Friday, June 5, 2009

CFL 2009 Season Preview: Toronto Argonauts

“Toronto spent a lot of money during the off-season, picking up some big name free agents in the process. But will it be enough to right the sinking ship that was the Argonauts franchise last season?”

To spend, or not to spend? That was the question for the Toronto Argonauts as they headed into the offseason.

Following a dismal four win season, one that saw the Argos miss the playoffs, it was evident that change was finally necessary in Toronto.

Immediate change, that was somewhat surprising, as Toronto had boasted one of the better defenses in the league over the last couple of years and their offense had been fairly consistent. Of course, everything fell apart last season.

The Boatmen’s defense, which once struck fear in the hearts of even the most worthy adversaries, suddenly turned into one of the weakest. Toronto’s ‘bend but don’t break’ defense turned into a ‘bend and break’ defense.

On offense, the team was plagued by inconsistency. Newly acquired pivot and former Most Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph never really had a chance to adjust to Toronto’s offense, as he was constantly scrambling for his life behind a weak offense line.

Throw in a weak running game and inconsistent play from the receivers, and it wasn’t a surprise that Toronto’s offense was a recipe for disaster.

Will things change this year? Will a team that has apparently taken such a huge step back words be able to reverse their footing?

Let’s take a closer look at the Toronto Argonauts:

What’s New?

Heading into an offseason without a head coach, the Argonauts quickly went to work and interviewed potential candidates. Eventually, the Argonauts ended the speculation and picked former University of Montana Quarterback Bart Andrus.

With 25 years of coaching experience, most notably with Tennessee Titans as an assistant, Andrus has an impressive resume. He will look to have success coming into his first CFL season, much like Montreal head coach Marc Trestman had last season.

By the time free agency rolled around, two things were certain, there were plenty of big name players available, and Toronto had some money to spend. But, for a consistently cautious team when it came to signing players, no one was sure what to expect for the Argos.

All thoughts of a cautious approach were quickly silenced when Toronto signed a pair of coveted free agent lineman. One was Dominic Picard, a versatile lineman from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and the big one, former lineman of the year Rob Murphy. The Murphy signing really stood out for the Argos, as it was almost completely unexpected.

Fans believed that the potential suitors for Murphy were the Hamilton Tiger Cats and his current team the BC Lions. It was in fact believed that Murphy had a deal signed with the Tiger Cats, but Toronto stepped in with a larger contract offer, and Murphy joined the boatmen.

With Picard, and perennial force Rob Murphy anchoring the offensive line, Kerry Joseph should enjoy a bit more protection this year, and the running game may also benefit.

But Toronto was not only busy on the offensive side of the ball, as they were part of one of the biggest moves on the defensive side of things. Toronto traded defensive end Riall Johnson to Winnipeg for star middle linebacker Zeke Moreno.

“Seek and Destroy” has been one of the best middle linebackers over the last couple of seasons, and the move, coupled with the trade for linebacker Jason Pottinger and two solid linebackers in Kevin Eiben and Willie Pile leads one to believe that Toronto will have a solid line backing core this season.

In the CFL draft, Toronto’s managed to pick up defensive tackle Étienne Légaré. Légaré will likely play along side Adriano Bellie and should help the defensive line.

On the other side of things, Toronto suffered some player losses. Return specialists Dominque Dorsey fled for the NFL and the team said goodbye to a number of veterans on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Most notably was the release of veteran Mike O’shea, whose age was beginning to show last season.


Where to begin?

Though the acquisitions of Murphy and Picard on the offensive side of the ball will help stabilize and ailing Argos offensive line, it doesn’t solve the problem entirely. There aren’t a lot of reliable options on the offensive line, and with two new players, it will take time for the line to gel.

This will lead to mistakes on the offensive line, which could in turn lead to a lot of pressure and sacks on pivot Kerry Joseph.

Speaking of Kerry Joseph, the Argos will need a huge effort from him this season if they hope to improve. A quarterback is always a crucial position, and Joseph needs to effectively run the offense.

But even if Joseph gets good blocking from his offensive line, he won’t necessarily be successful. Joseph was inconsistent last season and besides Arland Bruce, didn’t really develop chemistry with his receivers. Joseph will need to improve his accuracy and continue to use his legs to terrorise opposing defenses.

Another huge question is, who will carry the rock?

Jamal Robertson was effective at times in the backfield last season, but his play was hardly consistent. The only other options seem to be Jeff Johnson, or Tyler Ebel, who was injured all last season. Since Kerry Joseph does struggle throwing the ball at times, Toronto will be in trouble without a solid running game.

Unfortunately, a defense that was once a sure bet to be solid for the Argonauts no longer is. Now, questions will be raised about the Argos defense as we lead up to the start of the season.

The aforementioned linebacking core looks solid, and the defensive line has potential. But you have to remember that Toronto’s front seven got run over last season, especially by Jesse Lumsden, and a couple of new players may not change that.

The once star studded secondary can also be viewed as a question mark.


With the East being bad for so many years, Toronto has managed to make the playoffs most years by securing a home playoff spot in the east. Last year, the Argo’s learned that if you don’t make improvements to you own team, you are eventually going to move backwards. Toronto’s management went out and snatched up a lot of free agents to help.

The east is once again weak this year, which makes a playoff appearance not completely unrealistic for Toronto. Winnipeg faces questions surrounding their quarterback situation and Hamilton has been bad for so long.

While Toronto could fight for a possible second place finish, they would need a lot of things to go right. If Toronto develops a solid running back, their offensive line provides protection for Kerry Joseph, and the defense improves, Toronto may make the playoffs this season.

But, I highly doubt it.

My Prediction: Around four to seven wins, and a last place finish in the Eastern Division.

Outstanding Player of the Year: Kerry Joseph

Defensive Player of the Year: Zeke Moreno

Canadian of the Year: Kevin Eiben

Lineman of the Year: Rob Murphy

Special Teams Player of the Year: Whoever emerges as the starting kicker in Toronto

Rookie of the Year: Étienne Légaré

Do you have a magic crystal ball that you can use to look ahead and see what will happen in the upcoming CFL Season? If not, stay tuned for my CFL Team Previews, coming out twice week, to see how each team will fair in the upcoming season

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