Better for these Argos to receive

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:17 AM ET

TORONTO - In his heart, Andre Durie will always see himself as a running back but, on a CFL depth chart, he keeps popping up like one of those gophers at a midway game.

He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere.

In his heart, Jason Barnes sees another Ricky Ray pass, one seemingly as big as the moon, floating into his hands.

“The famous Ricky Ray corner route. It’s my favourite play. The ball is so pretty and it drops here,” says Barnes, holding out his hands, “every single time. I love it.”

Huge things are predicted of Durie by CFL pundits. A breakout season, some believe is at hand. As for Barnes, coming over to Toronto from Edmonton with Ricky Ray, this is his chance to become a No. 1 receiver.

The Argos’ success, perhaps their very survival in the CFL, could hinge on their success.

Toronto will need much from both if the franchise hopes to win back an estranged fan base, assuage the bitter taste of a 6-12 season, and make itself a relative entity in this the 100th campaign for the Grey Cup.

They are at the heart of a rebuilt offence that last year should’ve come with a laugh track.

“I don’t know (what went wrong). I kind of let last year stay in last year. I tried to concentrate on the changes that our team has made with the new coaching staff and new players. The more you dwell in the past the more it hinders your performance in the future,” Durie said Wednesday. “I try not to linger on it.”

Smart move.

Toronto was last in almost every aerial stat — 324 completions, 17 passing TDs, its 3,770 yards in the air trailed the next worst passing team (Winnipeg) by more than 600 yards, and its efficiency rating was 70.2 compared to the league-leading Als’ 96.8%. That’s a lot of ways to say ugly.

“It’s the CFL so the passing game has to be the No. 1 thing. It will be something we’re a lot better at this year,” said Durie. “It was tough to go through but as a team growing together maybe you have to go through things like that to become successful.

There is little doubt that to be successful, the ball will have to get into the hands of Barnes, and of Durie.

A lot.

How it gets there Durie isn’t picky. “Running back (is) pretty much what I’ve done since I was seven years old. Just being behind the quarterback, behind the centre, following the guys up front is something I’ve always enjoyed. But I think I have found my comfort zone as a receiver, too.”

He left his first love behind two years ago when then-head coach Jim Barker moved him to slotback. Since then, he’s caught 54 passes each of the past two years, last year leading the club in passing yardage. He’ll still run the ball occasionally.

And, he loves special teams. It’s the football kamikazi in him.

“It’s all one on one. You get to run down the field and make plays ... steal the momentum of games sometimes; that’s what I love about it,” he said.

New head coach Scott Milanovich likes his versatility, joking (sort of) with reporters that he is keeping Durie as his secret weapon. “If teams wonder how we’re going to use him that’s an advantage ... we’re keeping that a little close to the vest.”

Milanovich has seen Durie evolve from a seldom-used free agent who walked on to the Argos’ roster five years ago into someone many believe is on the cusp of becoming a multi-threat.

“The first time I really noticed him making a difference was two years ago. We had thought of him as a running back when he became a slot. He was rusty to start, he was raw ... but he’s really developed a skill set as a receiver. His ability to do that opens up more routes for him,” said Milanovich.

“If he was just a running back you wouldn’t be able to run him on certain routes because he wouldn’t have the ability but he’s polished his game. He can run just about anything that you want him to run. That makes it tougher to defend him. You can’t just say, ‘oh this guys’ kind of a hybrid player; he can run the ball and he can run a flat but he’s not going to run a diagonal or a corner or a go route.’

“The thing about Andre now is he runs all those routes now and that’s made him more of a weapon. Hopefully we’ll utilize him well and I think he’ll have a big season.”

Barnes still ranked 11th in the CFL in receiving last year, even though with Fred Stamps and Adarius Bowman he wasn’t Ray’s primary target.

As a free agent he was looking for a chance to move up the food chain. In Toronto, he saw that chance. He averaged more than 17 yards a catch last year, precisely the type of weapon the Argos craved but never found in two seasons of quarterbacking futility under Cleo Lemon.

“I wouldn’t say (I’m) a saviour but there’s a great opportunity here especially with Ricky coming in. I was looking to get more touches,” said Barnes. “I played with a bunch of very talented receivers. To be able to step up and become a No. 1 or 2 receiver is a challenge to which I’m looking forward. It (the No.1 receiver spot) is up for grabs here.”

ALL CLASS

Zach Collaros traded his school books for a playbook Wednesday.

One day after finishing his final exam at Cincinnati, the former Bearcats quarterback was trying to play catch-up with his new Argonaut teammates.

“It‘s exciting. I’ve been here only about a day and half and I’m still trying to learn the offence but it looks like a fun game,” said Collaros.

New city. New team. New game. Bunked into a dorm rooms holding three or four players, Collaros has had this feeling before.

“It’s definitely a strange feeling. It’s like going off to college again. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone so that’s not much fun. But the guys and coaches have welcomed me.”

Collaros is only 23 and will battle Trevor Harris for the No. 3 quarterback spot.

“He’s a talented kid. He’s got a big arm. He can run; he had a 75 yard touchdown against South Florida. So we’re anxious to see him,” head coach Scott Milanovich said of Collaros. “He’s a few days behind but he’s a young guy and we’re trying to develop a young quarterback. Hopefully between him and Trevor we’ll find one that we like.”

NOTES: The Argos added receiver Chandler Williams, who has spent the past five seasons in the NFL and Arena League...Receiver Maurice Mann will miss the next week of camp after suffering a cut on his leg. “We expect him to be back soon. He’ll be fine,” said Milanovich. Mann also cut his foot last season in a freak accident while with Hamilton and missed six games. Milanovich said the two injuries aren’t related.


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