Free agency has died down; the draft is over; and training camps are well underway. The 2016 CFL season is almost upon us, and the promise of another exciting season is building. To get ready for opening kick-off this June, we will go through each CFL team from worst through first and list three big reasons why you should be exited to watch your team in 2016. As a bonus, there’s even a reason to cheer against every team for the opposing fans. Last week was the B.C. Lions; this week let’s dive into some reasons to cheer for the 2016 Toronto Argonauts
Get Excited: 2016 Toronto Argonauts
Reason One: Aerial Assault
Coming into this season there was a lot of angst amongst Argonaut fans about star wide receiver Chad Owens departing to the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats. There was good reason for worry, as Owens was a high impact player and respected locker room presence who excelled at making big plays when the Argos needed them.
Yet Argo fans shouldn’t worry about CO2 heading down the QEW because Toronto’s aerial attack is absolutely loaded. It all starts Vidal Hazelton, Tori Gurley, and Kevin Elliott, the three rookies who won spots in the Argonauts passing attack last year. No one could have predicted each of the three going over 600 yards and 5 touchdowns, which great production for one rookie, much less three.
Then there is the contributions of Diontae Spencer, who led the Argos in all-purpose yards last year, many of which came on returns, which should help soothe the loss of Owens.
The Argos have perhaps the two best pass-catching running backs in the league in Andre Durie and Anthony Coombs. Each of these players made big contributions last year and now have had another season to grow under head coach Scott Milanovich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady.
With firepower like this, the Argos will never be out of a game regardless of what the score is. No matter whose colours you may be sporting, an offence like that will be fun to watch.
Reason Two: Reinforcing the Line
What better way to balance out the high flying Argos offense than with a down and dirty defense, specifically the defensive line. Just like on offense, the Argonaut defensive line suffered some key losses with Cleyon Laing and Tristan Okpalaugo leaving for the NFL and Euclid Cummings leaving for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. While those players and the 28 combined sacks they accumulated last year will certainly be missed, general manager Jim Barker did not leave the cupboard bare in TO.
Engaging in some top level pilfering, Barker snagged three replacements from the rival Ti-Cats in Justin Hickman, Brian Bulcke, and Bryan Hall all of whom have boatloads to offer the Argos. Hickman was once one of the premier pass rushers in the CFL and his eight sacks last year showed he can still play. Bulcke and Hall have both had injuries in the past but should combine to form a formidable interior presence that should help shut running lanes and force opposing quarterbacks out of the pocket. These names might not be as flashy as the ones who left but their impact may be just as important.
With all the focus on new acquisitions, it’s easy to forget that the Argos also have holdovers Rickey Foley and Daryl Waud in the fold. Foley has proven in the past that he can be en elite pass rusher, but is also more than willing to sacrifice his stats for any chance to help his team. Waud is a former second round draft pick who had a significant impact as a rookie with three sacks and two forced fumbles. The young National will now be expected to contribute on more of a full-time basis.
With some strong pieces in place, the Argonauts defensive line should play a pivotal part in shutting down opposing offenses and give Ricky Ray more chances to sling it out.
Reason Three: A House Worth Protecting
Let’s face it, the Argonauts and the Rogers Centre were a match made to fail. Sellouts came few and far between the past few years and fan engagement suffered for it. The reality was that the Argonauts were second class citizens in their own house with Rogers ready to bump them the moment the Blue Jays or any other big event needed the field. Not having any control or attachment to their home stadium cost the Argos more than just publicity or financial gain, and it also cost them home field advantage.
All this has now changed for the better with the Toronto Argonauts officially moving to BMO field and the team’s passionate fan-base finally being treated to a football experience they have long deserved. There is a very real upgrade in both service and interaction that the new facility provides.
The newly promoted tailgating events and fan activities will also serve to enhance the game day experience for fans new and old. Then there is the very real on-field advantage to the team itself, which is sellout crowds. With less seats to fill (30,991 down from to 53,506) and a more college football style environment, opposing teams will have to deal with the bellowing crowd noise and hyped-up home fans that currently define other stadiums like Investors Group or Tim Hortons Field and Mosaic Stadium. The Argonauts have an incredibly passionate and even fanatical fan-base in Toronto, now they have a place to really cut loose on game day, who isn’t excited about that?
Something for the Opposing Fans: Third time is not the charm
Let’s rewind back to 2013 when the Argos’ promising young backup Zach Collaros caught the CFL by surprise, throwing 14 touchdowns to only six interceptions while playing for an injured Ray. There was a sense of excitement that this thrilling young passer could be the future of the position and carry the Argos for years to come. Yet, that off-season, rather than keep the intriguing young passer they had developed, the Argonauts cut Collaros loose.
Fast forward to this past year and yet another backup signal caller, this time Trevor Harris, took over for an injured Ray and lit up the scoreboards, throwing a league-best 33 touchdowns. Just like in 2013 the Argos refused to commit to the younger quarterback and allowed Harris to test the open market.
Collaros is considered one of the best young quarterbacks in the league with the Ti-Cats and Harris is being groomed as the franchise quarterback for the Redblacks. The Argos? To their credit they still have Ray and that’s not a bad option, but the future Hall of Famer is pushing 37-years-old and is one of the most oft-injured quarterbacks in the league.
The Argos had lightning strike twice by unearthing two potentially elite quarterbacks and then made the highly puzzling decision to allow them both to walk. If Ray gets injured again, and that’s sadly more likely than not, who do the Boatmen have to back him up? The Argos will be left with no one to run their shiny new offense and two teams in their own division sporting quarterbacks they developed to torment them. That’s a pretty bleak outlook for Argo fans, and a heck of good one for opposing fans.