TORONTO — It was a rather dubious start to training camp for the Toronto Argonauts’ offence but with an important silver lining.
Slotback Andre Durie, who missed most of last year with two separate collar-bone injuries, returned to field Sunday for both sessions at York University. More importantly, the 33-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native emerged from the opening workouts unscathed.
“No issues,” Durie said. “It feels good.
“I have enough metal in there to protect me for a lifetime.”
Durie first broke his right clavicle July 5 versus Saskatchewan, required surgery and missed seven games before returning Sept. 13. He played in two more contests before breaking the clavicle again — in a different area — diving for a pass during practice, ending his season.
The injuries limited the five-foot-10, 199-pound Durie to just 19 catches for 214 yards and a TD after recording career highs in receptions (92) and yards (986) in 2013.
But a healthy Durie gives Toronto much more than just a reliable receiver. He can also play running back — Durie was a star tailback at York before suffering a horrific leg injury in ’05 — and can play special teams.
Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said Durie’s ability to play multiple positions well gives rival defensive co-ordinators fits.
“He’s a great leader for us but the versatility Andre brings with being able to run the football from the backfield, run deep routes, run short routes and block, all those things really makes it difficult for a defence to get a grasp on what we’re trying to do,” Milanovich said. “He’s essentially an extra tailback and a receiver so we have two personnel groups in there at the same time and that can be difficult to match up with.
“He’s an explosive player, the first guy never brings him down. Hopefully he will have a good, healthy year.”
That’s a sentiment Durie, entering his ninth CFL campaign — all with Toronto — also shares after being forced to watch his teammates miss the CFL playoffs last season.
“As a football player you wish you could always turn off the injuries but that’s part of the game unfortunately,” he said. “It was rough mentally to sit on the sidelines and watch the team go out there and not be able to go out there with them and help them win games.
“I worked this off-season to make sure I’m healthy and can be out there with the guys.”
Even with Durie, Toronto’s offence struggled mightily in the wet, cold and windy conditions Sunday, especially during the first session. That’s hardly surprising as it takes units time to gel but the offensive players’ inability to hold on to the football bothered Milanovich.
“The offence didn’t protect the football, felt sorry for themselves because it was raining,” Milanovich deadpanned. “It’s about how you’d hope it would go the first day.
“Defence dominated. This is a great test the first day in the CFL of playing in the elements. I told them before the first practice if you can’t play in the elements you can’t play in this league. They got a taste of it the first day.”
Predictably, Durie refused to blame the weather for the offence’s issues.
“The first practice was a little bit rough obviously with the weather but there are no excuses,” Durie said. “We’ve got to come out and execute and keep the ball off the ground.
“As an offence we have to come out and do that every day. It’s Canada. You never know, it could snow tomorrow.”
NOTES: Toronto suspended defensive lineman Cleyon Laing after he was a no-show Sunday. The Edmonton native recently changed agents, hiring Washington D.C.-based Jonathan Hardaway, and is entering the final year of his CFL contract. Hardaway also represents defensive back Chris Ackie, the fourth pick in this year’s CFL draft currently at a contract impasse with the Montreal Alouettes . . . Offensive lineman Sean McEwen, Toronto’s ’15 first-round pick, isn’t here, having decided to return to the University of Calgary this fall . . . Quarterback Trevor Harris turned 29 on Sunday.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press