The Toronto Argonauts made waves in February when they traded for linebacker Jordan Williams and re-signed both Wynton McManis and Henoc Muamba. It’s a trio of highly talented players, but there are just two spots available in a traditional 4-3 defence.
In the CFL, the strongside (SAM) linebacker spot is essentially part of the secondary. That role on the Argos will be filled this year by Adarius Pickett, a free-agent acquisition from Montreal.
With the SAM spot filled, who will fill the weakside (WILL) and middle (MIKE) linebacker spots? Argonauts.ca spoke with defensive coordinator Corey Mace and asked what his plans are to get Williams, McManis and Muamba all involved.
“We’re going to have to be creative; that’s a great issue for us to have as a staff,” said Mace.
“There are certainly different ways. If you look at the Grey Cup, we had certain packages where we played three linebackers on the field at the same time. Having that flexibility with those guys, and even having some guys up front who could drop into linebacker roles. It’s going to be one of those things where we have to get creative in the coaching room, but right now the combinations are endless, which is awesome.”
» Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» A team-by-team look at Free Agency
» Steinberg’s MMQB: Appreciating McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Jordan Williams starting the second half with an INT!#CFLGameday | @BCLions pic.twitter.com/bgTNPpSvgC
— CFL (@CFL) August 29, 2021
Now the question is how does a coaching staff with some creative thinkers come up with concepts that employ that talent in the best possible way?
“It’s a gift and a curse because we’re (faced with) dreaming up some stuff, or do you keep it simple and allow these guys to do what they do best?” asked Mace. “Those three players are outstanding players (emphasis his), we’d be foolish not to use all three.”
The flexibility of McManis and Williams make the possibilities even more intriguing.
“It’s fun for any coordinator, especially when you have two guys be able to go out there and it’s rock, paper, scissors for what they want to play,” Mace said with a laugh.
“On each play it certainly helps disguise some things, but Jordan has not been in this system yet, where guys like Wynton and Henoc are coming back into the mix. Jordan is going to have his work cut out for him as far as picking up what we do, but from my understanding he’s an intelligent guy and obviously he knows how to play the game.”
Williams was acquired in a trade with BC on February 9 that saw the Lions receive the Argos’ first-round draft pick this year. It wasn’t a case of the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2021 being disruptive, or the Lions not thinking he can play; it was an instance where a player wanted to move back to the Eastern time zone for business purposes.
Mace was astonished that the Argos were able to land such a young, talented player.
“That was quite a shocker to be honest. That was an extreme shock. It’s good for us now. It builds competition, which you always want. He’s a tackling machine and (his youth) is good for the organization in the future as well.”
The SAM spot will be occupied by another good, young player. Adarius Pickett was named Montreal’s Outstanding Defensive Player last year. He was someone the Argos were hoping would make it to free agency. When he did, Mace says the organization went to work.
“We made a full-court press, from R.D. (head coach Ryan Dinwiddie), to the management upstairs, to myself and other members of the defensive coaching staff: coach (Joshua) Bell, coach (Will) Fields. We all wanted to talk to him, really show love for the player that he is and potentially what he could be in a system like ours.”
Mace said that Pickett is a perfect fit for what the Argos want to do defensively.
“You turn on the tape and you see the kind of plays he’s making. We feel that he’s going to come in here and help us put together a solid run and leading by example when it comes to physicality. We always want to play a physical brand of football here in Toronto.”
Perhaps the biggest fish the Boatmen landed was free agent Folarin Orimolade from Calgary. The defensive end has a solid relationship with Mace, who was his positional coach with the Stampeders before leaving for Toronto.
Mace says he used that relationship when it came time to talk to Orimolade about a reunion in Double Blue.
“When the negotiating window opened, I thought it would be to everybody’s benefit for Flo and me to pick up the phone and have a conversation. When you get to know the player – he’s an extremely intelligent individual and not just as it pertains to the game – I knew the kind of questions he would have. We’ve always had a good relationship. I try not to B.S. guys, I just try to give them the real deal.”
Orimolade, Williams and Pickett are the highest profile newcomers on that side of the ball. They join a talented core of returning players in an attempt to make a championship defence even better.
There are still a couple of question marks on the back end that will undoubtedly work themselves out in training camp, but the front seven of this team is definitely of championship calibre.