It's been quite an overhaul in Argoland.
One that has spawned a boatload of optimism, but also a question: How long will it take this team to form a consistent, cohesive unit, capable of standing up to the league's elite?
Beginning with Jim Barker stepping aside as head coach, the arrival of quarterback Ricky Ray in a blockbuster trade and the saying of "so long" to some long tenured and trusted vets through free agency, the winds of off-season change did not, in fact, abate until toward the end of training camp, when the likes of Sean Smalls, Claude Wroten and Anthony Cannon were also shown the door.
Byron Parker, Lin-J Shell, Kevin Eiben, Willie Pile, Dominic Picard, Rob Murphy, Taylor Robertson, Jeremaine Copeland.
Even if you shorten the list due to injury (DB Evan McCollough and LB Jason Pottinger), the 2012 Toronto Argonauts will have 12 different starters in action against Edmonton this Saturday in comparison to the squad that opened the 2011 campaign with a win in Calgary.
With all the new faces in Double Blue, as well as some familiar ones playing different positions, can Argo fans really expect a tight, cohesive unit to hit the field straight out of the gate? Realistically, a team injected with new personnel and new schemes is likely to need some seasoning time.
Just how long that will take is anyone's guess and those guesses run anywhere from one game to a third of the campaign.
"It's impossible to know," began general manager Jim Barker. "Obviously the offence is going to take some time. The defence is also going to take some time because it's all brand new. It's going to take some time, whether it's a quarter season or a game."
On offence, the team has the trigger-man they've been looking for in Ricky Ray. But less than polished efforts, in pre-season games, from their quarterback might suggest the learning curve in head coach Scott Milanovich's offence is somewhat steep.
"We have limited to things that we feel he is going to do well," offered Milanovich, when asked how much of his ideal playbook has been handed to Ray for Saturday's opener. "The other things will kind of grow as the season goes along."
A simpler game plan for Ray is the jumping off point for the Argo offence in 2012, although Milanovich cautions against concluding that 'simpler'
"I wouldn't call it an easy game plan," he said.
"I'd love them to be at full speed this week. "Whether that happens or not, it's probably unlikely. But it shouldn't take us too long. And all of that stuff is relative to injuries, too."
Outside of the implementation of what is widely viewed as a complicated offence, the plan to get a good look at it in pre-season has been hampered by injuries. Receivers Jason Barnes and Maurice Mann have been out of action as has slotback Andre Durie. A potential new acquisition, Ken-Yon Rambo, is a ways away from being seen in Double Blue. Getting any combination of these pass catchers in uniform will be a boost, but their absence has added to uncertainty.
That means the likes of slotback Chad Owens and running back Cory Boyd will need to shine early, if the Argos want a quick start on offence.
Boyd is pumped and ready for whatever manner of action - running or receiving - comes his way.
"I'm pretty comfortable with them," said Boyd of the new offensive schemes that will see him used in a wide variety of ways, perhaps even as a wide receiver at times. "They're asking nothing more of me than what I've asked of myself, which is to be a play maker in this offence. It's just taking me back to my rookie season; getting out and getting involved in the passing game."
An added bonus for fans of Boyd is that he's never felt physically better as a pro.
"I would say I enjoyed this camp more so than any other camp because this is my first camp where I actually made it out as healthy as I did."
Then he echoed the sentiments of a number of Argos observers.
"I'm just looking to see exactly how we gel together. Camp is for the gelling of a team and I think that's what we're doing and we're building off that as a foundation. I like the camaraderie that we have. We have good character guys in here."
In front of a ramming Cory Boyd, the retooled Argos offensive line is also looking for a little time to congeal. They'll need a top performance from either Marc Parenteau or Jeff Keeping to adequately replace the departed Dominic Picard, an all-star centre who shuffled off to Saskatchewan as a free agent. Veteran Wayne Smith will be relied on to anchor the all important left tackle position. His bookend, right tackle Chris Van Zeyl, thinks the line is just about fine.
"We're getting there," he began. "We're very close, we're just on the brink, kind of. All in all, the guys are working very hard and everybody's trying to build that cohesion. I think we'll be good."
