It's funny what a difference a year can make.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, Argo fans were wondering who was going to play linebacker for the Boatmen. The answer ended up being Brandon Isaac, a newcomer from Calgary, as was Robert McCune, who joined the team in late June. Marcus Ball was a rookie from the University of Memphis. Little did anyone know that this unit would develop to the point where it could lay claim to the title of the best linebacking corps in the CFL. It's debatable, but the discussion can't be held without including the Toronto trio.
McCune is the man in the middle. Known around the league for his brute strength, the Mobile, Alabama native finished sixth in the league with 85 tackles. He's dropped a few pounds from a year ago, which he says has made him a little quicker.
There are a couple of other things that McCune says works well for him; his communication skills with Isaac in particular, as well as the fact he's lining up in the position that he loves for the same defensive coordinator he played for with the Stampeders.
"When I was with Chris Jones (in Calgary), I moved around a lot and played defensive end. Now I've just been playing middle linebacker so it's been real good for me. I can focus in and play the position that I want to play."
Isaac has taken a role as a vocal leader as well as someone who is constantly helping the newcomers with both schemes and techniques. He can constantly be seen on the sidelines during camp cheering his teammates on when practices are dragging or coaching up a teammate. He knows the loss of Jordan Younger's leadership leaves a void and feels he can be a player to help ease that loss. He wasn't as vocal a year ago as a newcomer because he didn't want to "step on anyone's toes". This time around, the South Carolinian is much more comfortable assuming more of a leadership role.
"I can step up a little more and be vocal and try to get the guys going," Isaac added. "They need someone to lean toward when things get hard and I want to give them a positive outlook and push them to do the right things."
Jones sees that leadership potential in all three players on a daily basis, not only on the field, but in film sessions as well.
"These guys are helping me bring the other people along so they know their assignments" Jones told TSN.ca. They're ahead of the game and I think that's the biggest thing I can see this year is that they're taking an active role in making sure that our new people know what to do."
Marcus Ball saved his best game for the Eastern Final in Montreal, a game where he intercepted Anthony Calvillo twice, once late in the fourth quarter, helping the Argos advance to the Grey Cup final. Entering his second CFL season, he's more comfortable with his double blue teammates, citing McCune's strength and football knowledge as his biggest strengths, while singling out Isaac's obvious leadership skills and ability to get to the quarterback.
His highest praise was reserved for Jones, whose defensive schemes are complex, but enjoyable to execute.
"It's a lot of fun because he lets us fly around and make plays and, at the same time, he teaches the concepts of the game, not just 'I want you to go here, I want you to go there', he actually makes you understand what, when and why and that's the most important thing."
What also helps this group excel is the pressure they put on one another. Isaac says they all want to be the one to make the tackle on every play. He also sums things up perfectly when he says what may be the mantra of the Argo linebackers.
"We're tenacious, we're vicious and we want to win".
They won last year and they're determined to do it again.
Notes: Head Coach Scott Milanovich addressed the status of three injured players. C Jeff Keeping is "close", WR Darvin Adams "was seeing the doctor (Tuesday)" and OT Tony Washington "I'm hoping is a week away. We just want to be careful with it and not reaggravate it"... Milanovich said he was particularly impressed with today's practice. "Perhaps the toughest day of camp is that third day. They start getting sore and tightening up and the tempo was good"... Today, the second session was dedicated to special teams, something Milanovich does every third day of camp. He jokingly called the session "The O'Shea Show", referring to special teams coordinator Mike O'Shea... Tuesday's practice was at Erindale Campus of the University in Toronto for the first time in several days. Wet weather forced them to move to two area high schools for the opening of camp as well as last week's minicamp... Two OUA head coaches were watching from the sidelines, U of T's Greg Gary and Michael Faulds, newly appointed to the job at Laurier.