Argonauts coach confident with secondary unit

Defensive back Pacino Horne -- who made a pick six in the Grey Cup game in November -- was released...

Defensive back Pacino Horne -- who made a pick six in the Grey Cup game in November -- was released by the Double Blue on Monday. (REUTERS)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:56 AM ET

TORONTO - The Argonauts are getting close in identifying the makeup of their opening-night roster, a process that gets more difficult each time cuts are made.

For now, the most-known player to get released is Pacino Horne, who emerged as a playmaker in the secondary as last season’s post-season played out, capped off by a pick six in Toronto’s Grey Cup win over Calgary.

The writing was on the wall for Horne, who suffered an off-season ankle injury that kept him away from camp for much of the evaluation period.

When he arrived, he was clearly behind a unit that is undergoing a huge overhaul.

A lot of names fans aren’t necessarily familiar with are going to line up in Toronto’s back end and will be asked to play press-man coverage that demands great technique and understanding of schemes.

One bad read or one missed assignment — and one big play will be produced by the opposing offence.

Horne was deemed expandable because of the player-personnel work assistant GM and defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones does in the off-season, tapping into his previous stops in the CFL or beating football’s bushes that is second to none in three-down football.

With Horne no longer in the picture, the Argos could potentially have only one player, Jalil Carter, who lined up as a starter last season in Toronto’s secondary.

Carter isn’t a sure thing, either, but his familiarity with the defence, his athleticism and increased strength will be hard-pressed to supplant.

Whatever becomes of the Argos’ secondary, whomever is asked to start or serve as a backup, head coach Scott Milanovich isn’t going to fret.

In fact, Milanovich spoke with Jones on Sunday about the state of the team’s defence in general and in particular about its back end.

“We expect to have a dominant defence,’’ said Milanovich. “I haven’t lost a minute of sleep over them.”

Jones runs a system that is foreign to virtually every player who has been taught cover skills, rushing techniques or filling gaps.

He hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel, but it’s an aggressive system that demands versatility, athleticism, technique and being on the same page.

It’s not a stats system, which is why some players opted to pursue other opportunities in free agency.

Multiple looks on the line of scrimmage, blitzing from different angles off the edges by linebackers, man coverage in the secondary, the Jones formula was instrumental in the Argos making big plays during their post-season run, beginning with a home playoff win over Edmonton in the East semi.

“They’re beginning to trust the technique,’’ Milanovich said of the defence.

Tuesday looms as a key day for many as the countdown to this weekend’s final cut-down date draws nearer.

On Wednesday, the Argos will convene at Varsity for their walkthrough, followed by Thursday’s pre-season finale against visiting Montreal.

Ideally, players need to separate themselves to solidify a roster spot. In the absence of separation, it rests in the hands of Milanovich and his staff.

“We’d rather not do that,’’ said Milanovich of a process that amounts to coaches exercising their instincts. “We’d rather it be clear cut. They (players) have a couple of days to make their mark.”

Horne was one of 11 players released on Monday as the Argos reached the mandatory limit of 65.

By this weekend, the 46-man roster for next week’s home opener versus Hamilton must be finalized.

“You see the look on players’ faces because they recognize the finality of pro sports,’’ added Milanovich, who was twice cut during his pro-playing days. “You’re here one day, gone tomorrow.

“It’s never easy and I know what it feels like. It’s like any profession. It’s no fun having someone tell you you’re not good enough to do what you want to do.

“It’s obviously harder with the guys you’ve known for a period of time, but it’s never easy, even with the rookies.”

As practice wrapped up on Monday, Milanovich addressed his team, his message as blunt as it was obvious.

“Time is running out for them to make an impression,’’ he said.

For some, it already has.

GM LIKES NO-NAME 'D'

When the football dust finally settles on defence, Argonauts GM Jim Barker realizes the casual fan, even the hard-core follower, will have a hard time recognizing the team’s starters.

“No one has heard of these guys now, but come mid-season they’ll know who they are,’’ said Barker on Monday as the team released 11 players.

Barker knows Chris Jones’ history of turning defences around, with or without the benefit of household names.

Barker saw it first-hand in Calgary and again in Toronto last year.

A year ago, no one ever thought players such as Ahmad Carroll and Patrick Watkins, one-time NFLers, would be part of the team’s secondary.

A lot of people were intrigued by Pacino Horne’s first name and its origin, but no one could name any of his past feats on the gridiron.

Marcus Ball was plucked from a free-agent camp, evolving into a dominant linebacker on a unit that has to take its game to a higher level this season.

“This defence is flying around,’’ added Barker. “Sure they’ll be mistakes, but they’ll be making mistakes by playing at 500 miles per hour.”

There are plenty of battles in Argoland, plenty of decisions that need to be made as Saturday’s cut-down date looms.

It’s why Thursday’s pre-season finale against visiting Montreal at Varsity is such a potentially big occasion for those on the bubble.

The Argos are solid at quarterback with Ricky Ray as the starter.

There’s no proven CFL veteran at backup QB, but in Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros the Argos have emerging arms. Mitchell Gale and Josh Portis did well in their debuts last week in Winnipeg.

“It’s a great problem to have,’’ said Barker of the team’s quarterback situation beyond Ray.


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