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ARGOS, REDBLACKS SET FOR PRE-SEASON FINALE IN GUELPH

GUELPH, ONT. — The Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa REDBLACKS have some difficult decisions to make this coming weekend, but not before closing out their pre-season Thursday night in Guelph, Ont.

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Thursday’s exhibition contest presents the opportunity to take a perfect 2-0 record into the regular season, but more important for Rick Campbell and Marc Trestman is the opportunity to evaluate talent before roster cuts arrive and the games begin to count.

That means both Trevor Harris and Ricky Ray will sit the pre-season finale, calculated decisions for two coaches looking at the bigger picture.

“It’s going to look exactly the same,” Trestman told Argonauts.ca, referring to his lineup for the team’s second pre-season game. “The guys who didn’t play won’t play, the guys who did play will play. James Franklin will take the first half and McLeod (Bethel-Thompson) will take the third quarter.”

It appears Harris will be ready for the REDBLACKS’ season-opener in Week 2 despite suffering a knee injury in pre-season that may have looked worse than it was. Ray, meanwhile, hasn’t played a down this pre-season, but the Argos seem okay with most of their starters sitting.

For them, Thursday’s contest is one last chance to impress before Trestman has to make some decisions he’s admitted will be more difficult than expected.

There were quite a few standouts for the Argos in their 36-18 win over the Ticats last week, a battle of the Argo backups vs. the Hamilton starters. But that didn’t faze the likes of running back Brandon Burks, whose 27-yard catch-and-run was the highlight of the pre-season, or defensive back Trumaine Washington, who piled up six sacks, a tackle and an interception.

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“I try to catch a pick every game and just, try to fly around the ball, be around the ball and get pass breakups when the ball is thrown at me,” said Washington. “The past is going to be the past. The only way is up from here. We’re going to focus on making more plays and trying to better myself and making sure I secure a spot on this team, and we’re going to go out there as a team and win.”

Most of the Argos’ roster last week was not expected to be leaned on come the regular season, but Trestman may be forced to re-consider. They’ll get a chance to prove it was no fluke on Thursday.

“The guys who had an opportunity made the most of it,” said Trestman. “They put some great play on tape, some great effort on tape and they made it more difficult for us.

“We know that what’s coming up is another opportunity for them to not only show what they can do for us but around the league. We’re excited for them, but we know we’ve got some tough decisions to make on the weekend.”

McLeod Bethel-Thompson got the start vs. the Ticats, completing nine of 11 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, all the meanwhile turning up the heat on an intense positional battle with James Franklin for the No. 2 job. Franklin, in the second half, threw for 73 yards on 8-of-10 passing, rushing for a touchdown but also throwing an interception.

On Thursday, the roles will reverse as Franklin gets the start and Bethel-Thompson comes off the bench.

One battle that’s already been decided for the Argos is at kicker, where international Swayze Waters was released despite connecting on all three of his field goal tries in Hamilton. That job now belongs to Ronnie Pfeffer, a Canadian who will take on full-time punting and place kicking duties for the first time in his career.

While Argos fans will have to wait one more week to see the likes of Ray, S.J. Green and James Wilder Jr., along with the rest of the team’s stars, the REDBLACKS will play a mix of veterans and newcomers on Thursday at Alumni Stadium.

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Fans are still waiting with bated breath on the status of Harris, but the veteran will step aside for Dominique Davis and Danny Collins on Thursday night. A week ago, on a night when the franchise quarterback was on the field in pain, a 27-7 pre-season win seemed somewhat moot, but the head coach was happy with his team’s play. Like Trestman, Campbell will have some difficult decisions following Thursday’s game.

“We look at their whole body of work, but we’re going to keep an open mind on Thursday,” said Campbell. “Thursday night’s going to be a big night, especially for some young guys that can come here and earn a spot, whether that’s on the active roster or the practice roster — whatever it is — just to get their foot in the door.

“There are going to be some new guys that’ll help us this year.”

Danny Collins, who’s competing for the second-string job behind Harris, had a game-high 185 passing yards on 12-of-21 passing with one touchdown and one interception. Dominique Davis, who would be likely to start in Week 2 should Harris miss any time, completed eight of 13 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.

There’s still some competition in REDBLACKS camp, but the quarterbacks should have everyone’s attention Thursday as both have something to prove.

“I just try to come in each and very day and get better,” said Davis. “I was always told coaches don’t make the depth chart, the players do, so I just want to come in and keep getting completions, keep progressing and continue to build.”

“I don’t think I’ve really played that well,” added Collins. “I can put a little bit more of my best foot forward and I plan to do that against the Argos.

“There’s a learning curve,” he added. “But you’re still playing football, there are still Xs and Os and there’s a defence in front of you; you’ve got to be able to figure it out and read it and make plays.”

The REDBLACKS will have many of their defensive starters in the lineup Thursday, but are leaving most of their offensive stars at home, including Harris, their entire starting O-line, William Powell, Mossis Madu Jr., Diontae Spencer, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli, among others.

First-round draft pick Mark Korte is getting the start at centre on the O-line while another highly-touted draft pick in Marco Dubois gets the start at slotback.

After Thursday’s finale, the Argos open the season against the Saskatchewan Roughriders June 15 in Regina, while the REDBLACKS are off until Week 2 when they take on the Riders on June 21 at TD Place.

– With files from Argonauts.ca/OttawaREDBLACKS.com