Toronto Argonauts hit the practice field on Thursday for the first time in Week 16 and did so with a radically changed offence.
Gone are international receivers Kevin Elliott, Vidal Hazelton, Tori Gurley and Phil Bates, all of whom were surprisingly released on Monday, one day after the club was trounced by Montreal on the road.
Argonauts host the Calgary Stampeders (12-1-1) on Thanksgiving and will trot out a group of young receivers against the team with the best overall record in the standings.
In his press conference following the release of the team’s departed pass catchers, head coach Scott Milanovich said the club was comfortable making the transaction because of what they have in Canadian wide receivers, specifically Llevi Noel and Brian Jones.
According to Milanovich, the Canadian pair had surpassed a couple of their former teammates on the depth chart and the club wouldn’t be losing any production with the youngsters being inserted as starters.
“I think (Noel) can be pretty good,” said the coach. “He’s really driven, he’s worked really hard to get himself here. You watch what he’s done on special teams … the guy’s got some winner in him.
“I think he’s going to be successful.”
Despite a disappointing season thus far, Toronto (5-9) is still very much in playoff contention currently trailing East Division leading Ottawa Redblacks by just three points and second-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats by two.
The crossover spot is also still in play, though the boatmen sit four points behind the Edmonton Eskimoes (7-7).
Toronto’s four remaining games are crucial and they most likely can’t afford to lose more than one if they hope to extend their season, which will no doubt will be difficult as they’ll play Calgary twice.
Stampeders offence top priority
Pick your poison, the Stampeders have a deadly aerial attack with quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, and ground game with hulking running back Jerome Messam. The duo have heavily contributed to Calgary having the CFL’s highest scoring offence (34.1 points a game).
Milanovich says his squad can’t simply just plan to take away one of the Stamps stars.
“Bo Levi (Mitchell) is one of the best in the league. So you’ve got to stop the pass, so how do you do that?” said Milanovich. “Do you drop more guys and then all of a sudden you’ve got Messam at 240 pounds getting downhill?
“We can’t let him get loose because then Bo’s going to have exactly what he wants in the secondary, where there’s more one on ones. (Defensive coordinator Rich Stubler) will have to do a good job of mixing it up.”
Stubler’s unit will certainly have their work cut out for them on Monday.
New Practice Bodies
Argos took advantage of league rules at this point in the season that allow teams to expand their practice roster, announcing the signing of four players on Thursday: linebacker Jimmy Hall (Oakland Raiders), and wide receivers Chuck Jacobs (San Francisco 49ers), Jameon Lewis (Mississipi State Bulldogs) and Joseph Morgan (New Orleans Saints).
While Milanovich says it’s not ideal to bring new players this late into the season, the move makes sense with the changes that have taken place on offence.
And although these new players are coming in as practice bodies, don’t rule them out from getting onto the field on game day.
“It’s happened before (activating newly acquired practice roster players late in the season) and it could happen this year, but you’d prefer for them to be able to get the four games of experience and then next year in training camp come in with a better idea of what’s going on.”