Eskimos and Argonauts square off in season opener

Jun 24, 2015 - 3:04 PM Fort McMurray, AB (Sports Network) - The Toronto Argonauts try to kick the 2015 CFL schedule off in a positive way when they host the Edmonton Eskimos in the first regular season Canadian Football League game in Wood Buffalo history at SMS Equipment Stadium at Shell Place.

This game is being played away from Rogers Centre because the Toronto Blue Jays are in the midst of a three-game series against the Texas Rangers and Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium is hosting a pair of FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal matches.

The schedules for many CFL teams have been turned upside down due to FIFA action and the Pan American Games, which doesn't bode well for a squad like Toronto which won't play in front of an official hometown crowd until Aug. 8 when the team hosts Saskatchewan.

Toronto was one of three teams in the league to miss out on the postseason in 2014, finishing with an 8-10 record and in third place in the East Division standings. Right up until the end the Argos had a chance to make the cut, but ahead of them were Hamilton and Montreal, both of which finished at an even 9-9.

Head coach Scott Milanovich has a tough task ahead of him however, as he deals with the fact that star quarterback and former Eskimo Ricky Ray is on the six- game injured list to begin the 2015 campaign. Last season, Ray led the league with 4,595 yards passing and 28 TDs as he completed 68.5 percent of his attempts, but offseason shoulder surgery will have him playing spectator. Ray is eligible to return for the Aug. 8 meeting with Saskatchewan, but even that might be a stretch.

During the interim, Trevor Harris will assume the starting job, but as anyone will tell you, remaining a starter in the CFL is not always easy. In three previous seasons with Toronto, Harris has completed a total of just 59 passes for 705 yards and three touchdowns.

The active roster for Toronto quarterbacks as of Wednesday morning also listed Adrian McPherson and Mitchell Gale as backups.

Regardless of who might be handling the passing duties for the Argos, the main target will again be the amazing Chad Owens. Slowed in recent years by the continuous pounding he takes game after game, Owens still finished fourth in the league last season with 989 yards on 86 catches, resulting in seven scores. Owens added another 528 yards and a major on 45 punt returns, placing fourth in the league in combined yards with 1,598.

The key to Toronto's success, in addition to finding a suitable substitute for Ray, will be to limit the hits that Owens takes so he can be a force down the stretch.

Over on the other side, Edmonton has Mike Reilly handling the ball under center once again. Reilly finished last season with 64.6 percent completions and an efficiency rating of 88.7 as he threw for 3,327 yards and 16 scores.

An intriguing addition to the Edmonton roster back in January was Jordan Lynch, a running quarterback who set numerous records while at Northern Illinois and was even a candidate for the Heisman Trophy in his final year. Able to spread the field with his legs, don't think that the Eskimos won't use this new weapon to their advantage.

With leading rusher John White (852 yards, two TDs) on the six-game injured list, the Eskimos need to find a new threat out of the backfield, which is why Lynch could be such an asset in the early going if he is used correctly.

At the very least, Edmonton can be thankful for the presence of slot back Adarius Bowman who exploded for a staggering 112 catches, leading to 1,456 yards, both of which easily led the CFL in 2014. Bowman now has a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns under his belt, but being the focus of the offense will also draw more attention, something the Argos will be keeping an eye on.

Edmonton was second in the league in scoring with 27.3 ppg last season, and also possessed the top scoring defense with only 18.9 ppg allowed, permitting opponents to complete a league-low 54.7 percent of their pass attempts, something the unit will have a hard time living up to this time around.

The only other regular-season meeting on the docket between these two clubs has them getting together in Edmonton in late August during Week 10 action.

Last season, the teams split a pair of decisions, each winning on their home field as the Eskimos posted a 41-27 triumph in Week 9 and Toronto returned the favor six weeks later in a narrow 33-32 final, thanks in large part to kicker Swayze Waters who knocked through six of his seven field goal attempts.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!