- Ben Grant
Double Blue Game
The 2022 version of the Double Blue Game was an offense vs defense scrimmage that sort of played like an actual football game. The game was “thud” instead of tackle, which meant they were live on the line, but defenders would contact ball-carriers instead of bringing them to the ground, and they basically avoided the quarterback once they got close enough to lay a hand on them.
The scrimmage was preceded by the Canadian national anthem. It occurred to me there might be a few players who were hearing it for the first time ever. There was a full officiating crew, comprised entirely of former defensive players – ok, that’s probably not true, but it felt like it at times because these rules, and generally where we are at the moment in training camp heavily favour the defense. For example, there were some broken plays where quarterbacks would have run in an actual game or scrambled to keep the play alive, but they either elected to throw the ball away or the play was blown dead because the defense got too close. There’s also no such thing as a broken tackle in a scrimmage like this, so players like AJ Ouellette, who were poised to bowl defenders over, had to settle for short gains as they were touched just beyond the line of scrimmage. It’s also Day 4 of training camp. It’s frankly amazing they’re able to put a game together after three days of practice, but this also favours the defense as a base offense takes much longer to install than a base defense, and chemistry matters slightly more on offense.
The conditions were decent, cool with a steady breeze from the northwest endzone. There were a few players I was really focused on, so I relied heavily on the eyes and football knowledge of those around me when I missed something. I had my cohost JB on the left, Will and Doug from Argos Fancast to my right, and Argos PA Announcer Adam Gosse in front of me. The game was scheduled to run for an hour and a half, but was cut short 42 minutes in. With over 60 snaps and a pretty fast pace to the game, the coaches probably got through their entire plan and decided to call it with a morning practice on the horizon.
I recorded offensive stats. Really just for my own curiosity, but then I thought I may as well put them here in case you were curious as well. They’re certainly not official, but they should be pretty accurate. It’s important to note, however, that some of these stats are highly misleading because of the style of play. Bethel-Thompson’s completion percentage is low because he threw a few balls away when there was chaos after the snap. And while the defense was great, half of those six sacks wouldn’t have happened in a game as they were blown dead early, one that robbed Chad Kelly of a deep completion and two where Antonio Pipkin could have taken off.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson looked by far the best of the four quarterbacks, and he should. He was victimized by a few missed assignments and two drops, including one in the endzone by Jamari Hester who would make up for it a few drives later with the game’s only TD catch. Antonio Pipkin was a bit erratic, but this isn’t a format that maximizes his strengths. He had some nice short completions where he was on the money and just missed a deep corner route by a few inches. Chad Kelly looked very good for a rookie American quarterback on Day 4 of training camp. Coach Dinwiddie didn’t call a ton of passes for him, but he did well to avoid mistakes, had one of his passes dropped, and just missed on a ball near the endzone when he was rushed and couldn’t step into it. Both he and Austin Simmons struggled to get calls in quickly, drawing time-count violations. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Simmons, but he came to play. He completed his first three passes, but then the wheels fell off a bit on a drive that started up against the uprights. After an incompletion, he threw a ball late to the outside and LB Wynton McManis undercut it and ran it back for a touchdown.
This was not a great opportunity to gauge ball-carriers because of the style of play. I will say that Javon Leake has some wheels to the outside. I don’t want him to go anywhere else. He and Ouellette were the only backs with more than one carry, and poor Ouellette’s were being blown dead so early for his running style. Adam Gosse noted that Ouellette had a great block in pass protection, which I missed entirely, but doesn’t surprise me in the least. Ouellette isn’t a flashy back, but there’s nothing he doesn’t do well. Unfortunately, there’s always someone in front of him with either elite speed, hands, or quickness, and now suddenly he’s got Andrew Harris to content with.
The projected starters didn’t get too many snaps or targets with so many depth guys to evaluate. There will be a lot of talk about Jamari Hester because of his touchdown and how hard he is to cover at 6’6”, and I do really like him, but I was more impressed with AJ Richardson and Isaiah Wright. Richardson is so smart and Wright is just like a magnet for open space. Sam Baker was running really well and found a lot of space underneath. He’s huge now, as is Matt Gledhill for that matter. This team has so many giant receivers. In terms of the outside guys, I’m pulling for Darece Roberson Jr out of Wayne State, but he didn’t get on the stat sheet with just one poorly-timed target. It’s going to be tough for him as an outside speed guy because they’ve also got Earnest Edwards who looked nice with a leaping catch, and Chandler Worthy who has a great rapport with MBT.
The starting group at this point seems to be Isiah Cage at LT, Philip Blake at LG, Justin Lawrence at C (until Peter Nicastro is healthy), Dariusz Bladek at RG, and Dejon Allen at RT. I don’t really have concerns with this starting unit, even with Lawrence, but they don’t have a lot of proven tackle depth. They kept McLeod clean and upright, and gave him a nice pocket most of the night. The second and third units were touch and go, but to be fair, they were often up against a killer defensive line. One of my favourite guys, Jonathan Zamora, had some nice moments at center, but then he also gave up a sack on a play that will drive him up the film room wall when he sees it. I spent a lot of time watching rookie Gregor MacKellar. He was lined up at left guard as we suspected. He looked great most of the night. It wasn’t a perfect outing, but his only really rough moment came when Shane Ray lined up inside and put a move on him.
