Expectations for the Coordinators
Ryan Dinwiddie – Offensive Coordinator
I’ve talked a lot about how good Coach Dinwiddie was as a rookie head coach, but this year, I want to see improvements in his offensive system.
Technically, he wasn't the offensive coordinator last season, but it was still his system. I really liked his half-field passing concepts for their efficiency, but they didn’t complement the strengths of McLeod Bethel-Thompson. To be fair, MBT wasn’t supposed to be the starting quarterback going into the season, but he is this year, so we need to see adjustments. Toronto’s deep ball efficiency was terrible last season, yet this should be a strength of Bethel-Thompson’s game. The main problem was there weren’t a lot of deep routes in the play designs that weren’t clear-outs, or part of a flood concept. Barring a bust, defenses will always take the deep and midrange routes against floods, leaving you the short completion. Some double moves connected, and those are great, but most of the other deep ball attempts came on man-covered go routes or broken plays. I want to see verticals, high/lows on the safety, and most of all, deep corner routes from the slot. Bethel-Thompson throws a gorgeous corner ball, and with teams likely playing tighter to Kurleigh Gittens Jr at Z this season, those suddenly shorter (due to the new hashmarks) field-side corner routes off smash-based concepts is what the doctor ordered.
I also want to see Coach Dinwiddie’s offense use the mind games Calgary’s offense became known for when he was there. They were so good at setting teams up and using a defense’s film study against them, something Toronto did within games last year, but not game to game. That Calgary offense would intentionally show a tendency one week, and then simulate the same action the next week, but with a wrinkle, and then yet another wrinkle the following week. It led to explosive plays and caused defenses to hesitate and begin to doubt their film study.
In interviews, Coach Dinwiddie comes off as a regular California guy who loves football. The truth is he’s an exceptionally intelligent football mind with an obsessive work ethic. He knows exactly what he’s seeing, he’s great at self-assessment, and he doesn’t let ego inhibit change. My expectations for his offense this season couldn’t be higher, so if there isn’t a noticeable jump in offensive production this year, difficult questions will have to be asked.
Corey Mace – Defensive Coordinator
I just finished raving about Coach Dinwiddie’s intelligence, and that’s something he and his new defensive coordinator have in common. I don’t know what kind of system Coach Mace will unleash in his inaugural season, but I know what I want it to be.
As a bright coach with strong ties to the defensive line, I want to see him field a multiple defense that’s constantly changing week to week, with heat coming from anywhere and everywhere. I want to see Henoc Muamba standing in the A-Gap with defensive tackles like Shawn Oakman stalking back and forth along the line before the snap of the ball on 2nd and 10. I want to see split ends getting pressed and re-routed. I want opposing quarterbacks throwing their iPads to the ground in frustration when they get to the sideline.
He has said all the right things, as have his players when talking vaguely about the system, but I fell for that last year. Three different defensive players and Coach Bell all told me last offseason that I’d see all the things I mentioned above from Coach Young’s defense. And maybe I would have had he stayed with the team the whole season, but it felt pretty conservative early on. Coach Mace can’t be afraid to fail or coach not to be fired. Anyone can put together and call a base defense with this many veterans out there. I want Coach Mace to show us all why he was hired as a defensive coordinator at the age of 36.
A lot of the pressure on Coach Mace this season has nothing to do with defensive system, but on the moves he either made or allowed in terms of personnel. Since Coach Mace was hired, the Argos have released, traded, or let walk five defensive starters from last year’s Eastern Final. There have also been two surprising retirements, and defensive leader Shaq Richardson only just arrived. Has Coach Mace made the right moves and managed his unit effectively? It’s difficult for any young rookie coordinator, but even more so for one who suited up with or against some of the guys on this team. We don’t know who made the call on the Jalen Collins trade or the release of Treston Decoud, but Coach Mace obviously wasn’t fighting to keep them. That means “his” players, guys like Tarvarus McFadden and Robert Priester better work out. For the record, I think they will, but the pressure’s not on me.
I’ve never heard a negative word about Coach Mace. From everything I can tell, he was a great defensive line coach, and I could listen to him talk football all day. It’s a new system with a lot of new pieces, but there are so many talented veterans on this defense, and the team’s expectation is a Grey Cup. I don’t expect his defense to be the best in the league every week, but if they do go down, it had better be swinging.
Mickey Donovan – Special Teams Coordinator
Toronto’s special teams unit has the opportunity to make the biggest impact of the three phases this season. The Argos defense was good last year and the offense was decent, but the special teams play was poor. It’s easy to forget because Boris Bede kicked so well, but they were terrible otherwise. It’s not about the returners, it’s about the protection, the coverage, and the blocking.
Last season it felt like Toronto let up or almost let up a blocked punt in every game. That shouldn’t happen in high school football, let alone the CFL. They tried different upbacks, they spent extra time on it in practice, but there was a disconnect somewhere. Coach Nelson’s scheme wasn’t unusual, but the players on the punt team continuously made mental mistakes. Coach Donovan needs to find personal protectors he can trust and he needs to be able to teach them things that don’t disappear on gameday.
The Argos haven’t had an electric returner in years, but the problem hasn’t been the player fielding the ball, it’s been the blocking. Toronto couldn’t set up a return at all last season. Their returners would field the ball and look up at half a dozen free runners. This is coaching, and it needs to be better. The Argos have four or five very capable returners on their team. If they’re not in the top half of the league in punt and kickoff return average, fingers need to be pointed.
The last area in which Coach Donovan can really show his worth is in Boris Bede’s transition to having John Haggerty hold for him instead of McLeod Bethel-Thompson. A large part of being a special teams coach is about technique and scheme, but there’s a surprising amount of psychology involved too. Switching holders may not seem like a big deal, but Bede is coming off his best season ever. Imagine a golfer switching clubs after winning the Masters.
Special teams could have been the difference last year. The Argos were up 12-0 almost five minutes into the third quarter of the Eastern Final when Hamilton’s Papi White took a punt 92 yards for the touchdown. If Coach Donovan can get even average special teams play from his unit, the Argos will be tough to contend with in 2022.