Toronto Argonauts relying on NFL experience to revive running game

Karlos Williams Toronto Argonauts (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Karlos Williams Toronto Argonauts (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Running backs Karlos Williams and Marcus Thigpen will be key to boosting the Toronto Argonauts, who had one of the worst ground games in the CFL last year.

The Toronto Argonauts would be the first to admit last season was a disaster, as the team went 4-14-0 for the second consecutive year. One of the main reasons for their poor play in 2019 was an average running attack.

The Argonauts finished the campaign averaging just 73.6 rushing yards per contest. This ranked as the second-worst ground game in the entire CFL.

As poor as the Argos’ running game was overall, it suffered a further blow when James Wilder Jr. asked to be released and subsequently signed with the Montreal Alouettes. Wilder wasn’t as dominant as when he was named the CFL’s most outstanding rookie in 2017 and helped the team win the 105th Grey Cup, but he was still a big loss.

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2020 CFL season, due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if and when football does return this year, the Argonauts will be relying on two players with NFL experience to help revive their ground game.

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The first player is Karlos Williams, who a lot of Toronto sports fans will be familiar with from his time playing for the Buffalo Bills. The Argonauts signed him to a contract in November last year, and this week he grabbed headlines when discussing Doug Whaley, who was his general manager in Buffalo.

As reported by TSN, Williams said Whaley can drink bleach and that was one of his less harsh comments. He admitted he didn’t play in the XFL because of Whaley’s involvement as Senior Vice President of Football Operations.

Williams’ reason for disliking Whaley stems from believing the 47-year-old gave up on him too soon after assurances that he wouldn’t. After a fantastic rookie season, the 2015 fifth round draft pick turned up to training camp out of shape and was later suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

While William’s accepts most of the blame for what happened to him, his feelings for Whaley still seem misplaced. If anything the former Bills GM was proved right in his decision to release the 26-year-old, who was suspended 10 games in 2016 and for a year in 2017, both times for further violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Regardless, the Toronto Argonauts now appear set to benefit from a player who is motivated to prove everyone wrong. As per TSN, Williams said:

"“All the people that bad-mouthed me, all the people that talked bad about me and my family and my wife and my kids, whatever they said, you poked the bear and now the bear woke up. I’m out of hibernation.“I’m going to go to Canada and I’m going to tear it up. They have no idea what’s in store for them. I’ve been missing football for so long and I haven’t had the chance to go dominate. That’s exactly what I’m going to go do.”"

If Williams can return anywhere close to the form which saw him rush for over 500 yards at 5.6 yards per carry as a rookie in Buffalo, he will be an excellent asset for the Argos. In reality his attitude will be key, with the hope being that he has matured in light of all the adversity he has encountered in recent years.

In this respect, the recent signing of Marcus Thigpen could benefit Williams as an example of how to act on and off the field. The two have some familiarity after their time together in Buffalo during the 2015 NFL season.

Thigpen is renowned for his durability and consistency, with a combination of NFL and CFL experience dating back to 2009. This is even more impressive when you consider he was never drafted out of college.

The 33-year-old will provide invaluable leadership to both Williams and the team in general, with him commanding a lot of respect. His most recent stop was in Saskatchewan, where he had previously played back in 2009 and, as per Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun, met Argos new head coach Ryan Dinwiddie.

Between 2017-19, Thigpen was a versatile threat for the Roughriders as a runner, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. As a running back specifically he set a professional football high of 408 yards as recently as 2018.

Understandably, the Detroit, Michigan native is as frustrated and concerned as everyone else with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as reported by Zicarelli, he feels blessed by the opportunity in Toronto and can’t wait to get going:

"“I am looking forward to coming back to Canada. It will be exciting to be around new players, new coaches (and) I am excited to get started.”"

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What is your opinion on the additions of Williams and Thigpen to the Toronto Argonauts? What is your prediction for the impact they will have on the running game, whenever the new CFL season takes place? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.