora of new faces headed to training camp. Clemons and Dinwiddie are still running things for the team. Bethel-Thompson will come into camp as the No. 1 QB and while there were roster changes in the off-season, they weren’t as extensive as in years past. All of that will bode well for the boatmen, who you could argue overachieved last season in their race to the top of the East Division standings. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the class of the league right now and are a perfect example of what continuity on the field and front office can bring. Enduring the highs and lows of 2021 will only help this year’s team.
No shortage of vets
On the surface, it can seem like an influx of players that some fans will argue are past their primes. The Argos picked up a trio of players with a ton of experience between them in National RB Andrew Harris, longtime Ticat receiver/returner Brandon Banks and defensive lineman Adrian Tracy.
If the Argos are in fact just a step or two away from competing for or winning a Grey Cup, this trio could provide the boost they need to get over the top. Banks was hampered by injuries last season and produced well under his MOP-winning 2019 campaign, but was still a presence in the playoffs, scoring a pair of touchdowns. Also dealing with injuries through chunks of 2021, Harris was still his usual tackle-breaking, yard-gaining self when he did see the field, including a monstrous 136-yard effort in the Western Final against Saskatchewan. Tracy last saw CFL action in 2019 and has 139 tackles and 21 sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles through 58 career games.
If they’re healthy, all three could help take the Argos were they want to go this season.
If you can’t beat them, recruit them
Remember that episode of The Office, where one pesky salesperson, Danny Cordray, is stealing business out from under all of the Dunder-Mifflin folks? In one of the rare good boss moments he has in the entire show, Michael Scott solves the problem by hiring Cordray. After watching Ja’Gared Davis torture his team in the Eastern Final, Clemons pulled a Michael Scott (the good kind) and signed Davis to a deal in free agency.
The Argos have removed that thorn from their side and will look to make Davis everyone else’s problem this season. Davis joins a d-line that features Shawn Oakman (team-best six sacks last year) and that added National Fabion Foote in free agency. Davis’ presence will no doubt add a spark to a d-line that finished eighth in the league in sacks last year (29).
About that defence
The Argos had a mid-season change with their defensive coordinator, with Chris Jones replacing Glen Young in September. After the season, Jones left to take the head coach/GM role in Edmonton, which opened the door for Corey Mace to make the leap from Calgary’s d-line coaching role to the DC gig in Toronto. Mace will have a talented defensive cast to work with. While the d-line didn’t get to the QB enough, that should change this season. The Argos finished second in the league in interceptions, with 16, but as a whole the team surrendered more points (318) than any other club that made the playoffs. QB pressure should increase and with much of the secondary from last year back for more this season, things should tighten up in Argoland.
The MBT show
McLeod Bethel-Thompson‘s journey is a testament to his dedication to his craft and a self-belief that runs deeper than the hostilities between Argos and Ticats fans on Labour Day. At 33, after zigzagging the continent and jumping from league-to-league-to-league looking for the right opportunity, MBT will finally come into a season as his team’s starting QB, with an offence catered to his talents. It’s a little bewildering to think that in every circumstance prior to this one, Bethel-Thompson hasn’t had that luxury. With as much job security as football will allow, we could be primed to see this big-armed pivot’s best season yet.