These guys got so much pressure all night. It’s sort of unfair because the referees were protecting the quarterback, but there was still a lot of heat. Kony Ealy and Adrian Tracy each had two sacks, Benoit Marion had one, and I’m going to give the last one to Sam Acheampong, though it was hard to tell who was closest. Ray is just a nightmare to block around the outside, and it was cool to see him move around a bit. We saw some great hustle and speed from Dewayne Hendrix chasing plays down. Rookie Deionte Knight is a bit behind the other rookies in terms of the system, not having had rookie mini-camp, but he doesn’t look out of place at all. We’ll get a lot more from him during preseason play. Imagine how good this unit will look when Ja’Gared Davis gets plugged in. Right now the Argos have about eight absolute starting quality defensive linemen, and a few other guys who aren’t far behind.
Henoc Muamba was Henoc Muamba. He mugged a bit, played tight in coverage and got in on just about every run play he saw. I was really impressed with Wynton McManis. He was also a menace against the run, blew up a few short passes and had a pick-six. Chris Edwards was out there with the starters at Sam. He didn’t get much opportunity to showcase his talent in this scrimmage, but we all know what he can do. This is a very solid starting unit. Tony Jones and Brady Sheldon also had some big plays. There’s obviously a drop off to them from Muamba and McManis, but they each batted a pass on blitzes and played solidly against the run. I still don’t have a good feel for who we’ll see at Sam while Edwards is serving his suspension. I’d be inclined to put Robertson Daniel there. He’s been playing halfback while Shaq Richardson works his way back, but the Argos have been cycling just about every halfback through that Sam spot. Treston Decoud had some nice physical plays in the middle of the field, which you always like to see from your Sam.
This is such a good unit even without Shaq, and he’s probably their best player. They didn’t leave anything open. Honestly, the quarterbacks didn’t even try to go downfield against this starting unit, instead checking everything down. Jamal Peters and Jalen Collins were starting at corner with Robertson Daniel and Deshaun Amos at halfback and Royce Metchie at safety. The second unit was tested a bit more, but they made plays too. Josh Hagerty blew up an ill-advised throw to a post from a one-high look, Matt Boateng had a few gorgeous pass breakups, and Maurice Carnell IV stole the show with two picks and a pass breakup on what would otherwise have been a touchdown. I seem to remember saying I expected rookie Eric Sutton to play anywhere but corner, so of course he was at corner. It makes sense, not having faced a waggle before, but he looked comfortable there. Tavarus McFadden broke up a pass and had a few nice plays as well.
Boris Bede and Toshiki Sato both hit all their field goals and extra points, and neither had a particularly long attempt. I was disappointed to see McLeod Bethel-Thompson still holding for Bede. Global punter John Haggerty held one of Bede’s attempts and it looked clean, but he isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, so I assume that’s why MBT continues to hold most of the time. That can’t continue to be the case heading into the season. Haggerty boomed a few punts and placed another one nicely. Bede might have had the punt of the day, bombing one out of bounds at the 14-yard line, just barely adhering to the new rules on a mammoth boot. The return game wasn’t really a thing as punt and kickoff teams went against air, but they did send a lone returner back each time. Edwards, Wright, Jeanpiere, and D’Angelo Amos fielded punts, while Worthy and Leake fielded the two kickoffs. It was great to see long snapper Jake Reinhart out there with a healthy arm and a fresh haircut.
The Argonauts didn’t play recent arrivals to camp and decided to rest anyone nursing even the smallest injury, so the following players didn’t dress: LB Jack Cassar, LB Daniel Kwamou, DL Simeon Okonto-Wariso, LB Soloman Ajayi, DL Alani Pututau, DL Michael Pezzuto, DL Kendall Futrell, DB Caleb Holden, DB Robert Priester, LB Brandon Calver, FB Joe Carbone, WR Juwan Brescacin, WR Tommy Nield, WR Dres Anderson, OL Shane Richards, OL Peter Nicastro, DB Shaq Richardson, OL Theren Churchill, DL Ja’Gared Davis.
As The Lights Went Out
The defense clearly felt they won the day, and they did. After Coach Dinwiddie broke down the team at midfield, they celebrated their way to the locker room while the offensive players were more conservative. After everyone left the field, Pipkin stayed back with WR Damonte Coxie to work their timing on a few routes, while Shane Ray did some work with a pop-up dummy in the endzone. The offensive coaches probably won’t be as happy as the defensive staff, but the most important thing at this stage is that they appear to have avoided any major injuries.
The Argonauts practice today from 10:20am – 1:00pm as they continue to prepare for their first preseason game on Friday at 7:30 in Ottawa. The game can be seen on TSN1.