The Greek philosopher Aristotle probably wasn’t thinking about football when he said the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but the axiom can be applied to the Toronto Argonauts’ group of receivers.
The Argos don’t have a receiver among the top 12 in the CFL. But between them DaVaris Daniels, Cam Phillips, Damonte Coxie, David Ungerer III, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and Dejon Brissett have made 117 catches for 1,937 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Different players have also stepped up at critical times for the defending Grey Cup champions whose 7-1 record leads the East Division.
Daniels had six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns in Toronto’s 44-31 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS Aug. 13. He had 71 yards after the catch and three catches of 30 or more yards.
Gittens Jr. had six grabs for 69 yards and a touchdown in a 31-15 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats July 21. The week before, Ungerer had four catches for 72 yards and two majors in a 35-27 win over Montreal.
Even in the Argo’s lone loss of the season against the Calgary Stampeders, Phillips had four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Pete Costanza, Toronto’s receivers coach and pass game coordinator, said having a variety of sure-handed receivers is a luxury.
“There are teams that go out there and try to get the ball to certain guys,” said Costanza, who has won Grey Cups coaching with Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.
“When we design our plays, we have confidence in what ever five guys are out there playing. The defence is going to take us through our reads, take us to which receiver the ball needs to go to.
“It’s five guys out there trying to run concepts to work someone open.”
It doesn’t hurt that second-year quarterback Chad Kelly has completed 219 of 182 passes for 2,041 yards. His 70.9 completion ratio is tied for best in the league with Ottawa’s Dustin Crum and his 13 touchdown passes are second only to the 16 thrown by BC’s Vernon Adams Jr. and Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros, the reigning two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player.
“We try not to force things,” said Costanza. “The way things are built the ball is going to find them. That’s really on Chad to go through his reads and then find the receivers that he needs to.
“It’s a unique situation when you have a group that does the work this group does.” Dwayne Cameron, Calgary’s defensive back’s coach, said defending against Toronto’s mass aerial attack is one of the challenges he faces as the Stampeders (3-7) prepare to play the Argonauts Friday night at BMO Field.
“Them being so balanced makes you focus your coverage across the entire field,” said Cameron.
“Sometimes there are teams where the offence is so heavily dependent upon one or two specific receivers, that allows you to focus on those guys.
“Toronto does a really good from coach (Ryan) Dinwiddie’s play calling to Chad Kelly’s ball distribution, you literally have to cover sideline to sideline and all the depths across the fields. Short targets, intermediate targets, deep targets. They do a really good job of forcing you to defend the entire field.”
Costanza said not all receivers would fit into the Argo’s mold. Toronto’s players have bought into what the coaching staff has been trying to sell them.
“All receivers throughout football, they are a little selfish by nature,” said Costanza. “But when you have a group that understands it’s not about themselves, it’s about the team and how we operate as an offence, it does make it a lot easier to function.
“Anyone of our guys can go out there and have a 10-catch performance. The next week it might be somebody else’s turn to have a 10-catch performance. They’re just as happy when their teammate gets it as when they get it.”
The veteran Daniels leads the Argos with 23 catches for 497 yards. He enters this week’s play as one of five CFL players with five touchdowns.
Daniels is on pace for a career-best 1,118 yards and record his first 1,000-yard season of his career.
Costanza was the receivers coach when Daniels broke into the league with the Stampeders in 2015.
“He’s a student of the game,” said Costanza. “People probably don’t give him enough credit for his playmaking ability. Everybody keeps talking about getting 1,000 yards.
“He’s a guy that when we needed big plays, he’s made big plays.”
Costanza said the 30-year-old from Notre Dame is showing his maturity.
“The game has really slowed down for him,” he said. “He’s played enough CFL football that when he’s out there, the game and the way things happen on the back end of defences, he sees a lot cleaner. He’s starting to come into his own.”
Among the other receivers, Phillips, an American entering his third season with Toronto, has 28 catches for 449 yards and a touchdown. Coxie, a second-year player who attended Memphis, has 16 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown.
Ungerer, who joined the Argos this year after three seasons in Hamilton, has 14 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
Gittens Jr., the former Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawk who was a CFL All-Star last season, has 22 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown. Brissett, a Mississauga, ON, native has 14 catches for 229 yards and a touchdown.
They are part of a Toronto offence that leads the CFL by averaging 33.5 points a game, is first with 32 touchdowns, second in team offence (369.1 yards a game), second in pass efficiency (112.7) and has allowed a league-low 10 sacks.
What impresses Costanza the most is the diligent way the receivers go about their business.
“Our receivers do a lot of dirty work,” he said. “They are asked to block in the run game, they do a lot of stuff down in the box. They don’t complain and get grumpy.
“It’s nice to see when they’re rewarded and they have production. What I asked them to do, and how we asked them as a club to learn how to play winning football, they’ve done a great job embracing that.”