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Argonauts improved defence looks to contain Lions attack

It was like Marcus Ball never left. After a three-year absence, the veteran linebacker made a triumphant return to Toronto last week.

It was like Marcus Ball never left.

After a three-year absence, the veteran linebacker made a triumphant return to Toronto last week. Ball had a team-high six tackles and anchored the unit's stellar performance in the Argonauts' season-opening 32-15 home win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday.

The six-foot-one, 208-pound Ball began his pro career in 2012 with Toronto, helping the franchise win the 100th Grey Cup game that season. He signed with New Orleans after the '13 season and also spent time with Carolina, Jacksonville and San Francisco before re-signing with the Argos in May.

Toronto's defence had issues last season. The Argos were last overall in points allowed (31.6 per game), touchdowns allowed (59), rushing yards (115.2 per game) and passes completed (70.9 per cent) en route to finishing last in the East Division with a 5-13 record.

Corey Chamblin, who led Saskatchewan to the 2013 Grey Cup title as a head coach, joined the Argos as their new defensive co-ordinator on new head coach Marc Trestman's staff. Toronto bolstered its defensive line by adding former Alouette Alan-Michael Cash and re-signing Edmonton native Cleyon Laing, a former Argo who earned a Grey Cup ring last year with Ottawa.

Linebacker Bear Woods, the East Division's top defensive player last season, also signed soon after being released by Montreal during training camp.

While starter Ricky Ray threw for a career-best 506 yards against Hamilton, the defence effectively kept Ticats' quarterback Zach Collaros under wraps. Collaros completed 26-of-39 passes for 242 yards and an interception while the offence as a whole ran for just 16 yards on seven carries.

Johnny Sears recorded five tackles and an interception while Laing and Victor Butler accounted for four of Toronto's five sacks with two apiece. Laing added a forced fumble and fumble recovery while Butler had a forced fumble as Toronto's defence didn't allow a TD.

Toronto's defence faces a stiff challenge Friday night against B.C. Lions' starter Jonathon Jennings was the CFL's third-leading passer last year and has big-play receivers Emmanuel Arceneaux and Brian Burnham at his disposal.

And there's the matter of facing an ornery Lions squad coming off a season-opening 30-27 loss to Edmonton last week. The Eskimos outgained the Lions 420-394 and got to Jennings five times.

It's definitely a short week for the Argos but they don't have to make the cross-country trek.

Prediction: Toronto.


Ottawa Redblacks versus Calgary Stampeders (Thursday night)

Another Grey Cup rematch, this time at McMahon Stadium. The two teams battled to a 31-31 overtime tie at TD Place last week, which was fitting after they needed overtime to decide last year's CFL title game. Calgary is expected to be without receiver Davaris Daniels as last year's top rookie is nursing a shoulder injury. But it's tough to bet against the Stampeders at home, especially considering starter Bo Levi Mitchell rarely loses — ever.

Prediction: Calgary.


Montreal Alouettes versus Edmonton Eskimos (Friday night)

Mike Reilly was 20-of-28 passing for 315 yards and two TDs last week against B.C., his 76-yard strike to Brandon Zylstra setting up Sean White's game-winning field goal. But Edmonton will be without standout linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the contest. Montreal quarterback Darian Durant is coming off a 17-16 win over his former team, passing for 233 yards and two touchdowns. But the Als only cemented the win after Tyler Crapigna missed from 45 yards out on the final play.

Prediction: Edmonton.


Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Saturday night)

Quarterback Matt Nichols leads Winnipeg into it's season opener. The six-foot-two, 220-pound Nichols threw for a career-best 3,666 yards with 18 TDs against nine interceptions in leading the Bombers to an 11-7 record last year and their first playoff berth since 2011. Trouble is, much is expected from Nichols and Co. this season. Saskatchewan is coming off a close loss to Montreal, a game that saw veteran Kevin Glenn complete 31-of-44 passes for 298 yards with a TD and interception. 

Prediction: Winnipeg.

Last week — 1-2-1.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press