Scott Milanovich wants the Toronto Argonauts to have selective amnesia as they begin to prepare to defend their Grey Cup title.
CFL training camps open Sunday and Milanovich, the Argos’ sophomore head coach, wants his team to remember what it took to win the historic 100th Grey Cup. But he doesn’t want them thinking about the celebration and euphoria that followed Toronto’s 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders at Rogers Centre.
“This is a team that knows it can compete at the highest level,” said Milanovich, the CFL’s 2012 coach of the year. “I think there were times last year when we believed we could but now they know it.
“We don’t want to wash that out because some of the best things that came from it was how tight our locker-room was, the way we embraced practice and coaching and how we did our day-to-day business. Those things you want to keep. What you want them to forget is the last thing they remember from last year because it doesn’t matter ... that has no effect, really, on what’s going to happen this year.”
On Friday night, Toronto players, coaches and staff were scheduled to receive their championship rings.
Toronto will defend its title minus many of the faces who helped the club win its first Grey Cup since 2004. Gone are defensive linemen Ron Flemons (released), Armondo Armstead (New England Patriots, NFL), Ricky Foley (free agent, Saskatchewan) and Adriano Belli (retired), linebacker Ejiro Kuale (free agent, Montreal), defensive back Evan McCollough (free agent, Hamilton), kicker/punter Noel Prefontaine (released) and backup quarterback Jarious Jackson (retired to become an assistant coach with B.C.).
The six-foot-five, 315-pound Mitchell, who was suspended twice last year, initially balked at coming to Toronto after being dealt by B.C. But the outspoken defensive tackle is expected to be present Sunday.
In the off-season, Argos GM Jim Barker signed former NFL receivers Reggie Williams (’04 first-round pick, Jacksonville Jaguars) and Mike Williams (’05 first-round pick, Detroit Lions), defensive linemen Khalif Mitchell (trade, B.C. Lions) and Jermaine Reid (trade, Edmonton), linebacker James Yurichuk (free agent, B.C.) and receiver Romby Bryant (free agent, Calgary) as well as defensive lineman Cleyon Laing and linebacker Herve Tonye-Tonye, both 2012 draft picks who returned to school last fall.
But Toronto will have familiarity on offence during training camp as starter Ricky Ray returns for his second season with the team. On Friday, Ray signed a contract extension through the 2015 season.
The former Edmonton Eskimos star needed time to digest Milanovich’s formations and schemes but down the stretch the 33-year-old Californian was pivotal to the Argos’ success.
Ray will have a new offensive co-ordinator in Marcus Brady this season. Brady, a former CFL quarterback, has familiarity with Milanovich’s offence as the two worked together as assistants in Montreal.
Brady will have training camp to work on utilizing the talents of receiver Chad Owens (last year’s CFL MVP) as well as running back Chad Kackert, the Grey Cup MVP who re-signed with the Argos shortly after becoming a free agent.
Two CFL teams will open camp with new head coaches.
Kent Austin, who led Saskatchewan to the ‘07 Grey Cup, joined the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as their head coach and GM last December after three seasons as Cornell’s head coach. Austin has CFL experience, both as a player and coach, and takes over a Ticats squad that missed the playoffs last season with a 6-12 record.
The Ticats’ camp will be held at McMaster University but they’ll play this season at Alumni Stadium in Guelph, Ont., while a new stadium is built in Hamilton. The CFL squad is scheduled to move into the new venue in 2014.
But Austin won’t have star receiver Chris Williams in camp. Williams, who had a club-record 17 TDs last year and was the league’s top special-teams player, is embroiled in a nasty dispute with Hamilton.
Williams wants out of his CFL deal – reportedly to pursue NFL options – and has gone to arbitration. Both sides are now awaiting that decision.
Meanwhile in Montreal, former NCAA head coach Dan Hawkins has replaced Marc Trestman as Alouettes head coach. Trestman led the Als to a 59-31 regular-season record and two Grey Cups over five seasons before being named the Chicago Bears’ head coach.
This will mark Hawkins’ first exposure to Canadian football. Trestman arrived in Montreal in ‘08 with no previous coaching experience in Canada and quickly adjusted to the 12-man, three-down game.
Fortunately for Hawkins, veteran Anthony Calvillo returns for a 20th CFL season and 16th with Montreal. The 40-year-old is pro football’s all-time passing leader and is coming off consecutive 5,000-yard seasons.
There will be a prominent new face in Saskatchewan’s camp. Veteran slotback Geroy Simon prepares for his first season in Regina after spending the last 12 years with B.C.
Hamstring injuries limited Simon to 54 catches for 700 yards and two TDs in 2012 – the first time in 10 years Simon didn’t crack the 1,000-yard receiving plateau. B.C. dealt the 37-year-old to Saskatchewan with the Riders hoping Simon – the league’s career receiving yards leader – can complement speedy Weston Dressler (94 catches, 1,206 yards, 13 TDs).
Simon also needs just 29 receptions to become the most prolific receiver in CFL history.
Change is the operative word in B.C.’s camp as GM Wally Buono revamped his roster in the off-season following the club’s West Division final loss to Calgary.
Buono dealt veterans Mitchell and backup quarterback Mike Reilly (to Edmonton), released others like receiver Arland Bruce III and cornerback Byron Parker while bringing back receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux following two seasons in the NFL. Buono also re-signed more than 20 players, including quarterback Travis Lulay, offensive linemen Jovan Oliafoye and Ben Archibald and linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
The 2011 Grey Cup champions finished atop the West Division with a league-best 13-5 record under rookie head coach Mike Benevides before their season-ending loss to Calgary.
Lulay, 29, the CFL’s 2011 outstanding player, signed a contract extension reportedly worth $450,000 annually that would make him one of the league’s highest-paid players. Lulay had a career-best 66.5 per cent completion average last year, passing for 4,231 yards with 27 TD tosses and just 10 interceptions despite a late-season shoulder ailment.
Lulay was bothered by back issues during B.C.’s mini-camp but afterwards declared himself healthy for camp.