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Argos veteran Andre Durie feeling more comfortable thinking like a receiver

06/04/2012 05:57 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Andre Durie is finally comfortable being a receiver.

The five-foot-10, 197-pound Durie joined the Toronto Argonauts in 2007 as a free agent after his college career as a running back at York University. Two years ago, then Argos head coach Jim Barker moved Durie to slotback and it has taken him that long to learn how to be patient running pass routes and letting them develop rather than rely on the quickness, explosiveness and instinct that served Durie so well in the backfield.

"Being a running back you're full of intensity to get the ball and just go as fast as you can," Durie said following Monday's training camp practice. "As a receiver, you need to know how to gauge yourself and I struggled with that a little bit understanding how to run routes and the intricacies involved in it.

"I think the instincts of being a receiver are starting to come now for me. I feel I can see things develop before they happen, I can feel zones and know where to sit. It's starting to clear up."

The move certainly wasn't unprecedented as in the 1990s former Argos head coach Don Matthews moved Mike (Pinball) Clemons from the backfield to slotback. The shifty Clemons adjusted immediately to the new role and helped Toronto win consecutive Grey Cup titles in 1996-'97.

But it wasn't an immediate transition for Durie, who spent a lot of time before practice perfecting the art of running precise routes and often stayed late catching passes from quarterbacks. Then again, hard work is nothing new to Durie.

Early in the 2005 season at York, Durie suffered a horrific knee injury that prompted many to question if he'd ever walk normally again let alone resume playing football. He spent all of 2006 rehabbing his knee and signed as a free agent with the Argos.

A hand injury suffered in an exhibition game forced Durie to spend the first half of the 2008 season on the injured list before returning to Toronto's lineup as a backup tailback and special-teams performer. Two years later, Durie faced the challenge of having to learn a new position.

Durie has fit in well as a receiver, having registered 54 catches in each of the last two seasons. Durie posted a career-high 665 receiving yards last year to finish as Toronto's second-leading receiver behind Chad Owens (70 catches, 722 yards) but the Argos (6-12) still missed the CFL playoffs for the third time in four years.

One of the more intriguing training camp competitions is at receiver where the battle to be Ray's go-to guy is wide open. Durie and Owens are in the mix, along with veteran Maurice Mann and newcomer Jason Barnes.

But Durie's worth to the Argos isn't measured solely by catches.

The 30-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., also plays tailback (18 carries, 108 yards for 5.9-yard average last year) and sees action on special teams. Durie had 21 kickoff returns for 440 yards (21-yard average) in 2011 and also returned punts for Toronto in 2010.

It's that versatility that makes Durie a very valuable commodity for the Argos, considering CFL team can only carry 42 players on their game-day roster.

"We call him a hybrid," said new Argos head coach Scott Milanovich. "There's a number of things we can do with him.

"Andre is very versatile in what he can do. He can carry the ball, he can run routes like a receiver, he can cutoff block like a fullback. That makes us very flexible and leaves another team really sure if this guy is a receiver, is he a fullback? What is this guy? This really helps us be flexible and dynamic on offence."

Durie figures to be a key performer for Toronto's new-look offence in 2012. The Argos bolstered their unit last December by acquiring veteran quarterback Ricky Ray from Edmonton, adding a proven commodity who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in six of his nine CFL seasons and amassed over 40,000 career passing yards.

"You look to a guy like Ricky as someone you want to take all the information he has got," Durie said. "He has nine years of experience and that's something you can't buy.

"Having him here is another gift to us to help us get better."

And if the opening two days of training camp are any indication, Ray will be busy leading an up-tempo, predominantly passing offence under Milanovich, a former quarterback who came to Toronto after five seasons — and two Grey Cup victories — as a quarterbacks coach and offensive co-ordinator with the Montreal Alouettes.

"It's the CFL, it's a 70 per cent passing league and that's how it is," Durie said. "In the slot you have a chance to make plays and that's what I'm here for, to make as many plays as I can."

Durie had a tough start to training camp Sunday with some dropped passes but was back to being a reliable target in both workouts Monday. Milanovich noticed the difference but isn't the least bit worried.

"He's another guy I just know can play," Milanovich said. "I've watched him for a couple of years now and have no worries about him.

"He's a hard worker, he's a playmaker so I'm not concerned."

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