Many new faces for Argonauts this season

One face Argos fans will recognize on Friday when the season kicks off is Chad Owens. Depending...

One face Argos fans will recognize on Friday when the season kicks off is Chad Owens. Depending what Owens does in the game, the Tiger-Cats won't soon forget him either. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 PM ET

TORONTO - The Argonauts open the season Friday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

But for many of them, that 2012 Grey Cup championship, will be merely a rumour.

The players who embark in defence of Toronto’s CFL championship will be a far different group than the one that cavorted on the Rogers Centre carpet last autumn.

The dean of the defensive line, Kevin Huntley, is gone.

The heart of the secondary, and calming influence in the dressing room in times of stress, Jordan Younger, has retired.

The offensive line, mostly due to injuries, has been in flux.

In the defensive trenches only David Lee, a backup Canadian last season, has returned in the aftermath of Huntley’s release, a move that sent shock waves rippling through the organization. In the secondary, Patrick Watson and Jalil Carter are the only returning starters from last season.

Even head coach Scott Milanovich admitted Sunday there have been more changes than anticipated.

That doesn’t mean this Argonauts’ team won’t again challenge for a Grey Cup. It might even be more talented, more consistent. Afterall, this was a team that managed just a 9-9 record, while surrendering more points than it scored, during the regular season.

A juggernaut it wasn’t. It’s easy to forget that in the swill of champagne.

Lets just say there’s room for improvement in a division where Anthony Calvillo makes the Alouettes a challenge as long as he stays healthy, and where the Ticats look to be a deeper, more dangerous rival.

“In this game you have to expect turnover. It remains to be seen (how well this team comes together). We actually had more changes a year ago,” said Milanovich, after the Argos released their roster. “It all depends how well we’ll be able to coach them and how receptive the players are to that coaching. We’ll do our best to get them ready to go. I’m very confident in the talent level that we have an supremely confident in the coaching staff.”

Word that Huntley was going emerged Saturday but his departure, which Milanovich said had much to do with “his age and injury history” will resonate for some time. He and fellow tackle Khalif Mitchell, who himself balked at a deal sending him to the Argos from B.C. in the off-season, had forged an early kinship.

“We were at dinner and I looked around and asked somebody where’s Huntley? And they said, ‘I think they let him go.’ You never know in this game. We’re the working guys. You don’t know what the executive decisions are and all of sudden it is a shock,” said Mitchell, who becomes the elder statesman on an inexperienced, but by all accounts supremely athletic, defensive line.

“I’m sad to see him go because he was a buddy of mine.”

Professional football can be cruel when it comes to personal relationships.

“When I was with the 49ers,” said Mitchell, “Justin Smith taught me one thing: Everyone is just a guy until the final cuts. Then you can talk about who your team-mates are because otherwise you might be building a relationship with somebody who ends up lining up against you. It keeps everything in perspective. You can’t have emotional attachments.”

Huntley notched 26 sacks over four seasons with Toronto, but battled injuries last year and only recorded two sacks, and then there were import ratio and salary cap considerations. “I’ve had some hard some hard cuts in my 15 months as head coach but that one was very difficult,” said Milanovich. “You know some players you feel you have a connection with. I enjoyed seeing him every day and I enjoyed him being out there. It’s unfortunately part of the business. We felt it was time for us to go in a different direction ... but a healthy Kevin Huntley will still play in this league and I expect him to resurface soon. It was a hard decision.”

Huntley joins several other high profile veterans to be released. Defensive end Stevie Baggs, 31, was cut in Calgary. The Alouettes released former Ticats’ quarterback Quinton Porter.

“It’s the tough part of the business,” said Toronto running back Chad Kackert. “Anyone who has been here more than a year or two understands the system and even been a victim of it. But it’s difficult to see friendly faces go and guys who helped us win last year so we’ll miss Kevin.”

The departure does allow for a influx of Canadian talent with Cleyon Laing, a 22-year-old rookie, and Jermaine Reed, obtained from Edmonton.

“And, that No. 75 can play!” said Huntley, of Jonathan Williams, who comes to the Argos after three seasons in the Arena League. “I didn’t know anything about him to be honest. He has stood out from (a tryout camp in) Bradenton, to rookie camp, his motor never stops. He makes big plays. It didn’t long for him to make his mark.”

So, it begins. A new season. New faces. New dreams.


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