Can Dinwiddie Protect Arbuckle?
To suggest there’s a lot of pressure on first year head coach Ryan Dinwiddie is as much of an understatement as saying it’s been an unusual year in the CFL. The moves the team has made this offseason amount to a declaration that they want to win now. But most of his projected starters haven’t even met each other yet, his coordinators have huge potential but are as inexperienced as he is, and he’s been tasked with turning around an awful team in a city whose masses will only support mediocrity if it wears a palmately compound deciduous leaf on its chest. And, of course, he must work in the friendly but giant shadow of a general manager who will never be blamed if things go awry. Pressure.
Winning football games will make everything else go away, but with so many new pieces and systems, the Argonauts will probably struggle out of the gate and people will want to point fingers. Due to the nature of football and the number of experienced veterans on the team, those fingers will land on either Coach Dinwiddie himself or Nick Arbuckle, the quarterback he bet his coaching future on. That makes protecting Arbuckle in 2021 his most important responsibility, and not from Willie Jefferson’s edge rush or Orlando Steinauer’s fire zone blitz, but from the creeping doubts of other Argonauts. Once a team loses faith in their starting quarterback, all is lost.
As good as Nick Arbuckle has looked, and as excited as everyone is, he’s in the unfortunate position of being Toronto’s least experienced starter while playing the most important and most heavily critiqued position in sports. Expecting him to look great out of the gate is absurd. Remember, he’s not the only new face on the offense. It’s very likely all skill position starters will be playing their first game as Argonauts.
Sure, he knows the system. Yes, he’s played meaningful game minutes with Eric Rogers and Juwan Brescacin. But with all the moving parts there just isn’t time, especially this year. Camp will certainly be shortened and there are over 20 new receivers for him to get to know.
The importance of QB/WR comfort and familiarity is hard to explain, but it’s something that can’t be duplicated on a Zoom call. Imagine navigating your way through a house while blindfolded. If it’s your house, you can do it quite comfortably, and the longer you’ve lived there the easier it is. You don’t need to see because you trust there will still be the same number of stairs and the walls won’t have moved. But what about a house you’ve only seen on your computer screen? Would you approach the top of the stairs as confidently?
With players evaluation expected to take some time, Coach Dinwiddie probably won’t even decide on the team’s starting five receivers until the week before the first regular season game, so Arbuckle might have a handful of practices in which to work with them as a unit. While he acclimates himself to his new receivers over the first month, he will inevitably appear inaccurate from the outside and those fingers will start pointing. An established CFL quarterback in his position would get a pass, but with just seven starts under his belt, he won’t be afforded the same slack by fans or the media.
In a vacuum, what fans or the media think is irrelevant in terms Arbuckle’s play, but professional sports don’t operate in a controlled environment. It’s up to Coach Dinwiddie to ensure that public sentiment doesn’t filter down to his teammates. Fortunately, the Argonauts are in a situation where there’s not an experienced QB waiting in the wings, potentially dividing the room. The other quarterbacks on the roster are exciting, but Antonio Pipkin is the only one with any pro experience, and he has even fewer pass attempts than Arbuckle. It will take more than half a season for fans to become restless enough to want to see one of the other QBs, and Arbuckle should have things sorted out by then.
The other positive is that the Argos have a roster filled with veterans who are likely to possess the patience and understanding required to wait out the offense’s learning curve. The flip side is many of them have come to Toronto to take one more run at a championship, so there might be a limit to their patience.
It is vital that Coach Dinwiddie deflects as much criticism of Nick Arbuckle as possible. In press conferences and interviews he must take full responsibility for all early season failures. This will hold off some of the quarterback-directed criticism and buy Arbuckle and his receivers time to gel. In doing this, the coach will also earn the respect and trust of his team. This veteran unit is fully aware that Dinwiddie, as a new head coach, is being evaluated at every turn. If they see him put his own reputation on the line to protect his quarterback and his offense, it will make his convictions that much more credible in their eyes.
If the Argonauts can get through the first month of the season without fractures developing in the locker room, it will be because of Ryan Dinwiddie. If the Toronto offense gets rolling, the team will likely find themselves in a great position come the end of the season.