Famed Canadian defensive tackle Adriano Belli is back in the CFL, and opponents had better watch out. Belli has made plenty of headlines over the years for everything from his "Kissing Bandit" antics to his predilection for collecting penalties and his remarkable off-field charity work, but he can also be an effective trench warrior at his best, clogging the middle, stopping the run and getting after quarterbacks. Belli's larger-than-life personality certainly makes his return a welcome one from a media perspective, but he may provide the Argonauts with some much-needed on-field depth as well.
It's a similar story with the other two players the team signed Wednesday, former Oakland Raiders safety/linebacker Jerome Boyd and former New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals receiver Chansi Stuckey. All are only on the practice squad to start, and the immediate expectations for them shouldn't be massive; it's going to take some time for the NFL vets to adapt to the CFL game and for Belli to get back up to speed after two seasons out of football following his extravagant 2010 retirement (well, except for his time playing for Canada at the 2011 IFAF World Championships). Still, all have the potential to perhaps be important contributors for the Argonauts down the stretch.
Belli's the big name here, and not just from a media standpoint. The antics are certainly notable, but coverage of them sometimes obscures his on-field talent. Defensive tackle isn't an easy position given the mix of size, strength and agility it requires, and there definitely aren't many Canadians who can fill it. Belli's proven quite adept at that over the years, though, recording 28 sacks and 213 tackles during his 10-season CFL career. Does he still have the ability to play at the CFL level? We'll have to see, but Toronto general manager Jim Barker's comments on Belli's signing are notable: "We searched the CFL for a Canadian defensive lineman that would fit our system. We felt that if Adriano wanted to play, and was in good shape, then he could be that guy for us." That could be praise of Belli, indictment of the league's current lack of depth with Canadian defensive linemen, or both. It's going to be interesting to see if he's able to work his way back into the lineup and bolster the Argonauts' defensive line.
Stuckey and Boyd are also intriguing additions. Stuckey's career at Clemson, where he switched from quarterback to receiver after his freshman year, was solid but not spectacular, and he was only drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL draft, 235th overall. Unlike many taken that late, though, he made a reasonable NFL impact, appearing in 55 games with the Jets, Browns and Cardinals and recording 106 catches for 1062 career yards and five touchdowns. He's listed at 5'10 and 196 pounds, and while that lack of size probably didn't help him stick in the big-receiver-focused NFL, it may not prove as much of a hindrance in Canada. Meanwhile, Boyd signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2009 as a free agent out of Oregon, and stuck with them on and off through this year's training camp, appearing in 15 total games (14 last season). At 6'3'' and 215 pounds, Boyd's pretty big for a CFL defensive back, so it makes sense that the Argos have him listed at linebacker; however, his experience at DB could also prove beneficial in helping him to get on the field.
It's certainly not assured that any of these guys will wind up making an on-field impact for Toronto this season. Cracking a CFL active roster isn't easy at the best of times, and it's tougher when you've been out of the game for two years (Belli) or haven't played Canadian football before (Stuckey and Boyd). Still, these are interesting signings, and ones with substantial upside. If these players don't pan out for whatever reason, that's not a huge loss, but there's intriguing potential here that could boost the Argonauts in their run towards the playoffs.