Sean Smalls, your time is now.
With the off-season departure of a number of key vets in the Argo secondary, the third year cornerback has a tailor-made opportunity to ascend to the ranks of defensive leaders.
Outside of the losses of familiar and dependable vets like Byron Parker, Lin J Shell and Willie Pile, creating room for him to step up in that regard, the addition of defensive coordinator Chris Jones might just provide the native of Richmond, Virginia with an opportunity to shine.
In Jones' aggressive, attacking schemes, where man to man coverage is king, the sometimes lonely island of the cornerback places exceptional
demands on the man who is out there.
TC12 Analysis: Toronto Argonauts
No problem, says Smalls, he's used to that.
"I like the defence. It's similar to what I played in college," he said. "Very physical, a lot of man to man. It's definitely a defence that can
win games. I like that style of play. In college we'd sometime play man to man, like, 70 times in a game, so I'm used to it. It's just a matter of
getting us all in shape to play this defence."
Getting in shape seems a sure bet at this Argo training camp, where players and observers alike have been taken with the blistering tempo that head coach Scott Milanovich and his assistants are employing. It's part of the process of weeding out who can and cannot deal with the rigours of high speed game action in a system that calls for great expense of energy.
"It's more demanding," continued Smalls. "It's more of a challenge, playing man to man when you're sometimes exhausted and the guy across from
you is exhausted, then it's just who has more in him to win that match up."
Smalls, who's listed as a 3rd year Argo but is more like a second year vet (he was added to the roster late in his first year and played in just one regular season game) is expected to blossom in Jones' system of "press" coverage. Milanovich spoke with him on a number of occasions through the off-season, ensuring that his prime candidate for the role of cornerback bruiser knew exactly what was to come and what was expected of him.
"Nobody's got anything locked up. Sean's going to have to do a good job," said Milanovich. "We do anticipate a lot from him. He's still learning the system. (Sunday) was his first day in the system so it might take him a little time to get his feet wet."
TC12: New Look Defence in Toronto
The product of the University of Massachusetts is taking extra time with his toes dipped in the water. On this day, he stayed on the field after practice ended, working on his technique and talking things over with coaches.
"We like big guys in our secondary, guys with long arms," added Milanovich. Makes it harder (for receivers) to get off the jams. Still gotta have quick feet and I think he has that."
Is Smalls big enough to play the bump and run in a Chris Jones defence? CFL fans will recall that when he was in Calgary, Jones had Brandon Browner muscling receivers with great success. At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Browner could use his physical gifts to his advantage. Smalls is less imposing, but don't tell Jones he isn't big.
"Sean's six-foot-one and about 210 pounds, so that's a big corner," he said. "He's got plenty of size. So, it'll be interesting to see how it all develops throughout camp."
"We're a man coverage team first and we've got to be able to line up and shut a receiver down. That being said, in the past he's done a nice job of
playing man coverage. He needs to continue to work his techniques and do things of that nature," said Jones.
"I've always been a bigger, physical, 'get-my-hands-on' type of corner," offered Smalls, as we continued to discuss his fit with the new Argo
"I've always been comfortable playing close to people. Even starting in high school. It's the kind of style I'm used to."
After playing that one regular season game late in 2010, Smalls impressed in two playoff outings as he replaced the injured Willie Middlebrooks and
rang up 7 tackles in total against Hamilton and Montreal. In the East Final, he put the first interception of his career on the board when he
picked off an Anthony Calvillo pass. Installed as a starting corner in 2011, Smalls continued to emerge. He started all 18 games and racked up 62
tackles, an interception and one fumble recovery.
"The most important thing in man to man is being aggressive and gettin' your hands on," offered Smalls, when asked for the key to good press coverage. "I feel that putting your hands on a receiver within those first two yards can really disrupt the quarterback and what he wants to do (with
Sounds like just the kind of thing Chris Jones likes to hear.THE EXTRA POINT
The Argos' quarterbacking picture became a lot brighter in the off season and the team hopes Ricky Ray can pay big dividends for them on the field.
Translation: Wins, wins, wins.
Beyond that, there may be another benefit to having the star vet in the fold. A steady dose of defending against him in practice may just help
make the defence better, according to Smalls.
"You get a really good look from an elite quarterback in this league," he began. "He makes throws on time. So you always have to be on your toes and
breaking on balls. You've got to always be ready because those little creases where most quarterbacks can't throw the ball, he can get it in there."