Rookie Canadian O'Connor makes a splash in pro debut
Michael O’Connor has all the tools to make him a top-flight quarterback, the presence in the pocket, the touch on throws, the big arm, the quick release and the confidence.
When it comes to the subtle areas associated with the position, only a trained eye such as Argos offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach Jacques Chapdelaine could spot characteristics that separate average QBs from the good and knows the finer points that distinguish the good from the great.
Every practice day at camp is a time to evaluate each position in all facets of the game.
With one pre-season under their belt, the Argos will close out their exhibition play Thursday night against the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
For someone like O’Connor, every rep is a chance to showcase his skills and prove to Chapdelaine how far along he finds himself on the learning curve.
O’Connor was given one drive in the Argos’ pre-season opener Thursday, one sequence that would reinforce everything the team thought they had in the kid when Toronto selected O’Connor in this year’s draft.
As part of the CFL’s internship program, O’Connor was in camp last year, but the offence he’s learning is far different.
Because he wasn’t signed, O’Connor missed a quarterback camp Chapdelaine would oversee.
“For having missed all the reps he did extremely well,’’ said Chapdelaine of O’Connor, who completed four of his five pass attempts against the Als, including a touchdown throw to Austin Duke. “He knew where to set his eyes. He didn’t look confused.
“He was decisive and now it’s just a matter of getting used to the speed of the game.”
Given his football journey, O’Connor has been forced to learn on the fly.
O’Connor began to play football at age seven.
He left his native Ottawa for Tennessee at 17 and then was exposed to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., site where many CFL clubs huddle for mini-camp, including the Argos.
O’Connor would commit to playing at Penn State, but the politics of the pigskin convinced him to return to Canada where he enrolled at UBC.
His time on the field against Montreal would represent O’Connor’s first exposure to live football at the pro level.
Unless something dramatically goes off the rails, it’s going to be hard for the Argos to part with O’Connor.
On Saturday, the Argos would announce Noah Picton’s release, one of three Canadian QBs in camp and six in total.
The QB depth chart now features five arms and two Canadians, O’Connor and Brandon Bridge.
As the days elapse in camp and as cuts begin to be made, it’ll be interesting to see how the Argos manage their quarterbacks, by far the biggest issue hovering over the team as the regular season approaches given the obvious importance of the position.
“I thought I did well,’’ said O’Connor when asked for an appraisal of his pre-season play. “I thought I was able to manage the offence and execute the play calls.
“Overall, I did well. It was fun because it was a long time coming, I felt, a long road to get to this point. I felt very grateful to go out there and have an opportunity to play and take some live snaps. That was awesome. I’m definitely excited for the future.”
As he should and anyone with a passing interest in the Argos.
For decades, it seems, the franchise couldn’t develop a quarterback.
When the Argos brought in Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris as CFL rookies, the team had Ricky Ray as the incumbent, a future hall of famer who led the club to two Grey Cup titles.
Collaros and Harris would leave.
James Franklin was acquired last season in a trade with Edmonton.
Football, especially three-down football, is so fluid that one never knows what changes are on the horizon, what system gets installed, but O’Connor seems like a keeper.
It’s very rare for a rookie QB to come to the CFL and immediately have an impact, even rarer if that QB is Canadian.
With the CFL and its players’ association finally recognizing the Canadian quarterback as part of the ratio the possibilities are endless if O’Connor, or Bridge for that matter, emerge.
The two are completely different.
Bridge is an athletic specimen who needs to develop a touch on his throws, his skills tailor-made for certain packages allowing him to use his feet when the pocket gets moved or enter games in red-zone sequences.
So far, O’Connor is happy at his progression in the Chapdelaine system, which turned into a rousing success against the Als, albeit in the pre-season.
“It’s like learning a new language,’’ said O’Connor of the offence. “You more you speak it the more it becomes familiar. The more I study it almost becomes second nature. I just have to keep in the play book and make sure I have that down pat.”
Throughout the years, O’Connor has had the benefit of being around some very good coaches.
“Being in the CFL has given me a chance to reflect on the past and realize how lucky I’ve been in my career and wherever I’ve been, the coaching I’ve received,’’ he said. “I’m very grateful for all that.”
ARGOS LET DAVIS GO
Veteran defensive end Troy Davis was released Saturday, by far the highest-profiled cut the Argos have made so far in camp.
Davis played in Hamilton before the Argos signed him in free agency two years ago.
During his time in Toronto, Davis appeared in 28 games recording seven sacks.
The team also announced the release of QB Noah Picton and defensive lineman Hassan Barry, both nationals, while international defensive lineman Jhaustin Thomas was released.
With two international linemen moving on, the Argos announced the signing of Cardell Rawlings, a native of North Carolina who also plays on the defensive line.