Argos looking to nail down QB rotation and kicking game in Thursday's pre-season finale
One final pre-season game to be played, one pivotal area that needs to be established as the Argos take aim on their June 22 unveiling at BMO Field.
In the intervening days, the Argos will head to Hamilton to close out their exhibition schedule, huddle as a coaching staff and management group to trim the roster before Saturday night’s CFL deadline and then have the luxury of a bye week before the games start for real on the same night the franchise honours Ricky Ray.
From the moment the Argos acquired Ray in 2012, there was never any doubt at the quarterback position.
James Franklin was the guy the Argos envisioned as his successor last season and, despite his troubles, will likely get the nod as the Boatmen’s starter for their first game.
A slimmer McLeod Bethel-Thompson, meanwhile, has been winging it at practice and was throwing darts when Montreal came to town last Thursday in the pre-season opener.
“We don’t talk about them as the (No.) 1,’’ said head coach Corey Chamblin. “We talk about them as the 1 and 1B and we’re very fortunate right now to have two guys who are starters in this league.”
Franklin started last week’s game and the depth chart released by the team Wednesday had Bethel-Thompson as Thursday night’s starter at Tim Hortons Field.
Both will play, along with the remaining three quarterbacks in camp as the battle for the No. 3 slot —featuring Dakota Prukop and Canadians Brandon Bridge and Michael O’Connor.
“That’s one of the true competitions,’’ added Chamblin. “There are a lot of guys vying for that spot. We’ll have to see who steps up and takes hold.
“We feel we have a lot of good arms in that race and it’ll be interesting to see.”
If last week was any indication, Bethel-Thompson and Franklin will get their reps in the opening quarter against the Ticats before making way for the likes of Prukop, Bridge and O’Connor to strut their stuff.
Whether it’s sustaining drives, putting points on the board, getting in and out of the huddle, there’s a lot on the line for the quarterbacks not named Franklin or Bethel-Thompson.
Another area worth following is the Argos’ kicking game, a five-man battle for two jobs.
There are two Americans, Drew Brown and Donald De La Haye, and three Canadians, Tyler Crapigna, Ronnie Pfeffer and Zack Medeiros.
The Argos decided to go with a rotation in the two-game pre-season to evaluate their kicking game, meaning players who didn’t kick field goals last week will get a shot Thursday.
The same holds true for punts.
However this battle ultimately unfolds, Chamblin said the Argos will not carry two American kickers on their roster, which is as logical as it is sensible.
“That’s a pretty good problem to have,’’ said Chamblin of the five kickers in camp.
ARGOS’ BIG THREE RECEIVING CORPS BRING UNIQUE SKILL SETS
The term ‘Big 3’ has become quite popular in sports when describing a trio of elite players lining up for the same team.
In Toronto, head coach Corey Chamblin has dubbed S.J. Green, Derel Walker and Armanti Edwards his Big 3, three American receivers who bring a different set of talents to the field.
Green is the ultimate pro, the veteran of the group and a certain Hall of Famer when he decides to call it a day.
Walker is that legitimate deep threat all teams need when operating an offence and defences need to be stretched.
In Edwards, the Argos have a quiet, reliable and sure-handed receiver, a player whom Chamblin anointed as the glue guy among the triumvirate.
All three will play in the Argos’ pre-season finale on Thursday night in the Hammer, lining up for a selected amount of plays or play types that showcase their skill level.
“We’ll play them until we think they have a good feel for the offence,’’ said Chamblin.
Toronto made a huge investment in Walker when it lured one of the CFL’s best in free agency.
Last week’s pre-season opener against Montreal marked Walker’s first live action since a mid-season knee injury sidelined him for the balance of the year in Edmonton.
“I’m proud of his progression,’’ said Chamblin. “He’s heading in the right direction in solidifying himself as a star in this league.
“It’s more than just Derel. It’s a trio. I call those guys the Big 3.”
Walker overcame an early drop last week to score a touchdown on an 11-yard reception.
Behind the Big 3 is Canadian receiver Llevi Noel, now entering his fourth CFL season — all with the Argos — and one of the players to make a significant leap this training camp.
The rule of thumb for any Canadian is to grow and develop each year, normally as a backup while contributing on special teams. In most cases, it’s usually in Year 4 when a Canadian kid is ready to break through and that appears to be the case with Noel, given how well he has performed in camp.
“I came into camp with sort of that vet confidence,’’ said Noel, a physical receiver who continues to refine his route running. “It’s not that you don’t have much to prove, but your experience carries you through camp.”
With a new offence comes a learning curve, a process Noel had to experience.
“The first few days were tough,’’ he said. “But after a couple of days, it started to click, that light bulb went on and you can see the offence picking up.”