Argos backups front and centre

Hamilton will see plenty of the likes of Sammy Tranks on Thursday as the Argos rest eight starters...

Hamilton will see plenty of the likes of Sammy Tranks on Thursday as the Argos rest eight starters for the season finale against the Tiger-Cats. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency file photo)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:10 AM ET

TORONTO - In the spirit of the day, Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich played a little trick or treat Wednesday.

The Tiger-Cats got the treat; while folks in Edmonton may be thinking they just got egged.

Even with Edmonton looking for the Argos to be at their best and beat the Ticats, thus knocking Hamilton out of the playoff race, Milanovich is clearing his bench for Thursday’s season finale. “It’s been a long season. It’s mostly because of injuries, especially the older guys,” said Milanovich, after releasing a roster that has eight starters sitting out. Several others, such as Jordan Younger, some of the offensive linemen — and Chad Owens if he can break Pinball Clemons’ league record for combined yardage early in the game — will make abbreviated appearances.

As well as allowing players such as quarterback Ricky Ray to recuperate for next weekend’s Eastern semi-final, Milanovich said this is a chance to audition players, some of whom have been soldiering all summer on the practice roster.

“It’s a great opportunity. There’s so much on the line for Hamilton. Our guys understand this is probably going to be the most physical game we’ve seen all year. Some of these guys have never been in a playoff game and they’ll get a chance to understand what its like to play against a team with playoff intensity — because that’s what we’ll find.

“We are playing to win,” said Milanovich.

He’s just looking for players like running back Gerald Riggs Jr., linebacker Jason Pottinger or receiver Sammy Tranks to provide that win. Besides, he said, the Argos might need to turn to them down the road. “Anything could happen in a playoff game and somebody has to be able to step in and still have us expect to win. That’s how we are attacking this game.”

With Hamilton fielding a battle-tested lineup this should be “a gimme”. On the surface, this should be a big advantage for the Ticats who need to win to prevent Edmonton from crossing over from the west to take the third playoff spot behind the Alouettes and Toronto. Even then, Hamilton needs to have the Eskimos lose their game Friday.

But the Ticats seemed wary of Toronto’s lineup machinations. They have played the Argonauts three times this year and, said linebacker Rey Williams, at least with the starters in the lineup they knew what they were up against.

Now?

Who knows what they’ll get with rookie quarterbacks Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris — who had an outstanding pre-season — taking over in the second quarter after Jarious Jackson gets the start in place of Ray. “They’ll all play,” said Milanovich, who will also sit out linebackers Marcus Ball, Robert McCune, running back Chad Kackert, and receivers Mo Mann and Andre Durie. Toronto’s third starting linebacker, Brandon Isaac, is sitting out a one-game suspension.

“We just have to play our game. We can’t worry about what the Argos do,” said Williams.

But what Toronto does, will affect what the Ticats do. Ray is strictly a pocket passer. “When they replace a guy who sits in the pocket you have to remind yourself that the guys coming in might be capable of running the ball. You never know what these guys can do.”

In other words, just because they haven’t played much, doesn’t mean the likes of running back Gerald Riggs, offensive guard Joel Reinders, or Matt Black, who moves into Jordan Younger’s safety position, couldn’t spoil the Ticats’ hopes of becoming this year’s playoff Cinderella team.

Hamilton head coach George Cortez believes it could happen.

And, he has the ring to prove it.

Cortez was sporting his 2001 Grey Cup jewellery Wednesday. “I put it on to remind guys ... even when things look down and out this is an 18-game exercise to get into the (post-season) tournament,” said Cortez, who won the ring while coaching in Calgary. Like the Ticats, that team had a mediocre regular season, finishing below 8-10, yet went on to beat Winnipeg in the Greg Cup.

For quarterback Henry Burris and a team that has battled injuries all season, this is one last chance at a reprieve.

“With the anxiety that is in our dressing room we are anxious to get out there. We’re a very confident bunch after coming through some ugly situations,” said Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris.

For Argonauts such as Riggs this is, perhaps, one last opportunity to prove they belong.

He has spent two seasons on the fringes of the Argonaut roster. He’s been released. Signed again. Worked and waited. He finally started two games this season, with mixed reviews, when Kackert was injured. “It would be nice to put together a complete game on the ground, protection wise and catching the ball. I’ve played a few games and done some things well but I want to show the coaches that I belong here. that I’m somebody that should stay.”

He has bounced through NFL camps and various tryouts since coming out of Tennessee. “I love this city, the organization, and I’d like to play another three or four years. You kind of build a comfort level with people. Even more so me being a guy who doesn’t trust people a lot. I don’t gravitate towards people ... but this is a situation where I feel I could succeed and be comfortable.”

But he is 29. He is running out of chances. So, in a curious twist, the guys dressed in black and gold, won’t be the only ones playing with their backs to the wall.


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