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Argos head coach Dinwiddie fine with team’s underdog status entering 2024 season

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TORONTO – They’ve finished atop the East Division standings three straight years and are coming off a 16-win season, but head coach Ryan Dinwiddie and the Toronto Argonauts will be flying under the radar in 2024.

And that’s fine with Dinwiddie, the CFL’s coach of the year last season.

“I actually like being an underdog . . . I’m looking forward to that,” said Dinwiddie, who also serves as Toronto’s offensive co-ordinator. “I think it might add some fire in our locker room where everyone is doubting us.

“There’s nothing you can do, a lot of stuff is out of our control. We can only control what we can control.”

Toronto has an impressive 36-14 regular-season record under Dinwiddie, who enters his fourth year as head coach. The Argos also won the ’22 Grey Cup.

Toronto seemed poised to defend its title in 2023 after posting a 16-2 regular-season record. The 16 wins was a single-season club record and tied the CFL mark for most victories in a regular campaign.

Toronto’s stellar season ended with a 38-17 home loss to Montreal in the East Division final. The Alouettes stunned the BMO Field gathering of 26,620 — the largest crowd for an Argos game since they moved there in 2016 — by forcing nine turnovers.

Toronto committed a CFL-low 27 turnovers during the regular season.

Many of the key cogs of Toronto’s ’23 campaign won’t be in uniform Sunday night when it opens the season hosting the B.C. Lions. The most notable absentee will be quarterback Chad Kelly.

The CFL’s outstanding player last season will miss at least Toronto’s first nine regular-season games for violating the CFL’s gender-based violence policy. The league also banned Kelly from the Argos’ two pre-season contests following an independent investigation into a lawsuit filed by a former strength-and-conditioning coach against Kelly for sexual harassment and the club for wrongful dismissal.

So the Argos will be Cameron Dukes’ team, at least though to the midway point of the season. Kelly’s reinstatement is contingent upon his attending mandatory counselling sessions conducted by a gender-based violence expert and undergoing assessments by an independent expert.

If he doesn’t complete the sessions and assessments to the CFL’s satisfaction, the discipline against him could be modified.

Dukes, 25, started twice last season, his first with Toronto. The six-foot-one, 205-pound quarterback split those contests while finishing 63-of-96 passing on the year for 760 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Dukes also often served as Toronto’s short-yardage quarterback, rushing 35 times for 126 yards (3.6-yard average) and eight TDs.

Fortunately for Dukes, Toronto’s starting offensive line — anchored by tackle Dejon Allen, the CFL’s top lineman last season — returns intact. Veteran DaVaris Daniels (52 receptions, 1,009 yards, eight TDs) again anchors the receiving corps that also include Damonte Coxie (39 catches, 787 yards, five TDs) and features top draft pick Kevin Mital, the ’22 Hec Crighton Trophy winner from Laval.

But Canadian Kurleigh Gittens Jr. was dealt to Edmonton this off-season in a deal that saw defensive lineman Jake Ceresna come to Toronto.

Also gone are defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace (Saskatchewan head coach), 1,000-yard rusher A.J. Ouellette (Riders), linebackers Adarius Pickett (Ottawa) and Jordan Williams (traded, Hamilton), defensive lineman Reggie Barlow and DeWayne Hendrix (both Hamilton), cornerbacks Jamal Peters (Hamilton) and Qwan’tez Stiggers (NFL’s New York Jets) and returner Javon Leake (Edmonton), who was the CFL’s top special-teams player last year.

Toronto did sign Ka’Deem Carey (CFL-high 1,088 yards in 2022 with Calgary) in free agency while Canadian Daniel Adeboboye — who’s also a special-teams dynamo — returns.

Toronto’s defence, the CFL’s stingiest last season, will feature plenty of new faces, both on the field and along the sidelines.

Kevin Eiben and Williams Fields will serve as co-defensive co-ordinators. Eiben will also coach linebackers while Fields will continue to coach the Argos secondary.

Defensive end Folarin Orimolade had a team-high 10 sacks last year and leads what should be a solid defensive line with Canadian Robbie Smith, towering tackle Shawn Oakman and newcomer Ceresna, who’s coming off consecutive double-digit sacks seasons.

Also back are standout linebacker Wynton McManis, Canadian safety Royce Metchie and veteran defensive back DaShaun Amos, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury last September.

Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu re-signed with Toronto following four seasons trying to hook on south of the border. Australian John Haggerty will again handle punting duties.

And newcomer Janarion Grant certainly provides big-play ability in the return game.

2023 record: 16-2, first East Division. Lost 38-17 to Montreal Alouettes in division final.

Did you know? Toronto set a club-record for most regular-season wins last year while tying the CFL single-season mark.

Key additions: DL Jake Ceresna, K Lirim Hajrullahu, KR Janarion Grant, QB Nick Arbuckle, RB Ka’Deem Carey.

Key losses: QB Chad Kelly (suspended), KR Javon Leake (Edmonton), RB A.J. Ouellette (Saskatchewan), K Boris Bede (released), CB Jamal Peters (Hamilton), LB Adarius Pickett (Ottawa), LB Jordan Williams (Hamilton), WR Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (Edmonton).

Players to watch: QB Cameron Dukes, Carey, Ceresna, WR DaVaris Daniels, DB DaShaun Amos.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

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