Van Zeyl, who might well be on the verge of emerging as a CFL East lineman of the year candidate, knows it's his time to lead.
"Playing beside Taylor (Robertson) for the first three years of my career, it was simple because he was a vet, he'd been around. He made it a lot easier for me. Now I've gotta kind of be that guy for the guys inside."
Patience is not something Van Zeyl is preaching for his unit. When asked how much time it would take for the line to really be humming, he replied:
"I think game one."
On the other side of the ball, the big story is coordinator Chris Jones and his hell bent for leather style of defence.
It will feature multiple sets, rotating players, and an aggressive attitude.
It will also feature plenty of man to man coverage in the secondary. It is here where a complete overhaul has been done. And it is where veteran Jordan Younger, moving from linebacker to free safety, will be key. His eight seasons of experience are exactly eight more years than the other starters have, combined.
"Initially, we'll face our challenges," said Younger who, along with Noel Prefontaine and Jeff Johnson, is a holdover from the Argos' last Grey Cup championship in 2004.
TC12: Jordan Younger Mic'd Up
"We're young and we're raw and we're going to make some mistakes out there," he said, of the pass defence crew that will surround him. "But I think people will be impressed with our speed and how athletic we are."
"If I have to give it an analogy," the defensive captain said, "I've got some dogs. All I gotta do is take 'em off the chains, point 'em in the right direction and let 'em go."
The Argos secondary is filled with speed and height and Milanovich likes that.
"I think you'd always feel a little bit more comfortable if you had proven veterans that have played and won Grey Cups but it's not always the case.
I feel comfortable with our guys, they're very athletic. We've got tall DB's that can run."
Milanovich singled out rookie cornerback Pacino Horne (6 feet, 183 pounds) as someone who's had a particularly strong training camp. Indeed, the play of Horne as well as another newcomer, former Green Bay Packer Ahmad Carroll, played a part in the team's decision to part company with Sean Smalls. Another rookie, T.J. Williams, is 6'3'' and may give the Argos favourable match ups against some of the league's taller receivers.
With Jason Pottinger injured, the linebackers expected to start against Edmonton are all new to Toronto, including former Stampeders Brandon Isaac and Robert McCune as well as rookie Marcus Ball.
It's the unit in front of them where you find some stability, when compared to last year's roster.
Defensive linemen Ricky Foley, Kevin Huntley and Ronald Flemons are all back. It was assumed that Claude Wroten would return, too, until the emergence of impressive rookie Armond Armstead scuttled that.
"Everyone's treating me really well," said the 6'5", 300 pounder from Southern California. "I love Canada, I love Toronto. Just looking forward to going out and having a good season. I feel comfortable. I adapted quick."
That includes getting used to the yard he has to give at the line of scrimmage before the snap.
"The yard? I don't even really notice it anymore," he said of the change from his U.S. college days. "You just play it differently. I have more time to read my block now. I can decipher what I want to do before I close on the offensive lineman. There's an advantage to it."
With so many personnel changes and lingering injuries to players who may very well need to be relied on, you might assume the coach and general manager would think it'd be a good idea if camp was a little longer and maybe a pre-season game or two extra added. Neither Milanovich nor Barker, however, buy that.
"Personally I don't think so," said Barker. "I think two is plenty. At the end of training camp you feel like you've been here three months, even with two games."
Said Milanovich: "I like it the way it is. The longer it goes, there's just more guys that can get hurt. I think it's enough time."
But the question remains: Are the new look Argos ready to shine?THE EXTRA POINT
Some have expressed worry over what they perceive could be an overloading of Ricky Ray with too complicated an offence. Barker isn't buying into that, trusting his head coach.
"Well, people are going to be worried about a lot of things," he responded. "Scott Milanovich has earned the right to be the guy that makes those decisions and he's going to decide how much is too much and we live with those decisions. This is his team to run and his offence to run."
Aside from Milanovich's track record in helping coordinate the Montreal Alouettes' superb offence before taking the Toronto job, Barker points to his coach's playing experience.
"He was a quarterback and no one can know better than him what's too much, what does Ricky need and that type of thing. It's not something I'm super concerned with."