ZICARELLI: Argos’ Dinwiddie, Nicastro named East finalists for CFL awards

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Ryan Dinwiddie isn’t about to pat himself on the back, but he does deserve credit for leading an Argos team to a first-place finish in the East as a rookie head coach.

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There were times late in the season when Dinwiddie looked like a rookie, mismanaging the clock against B.C., not throwing a challenge flag in Montreal, and then throwing a challenge flag in Ottawa on a play that is not reviewable.

Overall, it’s hard to fault a guy whose defensive co-ordinator parted ways with the club because of personal reasons, a guy whose presumptive starter at quarterback would eventually be traded, a guy whose team had to play four of the season’s 14 games against the Ticats, who entered the year head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern pack.

Not surprisingly, Dinwiddie was named as a finalist for coach of the year Thursday when the CFL revealed its various award nominees.

The hardware will be presented during Grey Cup week in Hamilton.

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Mike O’Shea of Winnipeg is the West’s nominee as the Blue Bombers figure to be prominent on awards night in the Hammer.

The Blue Bombers coasted to first in the West and the league’s top record, sitting out incumbents during the final stretch knowing they had already locked up first and bye.

The only real game Big Blue lost came against the Argos in Toronto’s home opener, a week after the Argos lost in the Peg.

Dinwiddie was masterful in making all the right calls and adjustments, as was defensive co-ordinator Glen Young, who served under O’Shea when Winnipeg captured the Grey Cup two years.

Young would later leave the team, which welcomed back Chris Jones.

Two starting quarterbacks, an offensive line best described as fluid, three different coaches making the defensive calls, a roster that could not stay healthy and yet Dinwiddie managed to hold everything together.

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He’s not going to win the league award given the year Winnipeg has produced, but recognizing Dinwiddie is well deserved.

“To become a great coach you need great players,” said Dinwiddie. “I give all the credit to my players. Without them I wouldn’t receive this nomination.”

The biggest and most important work for Dinwiddie lies ahead.

No lapses in judgment will be tolerated once the Argos take to the field at BMO Field for the Dec. 5 East final with a shot to play for a championship.

Dinwiddie and the entire roster will be judged in the post-season as will the team’s front office that assembled this unit.

Dinwiddie was able to get his team to play its best when Hamilton came to town with first place on the line.

The Argos responded by summoning their most complete game of the season.

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They’ll have to be better on Dec. 5, including Dinwiddie and his play-calling on offence.

One player who is questionable for the East final is rookie offensive lineman Peter Nicastro, who started at left guard and centre. Nicastro is nursing a knee injury.

He will represent the East for top rookie honours. The nominee out West is Lions LB Jordan Williams.

“The kid is a professional,” Dinwiddie said of Nicastro. “I’m happy and proud of the work he accomplished this season.”

Dinwiddie said he sat down with Nicastro Wednesday.

“He really wants to go,” said Dinwiddie, who isn’t about to compromise Nicastro’s future. “We’ll start moving him around next week and take it from there.”

SOLID AS AN OAK

Shawn Oakman made up for a lot of lost time in his first season.

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The defensive tackle was the most consistent and productive along Toronto’s line of scrimmage. A Philly native, Oakman played basketball in high school and won a state championship.

His mindset on the court was to be dominant, a philosophy he took to the gridiron.

“Everything has to go through me,” said Oakman, who was voted to the Eastern all-star team.

Oakman adjusted quite nicely to the CFL, making an impression in Toronto’s season opener in Calgary.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Dinwiddie of Oakman. “He hadn’t played in a long time, but he had a great season. We knew in Week 1 we had a pretty special player.”

HOW SUITE IT IS

The Argos plan on gathering at BMO Field on Sunday to watch the East semifinal.

Players and coaches, according to Dinwiddie, will have access to the venue’s suites.

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Dinner and a few beverages, one would hope, will be served in one those team-bonding occasions.

Once Toronto’s opponent is determined, the real work begins.

For players, that work will begin in earnest on Monday.

In the interim, the goal is to stay focused and healthy.

SCARLETT LETTER

First-year RB Cameron Scarlett made his first start last week in the Argos’ season finale against Edmonton, rushing 10 times for 57 yards and catching one pass for eight yards.

The game itself was one to forget, but Scarlett’s presence stood out.

The 6-foot, 220-pound Scarlett played at Stanford. His brother Brennan is a linebacker for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

“I thought he did some good things,” said Dinwiddie. “He understands pass protection. The kid has a bright future. He was patient in the run game, could run between tackles, and has good vision.”

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