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From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
DATE & TIME: Saturday, June 30, 7:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: As one of the two teams that failed to make the playoffs in 2011, the Toronto Argonauts are the club with the most to prove in the East Division of the CFL as they kick off the 2012 campaign this weekend against the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.
A mere 6-12 a year ago, the Argos had the weakest defense in the league, allowing opponents to connect on 67.0 percent of their pass attempts for a massive 421.7 ypg and a league-high 27.7 ppg. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as bad if the offense had been able to keep up, but the group was second-to-last in points scored (22.1 ppg) and its time of possession (26:22 per game) was the least among all eight clubs.
Toronto won only twice through the first 11 games of last year, a trend that rookie head coach Scott Milanovich hopes he can prevent from happening this time around as he and quarterback Ricky Ray begin a new era of Argos football.
Ray, who got off to a scorching start a year ago while with Edmonton, has been slow to respond in the preseason in his new surroundings and that's something that coach Milanovich has taken personally leading up to the opener. For Ray, a signal-caller who has thrown for at least 4,500 yards six times in his career and has completed 66.8 percent of his pass attempts, it is only a matter of time before he finds his groove with his new team.
Hoping to make the transition a bit smoother now that the games count, Chad Owens should be a more integral part of the Toronto offense moving forward given the type of numbers he has put up in the last couple of years. Owens was again a stat machine for the Argos in 2011, easily leading the league in combined yards with a staggering 3,345. To put that in perspective, only two other players were able to crack the 2,000-yard barrier and the highest among them was just 2,019.
Owens is obviously a catalyst in the kick-return game, but he is going to be used far more on offense this year in order to take full advantage of his speed and elusiveness.
With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, running back Cory Boyd will also play a central role on the Toronto offense coming out of the backfield. Also expect him to figure more into the passing game since he proved in 2010, with his 38 catches for 363 yards and two touchdowns, that he can be a producer in that role as well.
Now in his second season at the helm of the Edmonton Eskimos, head coach Kavis Reed may just have a bigger job before him in 2012 than he did when he broke in a year ago.
For a team that finished 11-7 in the regular season and bowed to eventual Grey Cup Champion British Columbia in the playoffs, making a major switch at the quarterback position was somewhat of a surprise.
Ray was one of the top signal-callers in the league a year ago, especially during the first few weeks when he could do no wrong, yet Edmonton opted to trade him to Toronto for Steven Jyles, with other players and future considerations factored in as well.
Now entering his seventh season in the CFL, Jyles has had a tough time finding a permanent home, having made stops in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Toronto since breaking in with this same Edmonton squad back in 2006. Jyles hasn't been an overwhelmingly successful passer with just 31 aerial majors and almost as many interceptions (29), but Reed still has him sitting at the top of the depth chart heading into the first week of the regular season.
Making the transition to Jyles a bit easier will be slotback Adarius Bowman, who matched Fred Stamps with 1,153 receiving yards in 2011. Stamps has now put up three straight years with at least 1,100 receiving yards and is consistently a big-play threat.
Last year, the Esks had the third-leading rusher in the league in Jerome Messam (1,057 yards), but he is attempting to catch on with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL and that means coach Reed needs to find an able replacement. Hugh Charles could fit the bill even though he was used sparingly in 2011, as he logged 277 yards and a score on 46 attempts. But because of the question at the running back position, Jyles can waste little time in establishing himself as a solid passer.
Edmonton won the most recent meeting between these two squads last October, claiming a 31-24 triumph on the road. The victory was the third straight for the club over the Argos and the fifth in the last six matchups.
In terms of the all-time, regular-season series dating back to 1949, Edmonton is ahead by a count of 43-38-1. The clubs are slated to meet once again in late August on Toronto's turf.
Even though Ray has been slow to catch on with his new offense, playing in his former stadium might be just what he needs to get the Argos into the win column this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 26, Edmonton 20
06/27 11:11:21 ET
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