Argos give Ray made-in-Canada protection

Former Saskatchewan Roughrider and Hamilton Tiger-Cat Wayne Smith has joined the Toronto Argonauts...

Former Saskatchewan Roughrider and Hamilton Tiger-Cat Wayne Smith has joined the Toronto Argonauts offensive line for the 2012 season and beyond. (QMI AGENCY)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 7:31 PM ET

No longer is it necessary for Wayne Smith to figure out where he belongs, no longer burdened with the uncertainty of wondering what role he’ll assume and where he stands in the pecking order.

In the world of pro football where mixed messages are delivered and promises often end up as empty, the glass appears completely full for Smith, who has taken the plunge with the Argos, a team that is knee-deep when it comes to the offensive line pool.

Only in time will the exact direction of the Argos be properly judged, but for now it’s looking like the team bent on appearing in the 100th Grey Cup, to be played in Toronto no less, is loading up on Canadian assets on the offensive line.

Montreal has been the standard bearers for years in the CFL, a team that has gone with an all-Canadian look on the line of scrimmage, a luxury that opens up possibilities to go with a starting import at either a skilled position on offence or on the defensive side of the ball.

For now, Smith is very much looking forward to his latest challenge in the CFL and a long-awaited opportunity to start on the line of scrimmage.

But until Smith, or any other linemen acquired this off-season, for that matter, acquits himself on the practice field and during games, until he proves himself worthy of a starter, the football jury is still out.

But everything Smith has been told, all that he’s heard about the Argos and their direction, and even his brief time working out with his new teammates have convinced the veteran that he’s found the proper home.

“I’m just excited,’’ Smith said on Wednesday, his second day as an Argo. “I’ve got a clear cut plan of what’s expected of me and what they want from me.

“There are no ands, ifs or buts in terms of what they want. What that does is help clear your mind and focus better. There have been times where I didn’t know what was left or what was right, so it’s nice to have plan that’s clear cut.”

The simple fact the Argos signed Smith through the 2014 season sent a strong signal that the team expects Smith to not only compete for a starting job, but also secure one.

The fact Smith has something to prove provides that much-needed chip on a shoulder to prove the naysayers wrong.

When he returned to Hamilton last year, a place that ushered in Smith as the first overall pick in the 2004 CFL draft, the Ticats weren’t able to give Smith the kinds of assurances the Argos have made.

One of the few redeeming qualities to his time in the Hammer was the exposure Smith got at centre, a role that now allows Smith to line up at all five positions on the offensive line.

In one of those classic cases where a team wants to move in a different direction and a player simply needs a new home, the Ticats released Smith, who turns 32 this November, last week.

While he dressed for every game last season, Smith pined to be a starter, a mind-set that prompted him to start over and join the Argos fold.

“I take pride in being aggressive and flying around,’’ said Smith. “I enjoy hitting people, which is always something I’ve hung my hat on.”

When Smith was drafted, he was the first of 14 offensive linemen who would be taken in 2004, a group that featured Ibrahim Khan (second overall), Marwan Hage (14th overall) and Josh Bourke (21st overall).

When he was traded to Saskatchewan, then Riders GM Eric Tillman began to stockpile Canadian offensive linemen, a plan that helped the team to its 2007 Grey Cup title and earn Smith a championship ring.

“Success is addictive,’’ conceded Smith. “It’s the best drug. You begin every season with the goal of winning the Grey Cup.

“From the first workout to the first rep, everything is aimed toward the Grey Cup.”

When it comes to the Argos being able to win this year’s Grey Cup as hosts, a lot will depend on the team’s strength on the offensive line.

Whatever playbook rookie head coach Scott Milanovich designs to feature quarterback Ricky Ray, it’ll be of no use if pass protection isn’t provided or if a run game isn’t established.

With Smith, the Argos have 11 O-linemen under contract, but only one is an import, Edawn Coughman, who started at left tackle for an injured Rob Murphy.

Marc Parenteau, whom Smith knows from their time in Regina, is expected to start at centre, while Chris Van Zeyl is the incumbent at right tackle.

Joe Eppele emerged at right guard, giving this converted tackle an edge as a starter.

Smith sees an opportunity and is going to make the most of a moment he can’t allow to slip away.

SCHOOLS OUT FOR ... ARGO GAME

A team known for its connection to the grass roots is planting a seed it hopes will one day come to fruition.

In the case of the Argos, it’s getting as many people to attend games as possible, an aim that explores all options and every market.

For Toronto’s pre-season opener on June 19, kickoff has been moved to high noon to accommodate school-aged kids, a group that may one day evolve into full-fledged supporters of the Double Blue.

With the blessing of education officials, primary and middle school students will be allowed into Rogers Centre for free and feted on the field following the Argos’ meeting with the Montreal Alouettes.

In addition, each Argos season ticket holder will be offered five ticket vouchers for the exhibition tilt and be able to invite — for free — students in their lives.

It goes without saying that youth will be served as the Argos leave no stone unturned in making their brand relevant again in a fickle and crowded market.

No one knows whether it’ll ultimately work, but credit the Argos for at least trying.

“We look forward to having thousands of students at our pre-season game to celebrate the end of another successful school year,’’ Chris Rudge, the team’s top executive, said in a statement released by the Argos on Wednesday. “The health and wellness of our youth is at the centre of our community efforts.”

— frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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