Even though the Toronto Argonauts will be watching the CFL playoffs from home, the team has a lot to prove in their final stretch of the season.
With the CFL trade deadline past and a big change made with Pinball Clemons taking over for Jim Popp, the Toronto Argonauts will try to put it all behind them starting against the Ottawa Redblacks.
Although the playoffs are well out of reach, the team can use these last four games not only to prove something to the new management group but to themselves as well. It’s hard to not blame players for being disappointed with how things have unfolded but that’s the reality that comes with two straight seasons where the team has finished with five or fewer wins.
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Nothing is guaranteed for any of the players who are under contract next season and many find themselves heading into free agency. Some will be able to find another job while others might not be so fortunate unless they use this final stretch as a showcase for themselves.
"It starts with quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson who has been the more effective quarterback on the team but doesn’t have any guarantees of a job next season as a free agent.“I’m excited, I get to play football,” Bethel-Thompson said after practice. “That’s what I love to do, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was six years old.“We’re going to play our best football Friday and control what we can control. For me, that’s how well I play Friday night.”"
It can’t get any worse than what happened against the B.C. Lions where they were outclassed from start to finish and it probably won’t against the Redblacks who have arguably been just as bad as Toronto this season.
When it comes to Popp being let go, the players did take the news personally considering most of them were brought in by the former GM but also understand that this is a business where results are everything.
"“I came in as an undrafted player three years ago and he’s the only one who gave me an opportunity to come in and show what I can do,” said Canadian receiver Jimmy Ralph. “I’ll always be indebted to Jim Popp and sad to see him leave but I’m preparing myself for this game and playing my hardest for the Argos because I want to win. I think we just need to feel that again.”"
Defensively, the team finds itself in another situation where players are having to step into roles they probably didn’t expect to be in because of injuries. At the same time, that comes with playing football and just focusing on things they can control.
While most players will try to brush aside the tough plays, it’s also a learning opportunity considering most of these players don’t have the same experience in the CFL or even in professional football.
"“You have to just look yourself in the mirror as an adult, and as a professional athlete and say, ‘I can’t just brush it under the rug’,” said Alden Dayby Jr. “Even if coach doesn’t have time to go over every correction, you got to take that responsibility upon yourself and look in the mirror, what can I do to get better.”"
James Wilder Jr. can attest to not playing at the standard he set for himself heading into this season and it’s tough to criticize the performance of a running back who has only 67 carries in 10 games which is less than what Cody Fajardo (90), Chris Streveler (103) and Vernon Adams Jr. (72) have this season.
He also knows the bigger disappointment is not seeing the team miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons. He also believes the last stretch of games will show a lot about the team going forward.
"“As a competitor, it’s definitely difficult because the ultimate goal is to win the Grey Cup and at least give yourself an opportunity to get to the playoffs,” said Wilder Jr.“I think (the final three games) will show what type of character is on this team moving forward. Are we going to be lackadaisical in practice or are we going to be men and professional athletes and go out there and perform each week as if there were still playoff games.”"
The Argos still has the leadership in the locker room that will demand the players push forward until the end of the season and those players will likely be a part of what the team wants to do going forward.
It’s not the situation the players expected to be in but these last four games can show a lot about the team’s mindset and whether they can potentially be a part of the solution going forward.
What do you want to see from the Argos to finish off the season? Which players do you hope the team tries to keep going forward? Let us know in the comments below.