Duron Carter will make his Toronto debut in the Argonauts’ most important game of the season.
Head coach Marc Trestman said the veteran receiver will be on the active roster Saturday afternoon when Toronto (3-7) plays host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5-5). When Carter signed with the Argos late last month after being released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Trestman stated emphatically that Carter would not play on Labour Day in Hamilton or in Saturday’s rematch.
But Trestman had a change of heart after talking to Argos veterans about Carter, a two-time CFL all-star.
“After talking with the players, there was a whole different feeling,” Trestman said. “Literally to a man … they felt Duron was really assimilating what we were doing in the locker room and what we expect of guys in the locker room.
“Everybody knows if he plays well, he can help us win, but the interesting part of the whole discussion really wasn’t about Duron going in there and improving our explosiveness. It was more about if we’re really going to grow as leaders on this football team, we needed to get Duron up so we can help him grow more because there’s nothing more we can do for him. I didn’t feel it was fair to the football team after hearing what our players had to say … I’m not going to hold the team and Duron back.”
Carter, 27, will back up Mario Alford at receiver. Trestman said Carter could see some action on offence as well as special teams, returning punts and/or kicks.
Trestman added that Carter has had just eight reps with Toronto’s second-team offence, all coming last week as the Argos didn’t practise this week with having to play twice within five days.
“That was part of my inhibition and thinking going into this thing,” Trestman said. “But I think he’s far enough along that we can get him in there when he’s not a target as well as when he’s a target. Certainly we’re not going to throw him in there and earmark him as the target for four plays and take him out.”
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Carter has 266 catches for 4,031 yards with 26 touchdowns in 65 career CFL games with Montreal and Saskatchewan. The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Cris Carter was the Riders’ leading receiver last year (73 catches, 1,043 yards, eight TDs) and made six starts at cornerback over two seasons (one in 2017, five this year).
Carter’s debut comes at a pivotal time for Toronto, which trails second-place Hamilton by four points in the East Division. With a win, the Ticats would not only increase their advantage but also clinch the season series.
Toronto also is two wins behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-6) in the battle for East Division’s final playoff spot. Winnipeg would cross over to the East if the season ended today.
“Our players understand the mathematics behind all this so I didn’t have to explain it to them,” Trestman said. “They do understand we have a home game against a division opponent that will highly determine how we have to go about doing this [reaching the playoffs] and the way we do it.”
Both teams are coming off a short week.
Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for 385 yards and three TDs to lead the Ticats to a 42-28 Labour Day win at Tim Hortons Field. Alex Green ran for 115 yards and two TDs while Luke Tasker (eight catches, 143 yards, TD) and Brandon Banks (nine catches, 135 yards, two touchdowns) were also dominant.
Hamilton rolled up 539 net offensive yards and had the ball for nearly 35 minutes. Toronto’s defence will be minus stalwart linebacker Marcus Ball (leg), who went on the six-game injured list this week.
Sophomore Justin Tuggle will replace Ball on Saturday.
“For our team, we have a big next-man-up mentality,” said defensive lineman Cleyon Laing. “Marcus is a key player on our team but we have great backups that are expected to play at his level and raise the bar. We need to deal with the cards we’ve been dealt and execute. Our season can go one of two ways and we know where we want to take it, so this is a huge game for us.”
Toronto’s offence must also improve dramatically. The unit had just 221 net yards as starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson finished 14-of-29 passing for 163 yards and an interception.
Bethel-Thompson said it’s not a stretch to say Toronto’s season has come down to Saturday's game.
“Our focus is to play a 60-minute football game, something we haven’t done yet,” he said. “If you focus on the whole season, you can’t focus on that one play. We didn’t like the taste in our mouth Monday night so we’re very excited to have a shot at them again.”