I couldn’t sleep last night.
That often happens to me as a coach, but it’s never happened to me because of an Argonauts game. I’m clearly having trouble coming to terms with what exactly my role is in covering this team.
I’ve become attached to the players and coaches to the point where I’m stressed for them the way I often am for my own players. Some of that comes, I’m sure, from having coached or coached against almost a dozen players on the Toronto roster and having talked to a number of the coaches about systems and personnel, and some of it comes from being an Argos fan since the early 1980s. But I think it’s mostly because I’ve been watching training camp and practice the wrong way. I’ve been watching as a coach instead of as a member of the media.
Consequently, I’m not very good at covering this team yet. The things I tend to focus on in practice either don’t make good articles or video pieces, or they’re things I’m not allowed to talk about or film as a member of the media.
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the installation process. Not so much how the plays are taught, because most of that isn’t done on the field, but how the plays fit into the system, what they stem from, what they set up. It’s about competitive strategy, but more interestingly it’s about the sequence in which the coaches choose to install packages in order to maximize their players’ big picture understanding of what they’re trying to do out there.
Offensively, I’ve enjoyed watching and learning about Toronto’s quarterback progressions and reads, hot route and sight adjustment triggers, verbiage, hand signs, audible and no huddle communication, route adjustment keys, pass protection calls, back responsibilities, and blitz identification.
Defensively, I’ve loved observing triggered responses, formation-based coverage checks, pre-snap communication, peeler responsibilities, disguising coverages and pressures, timing blitzes, and mugging and baiting techniques.
So, have I observed anything discussion-worthy and interesting that I am allowed to talk about? Yes, a few things, actually. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
The Coaching Staff
There seem to be a lot of very good coaches on this Toronto staff. I say “seem” because we won’t know everything until we see them make in-game and halftime adjustments, gameplan week-to-week, and in the case of the coordinators, see them succeed as play-callers. But I’ve been impressed with what I’ve observed.
Coach Dinwiddie looks to be every bit the head coach I hoped he’d be. His players will do anything for him. If I knew nothing else, that would be enough. He’s extremely bright and he’s a natural leader. He knows exactly what he’s doing and saying at all times, he’s a meticulous planner, and he knows how to teach. He’s what you’d call a player’s coach, but he’s unique in that he’ll really snap if players are not on point. That’s a difficult balance.
First year head coaches are often overly vocal. They want to make sure everyone knows they’re the head coach. It might stem from nervousness or self-doubt. Coach Dinwiddie isn’t like this. He’s loud when he’s upset, but for the majority of practice, he observes. He lets his coaches coach. As a successful quarterbacks coach, I’m sure it’s tempting for him to work with the quarterbacks, but he really only talks to them during system time. He lets Coach Jackson do his job without feeling like he’s being judged. He also spends a lot of time with the defense, something you don’t always see from offensive head coaches. You can tell the players appreciate it. He seems to have a great relationship with the defensive leaders. He encourages them be leaders and he gives them opportunities to do so.
This all speaks to him being comfortable with himself and his ability as a coach. In press availability, Coach Dinwiddie has spoken very frankly with us about what he’s learned about being a head coach, and what he’s learned about himself in the process. He laughed about how rigid his original practice plan was, which he had to throw out after the first day. This sort of self-security comes from having an absolute certainty of one’s own intelligence and ability.
Coach Young is also intelligent. His defensive system is brilliant. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before either. You can see the Winnipeg influences at times, but there’s more versatility and creativity. The Argos are going to register a lot of sacks this season.
I believe Coach Bell is the best positional coach on the team, and that’s saying something in this group. He fits in so much instruction in so little time and he inspires his players so effortlessly. He’s another guy who fits the mold of extremely bright coaches on this staff. He never stops coaching. In 12 on 12, he’ll jog up to one of his guys on the way back to the huddle to quickly go over something he saw. There’s just no time wasted. He not only makes his players better, he makes the other coaches better. Everyone feeds off his energy. I’ll be stunned if he’s not a head coach somewhere in the next three years.
Coach Dinwiddie is forced to submit depth charts, but he definitely doesn’t think about the team that way. The term starter means nothing to him. This philosophy has already paid off with Nick Arbuckle’s injury. Any other team would be panicking about their backup having to open the season, but the Argos don’t have a backup quarterback, they just have quarterbacks. At practice it’s like that across the board, which can be frustrating for me, but it’s really interesting.
Pinball Clemons and John Murphy work very hard. At the beginning of practice on the second day of camp, Pinball and I were the only two people in the stands. It started raining, so when he got up, I thought he was taking cover since he was wearing a suit. No. He was going off to work with the punt returners. I don’t think I’ve seen him sit down since. But like Coach Dinwiddie, he never interferes or steps on toes.
Murphy likes to watch practice, but just doesn’t get much occasion to. When he is there, his phone is going bananas. He never stops moving for more than a minute and he’s always got three things on the go. These guys set the tone for the entire organization.
I haven’t been allowed to move around at practice due to COVID protocols, but I get a lot of visitors, from the staff to Mike Hogan to John Murphy. They’re always masked and they keep an appropriate distance, but I always feel welcome there. They’re always excited to talk football too. Everyone who works for the Argonauts is really friendly. The work is obviously hard, but it seems like a great work environment. If they were all jerks, I’d still cover and cheer for the Argos, but the fact that they’re genuinely good people makes me proud to do so.
In terms of location and proximity to BMO, Lamport Stadium is a much better place to practice than trekking up to York and Don Bosco like in the old days, but upgrades are needed. I’d like the turf to be a bit more forgiving. I’d also like there to be uprights and endzones. Also, the speaker system needs a serious overhaul. They piped in crowd noise yesterday and I didn’t notice it for quite a while. There are a few small speakers by the south end of the field. When they played crowd noise at Guelph it was deafening and really served a purpose.
Boris Bede, Toshiki Sato, and Jake Reinhart are a joy to watch. They travel around together and they’re usually the first ones on the field at practice, thrilled to have it all to themselves. Yesterday, the offense needed a few bodies as a scout defense and Sato was the first man in. He played corner and he didn’t look bad doing it. Not to be outdone, Bede made a one-handed, backhanded catch on a 50-yard pass thrown by Ricky Collins Jr. Athletes.
There has been a lot of talk about Shane Ray, and with good reason, but Eli Harold is just as dangerous. I’m more excited about Harold than anyone else on the defensive line.
Dexter McCoil is the most important player on defense. He’s not technically a starter, but he’ll get on the field a lot and be a difference-maker when he does. He can also play anywhere. I’m not sure there’s a better athlete on the team.
AJ Ouellette is a much better running back than you think he is. I’m concerned about the running game, but not because of the backs.
The veteran players believe in this team. You can see it in how they spend extra time with the younger guys at the end of drills and after practice. Sometimes you wouldn’t know practice has ended.