Argonauts venture forward minus Huntley

Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Huntley was cut by the Double Blue on Saturday. (MICHAEL...

Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Huntley was cut by the Double Blue on Saturday. (MICHAEL PEAKE/TORONTO SUN)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:14 PM ET

TORONTO - A lot will be asked from Toronto’s starting linebacking crew as the 2013 season draws nearer, a unit that has emerged as the core group on defence.

With so many new faces and so much that needs to get ironed out, Robert McCune, Brandon Isaac and Marcus Ball will have to carry the defensive ball until the surrounding pieces fit, a process that requires time and can be painful when breakdowns unfold.

Toronto’s changing face on defence continued on Saturday, the day teams around the CFL trim their roster in preparation for next week’s opener.

Kevin Huntley left everything out of the field, providing a presence, a voice and experience.

Huntley had grown into his role as the elder statesman, but sentiment means nothing in the bottom line business that is pro football.

When GM Jim Barker met with the media, one of Saturday’s casualties would be Huntley, by far the biggest name to get released.

“Pretty much the hardest cut I’ve had in the three years of being here,’’ said Barker. “It was a difficult, difficult decision.”

But one that invariably gets made when teams acquire young and athletic pieces that need playing time.

Scullers defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones is the master at plugging holes and teaching inexperienced athletes the fine art of his system — and ensuring each player understands the nuances of the CFL and their roles.

Only in time will it be proven whether the changes on defences pan out, but for now the defence that takes to the field next Friday against Hamilton will be faster and younger from the group that won last year’s Grey Cup.

Mistakes will be made, but Jones is very good at in-game adjustments and he’s not afraid to initiate further change.

The group he’ll rely on the most is his most experienced unit. McCune, Isaac and Ball are the glue guys on defence, the group that will keep the front and back ends of Toronto’s defence together.

The three represent the lone carryovers from 2012.

Along the line of scrimmage, only David Lee, a backup Canadian who evolved as the year went on, returns.

In the back end, Matt Black is projected to start at free safety, but he’s never started a regular season game in the CFL.

Patrick Watkins has been medically cleared to play after rejoining the team last week, while Jalil Carter, who replaced an injured Watkins during last season’s East final and Grey Cup, are the only players to start for the Argos in the secondary.

Add it all up and five starters from last year’s defence are left, leaving Jones and his staff to integrate seven new faces into the starting unit.

On offence, there’s continuity given how little change has unfolded.

Jones likes to rotate players, allowing them to stay fresh, which caters to his system of playing fast, physical and aggressive.

Toronto’s depth of Canadian talent provides plenty of options on defence.

Cleyon Laing, a rookie, has been a revelation on the defensive line.

James Yurichuk, who is new to the Argos system, is a versatile linebacker and an accomplished special-teams player.

Shane Herbert and Jermaine Gabriel have impressed in the secondary, each earning roster spots.

Whether it’s an import such as Kiante Tripp or a Jonathan Williams, the Argos have seen enough to convince them that changing of the guard along the defensive line was the wise move to make.

What the Argos do up front is not stats-friendly, which can rub some vets the wrong way, especially when they find themselves in a contract year.

Besides Huntley, the Argos on Saturday also released linebacker Bryan Payton, who filled in as a starter last season and was on the team’s post-season roster.

Also released were running back Gerald Riggs Jr. and Reggie Williams, who made that highlight one-handed grab in the back of the end zone in last Thursday’s pre-season finale against Montreal.

Riggs, in a nutshell, was beat out by rookie Curtis Steele, who becomes Chad Kackert’s backup.

The Argos have all kinds of options at the receiver slot, which is why Williams, a former first-round draft pick in the NFL, was let go.

ARGOS LIMPING OUT OF CAMP

Brent Vinson was projected to start at halfback for the Double Blue, whose defence has undergone an extreme makeover.

Instead, he’s expected to miss most of the season after breaking an ankle during last week’s pre-season finale against Montreal, on the Als’ first play from scrimmage no less.

GM Jim Barker, who announced some of the team’s cuts on Saturday, told reporters Vinson may miss as much as four months.

Bryant hurt

Romby Bryant, a veteran receiver whom the Argos signed earlier this off-season after Calgary went in a different direction, broke six ribs against the Als.

“He’ll be out a bit, but we don’t know for how long,’’ said Barker of Bryant, who had a good camp.

Clearly, the pre-season had its toll and an impact on how Barker and the rest of the team’s football operations handled this weekend’s cutdown process.

“You try to get out healthy, but unfortunately this year we didn’t,’’ said Barker.

Patrick Watkins, according to Barker, is medically cleared to practise.

Watkins, an all-star corner in his first year in Toronto, his first in three-down football, rejoined the team last week after a lengthy private issue was resolved.


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