1-9 Argos 'not out of' CFL playoff race, GM Jim Popp says
The Toronto Argonauts are in the East Division basement, but GM Jim Popp isn’t looking to shuffle his roster.
Toronto (1-9) has dropped three in a row to stand fourth in the East Division, four points behind third-place Ottawa (3-7) and eight points back of the second-place Montreal Alouettes (5-4). The Argos can make up ground on the Redblacks with a road win at TD Place on Saturday afternoon.
With eight regular-season games remaining — including five against East opponents — Toronto mathematically remains in playoff contention. However, with a West Division crossover appearing likely again this season, the Argos will need help to finish second and host the Eastern semifinal.
The CFL trade deadline is 3:59 p.m. ET on Oct. 9 but Popp isn’t looking to revamp his roster.
“We’re not looking to make changes, we’re just looking to get some consistency and finish games off and win games,” Popp said Wednesday. “Our group of guys is very talented ... the coaches know it.
“They had every option if we wanted to change people to change people (and) they don’t want to change people. It’s frustrating for all of us but it isn’t hard work, it’s not effort. I know we’re 1-9 but we’re not out of this by any means ... we’ve got to take care of our own business. If you take care of your own business, you’ve got a much better chance.”
Popp said he’s received calls from other CFL general managers but remains bullish on the Argos’ roster.
“If people want to make offers to us, we’d surely listen,” Popp said. “There are several players on our team people would like.
“They wanted them last year and they want them this year. But we’re not looking to trade and get rid of people. We’d like to have and sustain the people we have and build with them. We’re trying to build a foundation here that can be strong and win for a long time, not just one season.”
Wins have been hard to come by for Toronto the last two seasons. After winning the 2017 Grey Cup — after a 9-9 regular-season record — the Argos missed the ’18 playoffs with a 4-14 mark.
That resulted in Popp firing head coach Marc Trestman and replacing him with Corey Chamblin. Chamblin won a Grey Cup in 2013 as Saskatchewan’s head coach and served as Toronto’s defensive co-ordinator in 2017 before coaching at the University of Arkansas last year.
But while the move hasn’t resulted in more wins, Toronto has at least put itself in better position to be victorious lately. After routinely having to play catchup early this season, the Argos have held halftime advantages in their last two contests (16-6 versus Montreal on Aug. 25 in Moncton, N.B., 24-11 versus Hamilton on Monday).
However, each time Toronto couldn’t hold on for the victory, losing 28-22 to Montreal and 38-27 to Hamilton.
“We have to look at continuity football,” Chamblin said. “Two, three weeks ago it was, ‘Why are we starting slow? We can’t put any points on the board.’
“We figured out what to do in the first half, we’ve got to figure out how to do a whole game.”
Popp said what’s most important now for Toronto is simply to win games.
“I don’t care if it’s by one point, I don’t care if it’s ugly,” he said. “Once you win some more football games you have a lot of people with a lot more confidence.”
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Chamblin said with Toronto operating on a short week he doesn’t anticipate any lineup changes for Saturday’s contest. That means quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson will start.
Bethel-Thompson is second in CFL passing (2,593 yards) and has a league-high 16 TD passes. However, he’s 1-7 as a starter this season and 3-13 overall.
“Right now Mac is playing as well as most any player in this league is over the last four weeks,” Popp said. “We’ve put up big numbers in stats, we just haven’t put enough touchdowns on the board or stopped people enough to win the game consistently.
“We’ve got to do a better job there.”
Bethel-Thompson said Argos players are ticked about the different ways the club is losing games.
“I think there’s a lot of pissed-off players on this team,” he said. “That can be a good thing because it can galvanize you, lock you in and make you take it out on the opponent.
“Somehow, some way once we get rolling we’ll get rolling and it’s too bad we have to say that for the ninth game but I still believe we’re the best offence in this league when we decide to be. It’s disappointing we can’t show that for a full 60 minutes.”
On July 31, Toronto acquired veteran Zach Collaros from Saskatchewan for a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick. But Collaros, who suffered a concussion in the Riders’ season-opening loss to Hamilton, hasn’t been cleared medically to resume practising.
Popp remains unsure when, or if, Collaros will play this season. However, Popp said he also acquired the acquired the 31-year-old former Cincinnati Bearcats star — who’s scheduled to become a free agent this off-season — for more than just the ’19 campaign.
“This trade was a risk-reward trade whether we’d have him for however many games this year but it’s also for the future,” Popp said. “Zach said he wants to play at least five or six more years and I think he’d love to be here in Toronto and I’ve known that.
“How much can he help us this year? Will he get on the field this year versus the future? That’s day to day, week to week and we’ll see what takes place. But again, it was well worth as an organizational decision, ‘Let’s go get him,’ and we’ll see how much, if we get anything out of him this year but it’s for the future.”
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