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A tough act to follow

Last year's dream season hard to top, but that's the plan in T.O.

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There are tough encores in sports, but just imagine what is staring the Toronto Argonauts in the mug today after their enormously successful 2012 campaign.

Just to briefly recap some of the highlights from '12, the Argos...

Toronto Argonauts

2012 regular season: 9-9

Playoffs: Defeated Edmonton 42-16 in East semifinal; then Montreal 27-20 in East final and Calgary 35-22 in 100th Grey Cup.

Notable departures in off-season: Released P/K Noel Prefontaine, S Etienne Boulay, LB Ejiro Kuale (now with Montreal); DE Ronald Flemons, QB Jarious Jackson, SB Ken-Yon Rambo; traded DE Andrian Awasom to B.C. for DT Khlaif Mitchell; traded rights to DL Dan Federkeil to Calgary for LB Akwasi Antwi; DL Armand Armstead (signed with New England Patriots); DE Rickey Foley signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent.

Notable Signings, extensions in off-season: Signed OL Joe Eppele, RB Chad Kackert, GM Jim Barker, defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, WR Spencer Watt, to extensions; signed WR Romby Bryant, QB Alex Brink; signed LB James Yurichuk (B.C.) in free agency; hired Marcus Brady as new offensive co-ordinator and add Ed Philion and Eddie Brown to coaching staff; DB Ahmad Carroll retired; traded for DT Jermaine Reid.

-- Tait


-- Traded for all-star QB Ricky Ray in one of the greatest heists in CFL history;

-- Signed former Montreal Alouettes' offensive boss Scott Milanovich as head coach;

-- Played host to and won the 100th Grey Cup in their own backyard.

And now their mission -- and they have eagerly chosen to accept it -- is to do it all over again, a feat that has been accomplished only twice since the Edmonton Eskimos' dynasty of 1978-82 (by the Argos in '96-97 and the Alouettes in '09-10).

"We know the amount of work we had to put in last year and that's why, to be honest with you, all this talk about last year makes me uncomfortable because I know it's an entirely new challenge this year," said Milanovich, the CFL's coach of the year, in a conference call on Wednesday. "And the quicker we are able to turn the page as an organization, the better we're going to be able to get started."

Now, despite winning the title last year the Argos weren't without their flaws. They were a 9-9 club during the regular season that finished sixth in scoring and in points allowed before reeling off three straight wins in the playoffs to capture the title.

Over the off-season Milanovich and GM Jim Barker embarked on upgrading their Canadian talent while working to get younger. Several Argo vets -- most notably kicker Noel Prefontaine -- were jettisoned while familiar defensive faces like ends Rickey Foley and Ronald Flemons have exited and Armand Armstead signed with the New England Patriots.

In their place management, as always, looked to get younger, deeper and more talented.

"Winning the Grey Cup is the ultimate, what we all worked for. The day after the parade Scott, myself and the rest of the staff sat down and tried to figure out how we could improve ourselves. There's a lot of room for improvement."

What might work in the Argos' favour going forward is this: everything that happened last season came with a new coaching staff with a rookie head coach at the controls. Now the club is hoping some familiarity can breed even more success -- especially on offence where there are a number of weapons at Ray's disposal.

"We should be starting at a higher level this year than we were last year," said Milanovich. "It wasn't just Ricky... Ricky's comfort level is going to be significantly higher than it was a year ago and so that should make the whole product look a little better.

"Our goal is to try and pick up where we left off and then try to take that to a new level. Our expectations are definitely higher than they were a year ago." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

The CFL is conducting a series of teleconference previews on the league's teams. This is the fourth in that series.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2013 D4

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