Toronto's defence will tak to the field tonight against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with just five returning starters.
Will that make them easy pickings for the Hamilton offence led by Henr Burris? The Cats, for their part, will take the field without star receiver Chris Williams, still a contract hold-out and with likely iwth a new look backfield.
While Toronto might lack playing experience on defence, head coach Scott Milanovich said the unit's athleticism and speed give defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones plenty of options with his schemes and player rotations. "The thing Chris has always been so good at is taking the talent he has and fitting his defence around the strengths," Milanovich said.
"There'll certainly be some new wrinkles but there will be things that look familiar too. "There's a lot of guys we're looking at who have to prove they can do it on game night. We've seen them cover and rush the passer and do all those things well in practice but until you see it when it matters you're never really sure."
Will the Ticats offence pick up where it left off last year with a new scheme from head coach Kent Austin and without the speed and deep threat of Williams? The Ticats led the CFL in scoring last year, averaging 29.9 points per game, while the 38-year-old Burris posted career highs of 5,367 passing yards and 43 TDs. "Henry is so hard to put your finger on because you can do everything right and he can still make a play," Milanovich said.
'We want to be an opportunistic defence that gets turnovers. You have to get turnovers in this game.' —Ticat head coach Kent Austin
"That's always the difficulty of playing against Henry because he's mobile, he's strong, he's athletic, he can run." Hamilton's defence underwent changes this off-season as well, and with good reason. Last year, the Ticats allowed 32 points and 306 yards passing per game, both league highs, as the team missed the CFL playoffs with a 6-12 record.
Ticats new look defence
Although the Ticats return eight defensive starters, they also have a new defensive co-ordinator in Orlondo Steinauer. The 40-year-old Seattle native not only played eight seasons as a defensive back with Toronto but later served as its defensive backs coach and defensive co-ordinator before joining Hamilton this off-season. "We're going to play with great effort, I can tell you that, and run to the football," Ticats head coach Kent Austin said of his defence.
"We're going to hit, we're going to tackle and we're going to tackle the football. "We want to be an opportunistic defence that gets turnovers. You have to get turnovers in this game . . . so we want a defence that plays the game in such a way that its not reckless but its effort level allows it to create an environment conducive for getting the ball and getting the other team off the field. We want a fast defence and a defence that has interchangeable parts so we can have versatility."
Steinauer's unit will face a Toronto offence anchored by veteran quarterback Ricky Ray and receiver/kick-returner Chad Owens, the league's outstanding player last season.
"I don't think for us Ricky will be fooled very often," Milanovich said. "He has played against every different coverage that I know of and maybe Orlondo can come up with something new but I think Ricky will find rhythm in his drops and his progressions."
Although two veteran quarterbacks will lead offences featuring many familiar faces against defences with plenty of question marks, both coaches wouldn't give the offensive units the advantage Friday night. "I don't feel that way," Milanovich said. "I've prepared against Chris Jones in the past and it's not fun and that's one of the reasons why I wanted him here. "At the same time, we're in a situation where we don't know what Orlondo will do and I think you see how many strides they've made defensively already."
Added Austin: "Every game takes on its own story, that's what I love about this game, it takes on its own complexion. I wouldn't say that the inexperience on one side of the ball creates an advantage for the other side of the ball with the opposing team. It can, it all depends on the quality of the individuals, how well they're being coached and how well they're prepared."
Prior to the game, Toronto will unfurl its Grey Cup banner but the majority of players won't be on the field. And that's fine with Issac. "I really don't care about the banner, I already know we are champions," he said. "The banner is for the fans and community. "I mean, we're appreciative of the banner going up so down the road, 10-to-12 years from now, we can come back and say we won a championship but other than that, it's nothing."
Burris won't be bothered by having to sit through the pre-game celebration. "It's one of those situations you say congratulations to them, they did it last year but this is a new year," he said.
"If they want to celebrate a party, well, hopefully we can make this our coming-out party. "When someone's going to have a party and you're the guest, yeah, that does get you going. But the thing is we're going to be pumped up just as we would for any other game but the main focus for us is focus on our job. It doesn't matter what they do because if we do what we do and do it best, that will take care of itself."
he Argos will unveil a new defensive line against Hamilton with ends David Lee and Nekos Brown and tackles Khalif Mitchell and Jonathan Williams. The six-foot-five, 315-pound Mitchell is a former CFL all-star and Grey Cup champion, however Brown and Williams are rookies.