|Toronto Argonauts' defensive backs Devin Smith (#19) and Akwasi Owuso-Ansah (#9) are just two of the nine rookie starters that general manager Jim Barker found in the off-season.|
It's what the Toronto Argonauts' general manager has been known for ever since he joined the Double Blue in 2011. He doesn't sign international players in free agency and never has, instead opting to trust his scouts and find his own players south of the border.
From receivers Chad Owens and Dontrelle Inman to defenders Marcus Ball and Jalil Carter, Jim Barker has a long list of star players he and his scouts found themselves and brought into the CFL. That list is getting a whole lot longer after the group of American rookies Barker brought to Toronto this year. And as a result of him finding all these diamond-in-the-rough players, the Argos are finding success while also building a tremendously bright future.
Barkers' Argonauts went through more turnover than any other team this off-season. They lost two key players (WR John Chiles and DB Jalil Cater) to the NFL and let the majority of their international free agents walk away, most notably left tackle SirVincent Rogers and receivers Darvin Adams and Jason Barnes. It's yet another example of Barker trusting he and his team's ability to find talent down south. And find talent they did.
The boatmen have a whopping nine CFL rookies (if you include DT Euclid Cummings) starting in 2015 and despite this, have a 2-1 record and sit tied for first place in the CFL. Toronto's 'Big Three' of first year players at the receiver position- Vidal Hazelton (12-161-1), Kevin Elliott (9-124-2) and Tori Gurley (10-128-3)- have been crucial in Toronto having a top-four passing attack. They boast even more youngsters in their secondary, where potentially one of the league's top cornerbacks in AJ Jefferson is having a great rookie season along with Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Travis Hawkins and Devin Smith, who's quietly been fantastic while collecting 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in three games. And what can I say about defensive tackle Euclid Cummings, who's racked up two sacks in his first season on the active roster after merely spending the final month of the 2014 season on the Argos' practice roster.
Toronto's also received a major contribution from rookie international centre Greg Van Roten, who's done a formidable job so far filling in for the injured Jeff Keeping. Other depth rookies such as running back Henry Josey have impressed as well.
Give credit to head coach Scott Milanovich for making it work on the field, but be sure to acknowledge his boss, Mr. Jim Barker, for once again saving money by doing a terrific job recruiting his own talent from the 'States. He continually shows why he's one of the best GM's in the country, and every win his young team strings together this year further supports that.
From starting the season without quarterback Ricky Ray to playing their first five games on the road, the Argos have overcome a lot of adversity after three weeks of play. And did I mention they've done so with fourteen (yes, fourteen! And that doesn't include the injured Ray or Keeping!) new starters, while nine (yes, nine!) are rookies?
So let's give credit to the often-cranky, often-salty, sideline-headache general manager who's fresh off a three-year contract-extension for the team he's assembled and exceptional rookie class he brought in. The Argos will only get better with experience, and that's why I think the 2015 Boatmen are indeed legitimate.
The Argonauts are starting hot, and Jim Barker and his scouts are one of the biggest reasons why.