The Toronto Argonauts might be finishing their CFL regular season, but Aaron Maybin is just starting his.
The former NFL first-round pick will make his CFL debut at defensive end Friday night when the Argos host the Montreal Alouettes. Maybin, 25, signed with Toronto on Sunday and will don pads in his first regular-season contest since being released in November 2012 by the New York Jets.
“It’s pretty exciting, it’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to suit up,” Maybin said Thursday after Toronto took its team picture at Rogers Centre. “I stopped being nervous playing this game years ago but it’s an opportunity to get out on the field and play the game you’ve been playing your whole life.
“If you can’t get excited about that, you’re in the wrong place.”
The Buffalo Bills selected Maybin 11th overall in the ‘09 NFL draft out of Penn State but released him after two disappointing seasons. Maybin joined the Jets early in 2011 and had a team-high six sacks but was let go nine games into the ‘12 campaign.
Maybin signed with Cincinnati but was released in August. Over four NFL seasons, the six-foot-four, 237-pound Maybin had six sacks and 36 tackles.
In addition to settling in with a new team, Maybin is also adjusting to the many different nuances of Canadian football such as lining up a yard off the ball, playing three downs instead of four, a 20-second play clock and covering ground on a longer, wider field.
“I’m comfortable, (Canadian football) suits my style of play,” Maybin said. “I feel it’s a change of pace but I’ve always been good at adjusting on the fly.
“I’ve seen (CFL) games played before so it’s just a matter of zeroing in on exactly what the small details are all about. There’s nothing really that surprises you. It’s a bigger field, a little bit faster pace but the game is still the game.”
Toronto will try utilizing Maybin’s quickness and athleticism rushing the quarterback off the edge. The Argos have just 38 sacks this season, second-lowest in the CFL.
“I’m a high-energy, high-motor guy,” Maybin said. “I play my game off speed and explosiveness and those are the attributes that are emphasized in this league.”
Maybin will have plenty of chances to impress. Toronto (11-6) has clinched top spot in the East Division and will rest many regulars, including quarterback Ricky Ray, to ensure they’re healthy for the conference final Nov. 17 at Rogers Centre.
Toronto rested Ray and other starters in last year’s regular-season finale against Hamilton. The Argos’ backups recorded an exciting 43-40 win that eliminated the Tiger-Cats from playoff contention.
“If you line up Nov. 17 with Ricky Ray, Andre Durie, Chad Owens and Marcus Ball, you’re giving your team the chance to win,” said Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “On the other hand, it gave us the opportunity to see what other guys could do, this is where (backup) Zach Collaros kind of had his coming-out party (last year).
“I understand both sides of the argument but Jim (Argos GM Jim Barker) and I think this is the best way to do it.”
The game means nothing in the standings for Montreal (7-10), which will finish third and face Hamilton (9-8) in the East semifinal next weekend. But Alouettes interim coach Jim Popp won’t be resting his starters.
“First of all, I could care less what they’re doing,” he said. “The guys that are playing want to play and they’re going to play hard.
“They’re pro athletes and they’re getting paid and want to do well. Who knows? Some of them may be better than guys who are starting, it’s their chance to shine.”
It’s a decision that could result in Alouettes starters being hurt close to a playoff game. But considering many Montreal players have been injured this year in practice, it’s a risk Popp is willing to take.
“We don’t go into games thinking that way and I’m not going to,” he said. “If something were to happen to somebody then I guess it was meant to be.”
Milanovich is looking forward to seeing Maybin perform under actual game conditions.
“He’s a great athlete,” Milanovich said. “He does (have adjustments to make), no question.
“What I want to see is him use his speed and athletic ability to chase a guy down. I want to see him play fast and use that athletic ability to see what he can do.”
Argos linebacker Robert McCune won’t play Friday night but the four-year CFL veteran said fans should temper their expectations of Maybin, who was a first-team Big 10 and consensus All-American in ’08.
“There’s just so much on him right now,” McCune said. “I expect good things from him but at the same time he’s going to have to get used the CFL and all the different things they do in this game.”
The muscular six-foot, 240-pound McCune remembers the challenges he faced in 2010 when he made his CFL debut with Calgary after five seasons in the NFL.
“Oh yeah, I remember my first game,” McCune said with a chuckle. “I was pretty winded, the biggest thing was the 20-second play clock.
“It took me about a year to get comfortable because you really don’t know what to expect. Things are quick in the CFL and it will be an adjustment for him but he’ll do fine. I watched him practise this week and he’s got a lot of spark to him so I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
Maybin said he used his practice time this week becoming better acquainted with the Canadian game while getting the gameplan for Montreal down pat. But even he’s not sure how Toronto will use him.
“I’m interested to see that myself,” he said. “I have an idea about the gameplan but once the whistle blows and the game starts it’s always a little bit different than on the practice field.
“But I’m excited about what’s coming up.”
Fuelling that excitement is joining an Argos team gearing up for a playoff run.
“That’s one of the reasons why I even entertained the idea (of joining Argos) in the first place,” he said. “It’s exciting to be a part of such a big push, I’ve never had a chance my whole career to be involved in something like that.
“Obviously people have expectations (of Maybin) but I always live off my own expectations for myself. So long as I play my hardest, I’ll be fine.”