June 22nd, 2024

Cameron Dukes understanding value of trusting veteran Argos teammates

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on May 21, 2024.

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Cameron Dukes (11) runs the ball during CFL training camp at Alumni Stadium in Guelph, Ont., Sunday, May 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

GUELPH, Ont. – There’s much for Cameron Dukes to learn as the Toronto Argonauts starting quarterback.

But with an intact offensive line and veteran receiving corps, the second-year pro certainly understands the benefits that come with trusting and leaning heavily upon those around him.

“My main goal here is never try to do too much,” he said. “Take what the defence gives me and put the ball into the playmakers’ hands.

“We’re loaded in this offence and my job is made easier when I keep it simple and get those guys the ball.”

A high-powered offence figured prominently in Toronto’s record-setting 2023 campaign. The unit was second overall in scoring (32.8 points per game), net yards (377.8) and offensive touchdownss (56) as the Argos (16-2) set a club-record for most regular-season wins while tying the CFL’s single-season mark.

Starter Chad Kelly was the CFL’s outstanding player after completing 68.5 per cent of his passes for 4,123 yards with 23 TDs and 12 interceptions while rushing for 248 yards and eight touchdowns. He also won 15-of-16 starts, the 93.8 percentage being the best ever by a player with at least 14 starts.

But earlier this month, the CFL suspended Kelly for both of Toronto’s exhibition games and at least nine regular-season contests for violating its gender-based violence policy. The suspension followed an independent investigation into a lawsuit filed by a former strength-and-conditioning coach against Kelly for sexual harassment and the Argos for wrongful dismissal.

Dukes, 25, served as Toronto’s short-yardage quarterback last season but also made two starts. The six-foot-one, 205-pound American completed 63-of-96 passes (65.6 per cent) for 760 yards with two TDs and three interceptions while rushing 35 times for 126 yards (3.6-yard average) and eight TDs.

“We’ve had some good and we’ve had some growing pains that we’re learning from,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of Dukes’ camp so far. “We’re throwing a lot at him offensively to get as much of the playbook repped in camp.

“It’s probably a little bit too much but I want him to get a good feel for everything we’re going to do throughout the year.”

And with a CFL campaign — and two starts — under Dukes’ belt, Dinwiddie said his young quarterback understands how the offence works.

“If he didn’t get those two starts last year, we’re sitting in a different situation now,” said Dinwiddie, who’s also Toronto’s offensive co-ordinator. “He wasn’t perfect and didn’t light the world on fire but he did many good things and we feel we can win with him.

“He’s also a nifty athlete who can create and play out of script.”

Toronto re-signed CFL veteran Nick Arbuckle on Sunday. Dukes remains atop the depth chart but Arbuckle has a history with Dinwiddie (both in Calgary and the Argos) and familiarity with his offence should Dukes get hurt or struggle.

Dukes will operate behind an offensive line returning all five starters, including tackle Dejon Allen, the CFL’s top lineman in 2023. Toronto allowed a CFL-low 19 sacks last season while paving the way for running back A.J. Ouellette (1,009 yards).

DaVaris Daniels (52 catches, 1,009 yards, eight TDs) and Damonte Coxie (39 catches, 787 yards, five TDs) anchor a receiving corps that also returns Canadians Dejon Brissett, David Ungerer III and Tommy Nield. American Rasheed Bailey, who made four straight Grey Cup appearances with Winnipeg, arrived in free agency.

Ouellette signed with Saskatchewan this off-season. Ka’Deem Carey, the ’22 CFL rushing leader with Calgary, was added in free agency while Canadian Daniel Adeboboye ran for 287 yards (seven-yard average) and a TD last year while also being a solid special-teams contributor.

Dinwiddie’s message to Dukes remains pretty much the same as it was to Kelly.

“Just manage games and do what’s asked of you,” Dinwiddie said. “You don’t have to be a super hero.

“If it’s a bad play, burn the ball and we’ll live to fight another down. Something I always say to our young quarterbacks is take what the defence gives you and in the end they’ll give you the game.”

Dukes said he learned plenty from splitting his ’23 starts.

“Just not letting the moment get too big,” he said. “I had the base foundation (of Argos offence) going last year, now it’s just trying to get into the intricate details that can progress the reads faster.”

Toronto has finished atop the East Division the last three seasons and won the ’22 Grey Cup. But Dukes isn’t feeling burdened by the weight of expectation.

“Pressure is self-induced,” he said. “I just want to come out here and be comfortable, I’m playing a game at the end of the day.

“I can only control what I can control . . . the rest will take care of itself.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024.

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