Abdul Kanneh to make Toronto Argonauts debut against Calgary Stampeders

Ottawa Redblacks defensive back Abdul Kanneh (14) kisses the Grey Cup as he celebrates his team's win over the Calgary Stampeders. (Nathan Denette/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts’ home opener will be a Grey Cup rematch of sorts for veteran defensive back Abdul Kanneh.

The former CFL all-star will make his Argos debut Saturday night against the Calgary Stampeders at BMO Field. It’s the first meeting between the teams since Toronto’s upset 27-24 Grey Cup victory in Ottawa.

While Kanneh wasn’t part of last year’s Grey Cup team, he helped the Ottawa Redbacks defeat Calgary 39-33 in overtime in the 2016 CFL championship game.

"It could possibly be a Grey Cup rematch for me too," said Kanneh, acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on June 10. "I mean, I played them too.

"I just love the intensity that’s here and how everybody wants to get to work. On defence, that’s what you want. You want everyone to be aggressive, be attentive, be on their keys, play fast and go forward."

The five-foot-10, 175-pound Kanneh replaces Quadarius Ford, who was injured in Toronto’s season-opening 27-19 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Kanneh, entering his fifth CFL season, got the nod ahead of rookie Trumaine Washington, who went on Toronto’s practice roster after an impressive showing during training camp.

"It was a highly competitive week," Argos head coach Marc Trestman said. "We all know the pre-season Trumaine had and he had a good week in practice as well.

"They worked together to try to be the best they could be at that position and it was really a toss of the coin. We could’ve picked either guy, they’re both well deserving to play in this game."

Trestman said Kanneh’s pro experience factored in the decision to insert him into the starting lineup.

"He’s played in Grey Cups, he’s played against Calgary for a number of years so certainly that was part of the decision process," Trestman said. "It wasn’t the whole part because we’ve got a guy like Trumaine who’s been with us the entire training camp.

"But (Kanneh) has picked it up quickly. He’s a great communicator out there and we’re excited to see him play and are happy to have him."

Calgary (1-0) will sport a different look offensively Saturday. Burly Canadian running back Jerome Messam is now with Saskatchewan, replaced by rookie Don Jackson and sophomore Terry Williams.

Veteran receiver Marquay McDaniels was released in February but former all-star Eric Rogers rejoined the Stampeders receiving coprs. Rogers had 87 catches for 1,448 yards and 10 TDs with Calgary in 2016 before signing with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

But Rogers missed the 2016-17 seasons due to a knee injury.

"They’ve got different personnel, no doubt about it," Trestman said. "They have two new backs, some new receivers so they look different in terms of the people we’ve been used to seeing for a number of years.

"They’ve got No. 19 (starting QB Bo Levi Mitchell) back there, that hasn’t changed. He’s as good as any individual player in this league, bar none. We’ve got our challenges offensively."

Calgary won its season opener 28-14 versus Hamilton but Mitchell was less than stellar. The CFL’s outstanding player in 2016 was 17-of-36 passing for 297 yards with a TD and interception.

However, Mitchell boasts an 8-0 regular-season record versus Toronto over his CFL career. Predictably, the native of Katy, Texas, downplayed that mark.

"I think it’s just one of those stats you only talk about because it’s there," he said. "It’s been working out for us and we’ve been blessed in the regular season and played well."

And Mitchell downplayed the talk about Saturday’s game being a Grey Cup rematch.

"To be honest with you, I think if this was Game 1 of the season I’d think of it that way," Mitchell said. "I’m not going to lie to anybody, everybody obviously remembers the game … but we see it as Game 2 of the season."

Calgary linebacker Alex Singleton, the CFL’s top defensive player last season, agreed.

"It’s not another Grey Cup rematch," he said. "It’s a new season for them, it’s a new season for us.

"It’s their home opener, I’m sure that’s more important to them. It’s our first one on the road to kind of set the tempo for us on the road and them at home. Two completely different ideas."



Saturday night, BMO Field

KEY MATCHUP: Toronto QB Ricky Ray vs Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell. Two CFL veterans square off for the first time this season. Ray finished second overall in passing last year and was the East Division’s outstanding player nominee but is 14-22 versus Calgary and 0-6 in his last six starts. Mitchell, the 2016 CFL MVP, threw for 4,700 after registering a career-best 5,385 the season before.

LUCKY NUMBER EIGHT: Calgary has won its last eight regular-season meetings with Toronto. The Argos look to avoid starting a season 0-2 for the first time since 2002.

WHO’S HOT: Calgary kicker Rene Paredes made all four of his field goal tries last week versus Hamilton and has hit his last 13 dating back to Oct. 13, 2017. Stampeders running back Don Jackson ran for 87 yards on 12 carries against the Ticats.

WHO’S NOT: Toronto running back James Wilder Jr., last year’s top rookie who wants to become the first player in league history to register 1,000 yards rushing/receiving in the same season, ran five times for 16 yards versus Saskatchewan. He did have four catches for 68 yards.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.