Hogan: Kackert decision leaves Argos' starting RB spot open

Mike Hogan
6/1/2014 6:06:10 PM
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A running back is like a city bus. If you miss one, just wait five more minutes and another will come along.

This rather harsh maxim is something that's been said on many a draft day of the position. It reflects the mindset of a pro football team that there are so many talented players at that spot, it should be relatively easy to find a replacement should one go down with an injury or retire.

The Toronto Argonauts are hoping that's the case because Chad Kackert has been forced to step away from his starting job after breaking his lower leg in a non-contact practice just before last year's Eastern Final. Replacing a back of his talent will not, despite the adage, be easy.

Sporting a lengthy vertical scar on the outside of his left leg, starting just above the top of his shoe, Kackert said he found out a couple of days ago that camp would be a no go.

"I expected to come back and be on IR (injured reserve)," said Kackert, "but I understand the circumstance of the league. I don't want a handout, I don't want to come onto a team and just take a paycheque while I'm sitting around not helping anybody."
Kackert has been named the team's strength and conditioning coach and was in attendance as the Argos opened their full camp at York University on Sunday.

"I'm going to rehab. I mean I want my leg to get better...who wants to walk around on a gimp leg for the rest of their life?" continued the 27-year-old. "If it's sooner rather than later then I'll reevaluate, but as of right now I'm going to get my leg better and I going to coach this team as far as strength and conditioning goes."

If Kackert's career is over it was certainly an eventful one. He was named the starting running back in 2012 amid a firestorm of controversy when Cory Boyd, the league's leading rusher at the time, was unceremoniously cut by the club during the bye week. Kackert took over and led the team to the 100th Grey Cup, where he was named the game's Most Outstanding Player.

Scott Milanovich benefited from Kackert's play, but now the head coach must carry on without him, something that he was prepared for.

"I wasn't expecting him to be here (at camp) as a player," said Milanovich. "It was a very serious injury, particularly with his style of play, using his quickness and his speed so we were planning all along, to unfortunately have to replace him."

The coach underscored the importance of Kackert's role on the team, not only on the field, but in the locker room, where his intangibles will still be present in his new coaching role.

On the field, life goes on. The Argos currently have six other tailbacks in camp. Canadians Anthony Woodson and Brendan Gillanders would be long shots to start. Another Canadian, this year's first-round draft pick Anthony Coombs, is "absolutely" a possibility to be the starter, according to the coach.

The other three are Americans. Steve Slaton is a former starter with the Houston Texans who was a Heisman Trophy finalist with West Virginia, Jeremiah Johnson is a one-time star at Oregon, while Curtis Steele is back for another year.

Steele saw some game action last season when Kackert was injured. His best game was against B.C., when he rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. Milanovich says that experience will help him in his quest to become the starter, although the competition is wide open.

"Curtis has an advantage because he's been here and he's been in the offence," said the coach. "It could be any of those guys at this point."

Steele took reps with the first team on Sunday, something he may not have envisioned because he didn't find out about the severity of his teammate's injury until the night before camp opened. Like Kackert said about his paycheque, Steele doesn't want anything handed to him.

"It just means that you have to come here and work even harder," Steele told "I thought Kack was going to be back this year, now (the starting spot) is up for grabs. Every day counts, every rep counts, so you just have to come out and give it your all."

It's been an interesting calendar year for the University of Memphis product, who got his first taste of the Canadian game, before getting married in April. How much did last year's experience help him prepare for this opportunity?

"It was huge," said Steele. "I learned so much last year. The plays (this year) are coming to me faster, I'm doing less thinking, and that's what I was aiming for for this year. I don't want to think as much so I can just feel comfortable and just make plays and just play."

Coombs is the wild card here. A decade ago a Canadian would be a long shot to start at running back, but with two of the league's best backs, Jon Cornish and Andrew Harris, being Canadian, the adage that a home-grown product wasn't talented enough to play that position has been proven to be a myth. Can the University of Manitoba product continue the trend? He knows he has a lot of work to do.

"Things go a lot quicker in the backfield and you have to stay patient. You have to stay calm and focus on your steps and your aiming point and make your read and go. Once I get comfortable with that I think the sky's the limit."

He quickly added something about the passing game that will make his coaching staff and quarterback smile ear to ear.

"We (the backs) are more concerned with the protection because if you can't protect Ricky Ray, you won't be running no routes (laughs) so that's the first thing."

With the "Kack Attack" gone, the battle to replace him becomes one of the more interesting subplots to an already fascinating training camp.

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