TORONTO — Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich insists he is not treating Thursday night’s regular-season finale against Hamilton like some pre-season game. He is just resting eight starters, including quarterback Ricky Ray, and will give the rest of his best limited snaps.
“A lot of it is really injuries and trying to get guys healthy, and fortunately we have the opportunity to do that,” Milanovich said.
The Edmonton Eskimos (7-10) might not appreciate that explanation. If Hamilton (6-11) defeats Toronto (8-9) and Edmonton loses Friday in Calgary, the Tiger-Cats will clinch the final playoff spot.
But Milanovich does not care what anybody thinks. Toronto qualified for the post-season after last week’s win in Saskatchewan, so a meaningless game in Week 19 is as good a time as any to be selfish. The Argos finished 6-12, at the bottom of the East last season.
“I would much rather be sitting where Montreal is right now,” Milanovich said of the Alouettes, who are first in the East, and will get a bye week before hosting the East final.
Still, the coach maintains the importance of evaluating his depth as he considers his playoff roster. Most eyes will immediately scrutinize backup quarterbacks Jarious Jackson, Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros, who are all expected to see action.
“I look at it as an opportunity to prove what I’ve learned this year,” said Harris, 26, who has worked closely with quarterbacks coach Jason Maas throughout the season. “An opportunity to go out and show if I’m needed [in the playoffs] that I can get the job done.”
Several other players, however, in other positions will see some substantial action for the first time in 2012. Offensive guard Joel Reinders will play in his first regular-season game in three years, since the University of Waterloo’s season finale in 2009. The 25-year-old has spent the last few summers in training camps with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants.
“It’s like a season opener for me,” Reinders said.
Veteran linebacker Jason Pottinger — who played 44 games and made 111 tackles for Toronto in three seasons prior to 2012 — will also finally get his chance to impress at the middle linebacker spot. Pottinger has played 11 games, mostly on special teams, this season, but dealt with a torn calf and hamstring earlier in the season.
Even when the 29-year-old has been healthy it has been hard to unseat Robert McCune, who leads the team with 86 tackles.
“Every player, whether they admit it or not, wants to be on offence or defence because that is their true trade. But I don’t downplay special teams because I know how important it is,” said Pottinger, who has five special teams tackles in 2012.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely Milanovich will completely rethink his roster, unless the backups are outstanding. Linebacker Marcus Ball, slotback Andre Durie, and defensive lineman Kevin Huntley will not suddenly lose their starting spots.
One starter who will hog some spotlight regardless on Thursday is returner and receiver Chad Owens, who is 73 yards away from breaking Michael Clemons’ 1997 league record of 3,840 combined yards. Owens is also 232 yards away from being the first player in professional football history to amass 4,000 combined yards in a season.
“I’m not going to call extra plays to get Chad the ball anymore than we already try to get him the ball,” Milanovich said with a chuckle.
Toronto could host either Edmonton, Hamilton or Saskatchewan in the East semi-final on Nov. 11. An Eskimos win over the Stampeders would negate a Ticats win on Thursday. An Eskimos loss coupled with a Roughriders loss in B.C. Saturday would also mean Saskatchewan would crossover from the West, and travel to Toronto instead of Edmonton.
Milanovich said he does not care about that it either. He is likely lying.