TORONTO — Quarterback Dakota Prokup took the path less travelled last season to get playing time as a rookie with the Toronto Argonauts.
Veteran Ricky Ray started 17 regular-season games before engineering Toronto’s Grey Cup-winning playoff run last year. So while the six-foot-two, 205-pound Prokup didn’t throw a pass with the Argos, he did register six tackles on special-teams.
And with Ray back for another season, Prokup is more than willing to contribute to Toronto’s Grey Cup defence by again racing downfield to cover kicks.
“I’m going to do whatever the team needs,” the 24-year-old Californian said. “Personally, I want to contribute as much as I can and that goes without saying for every player, you want to contribute and help the team in whatever capacity you can.
“So if I have the opportunity to help on special teams I’m all for that.”
Prokup appeared in nine games last year — he didn’t play in Toronto’s stunning 27-24 Grey Cup win over Calgary — as Ray and backup Cody Fajardo took the majority of snaps. Fajardo joined the B.C. Lions as a free agent this off-season after the Argos acquired James Franklin from the Edmonton Eskimos.
Franklin, 26, is expected to be Ray’s backup this season. That would leave few practice reps and little playing time for Prokup and fellow sophomore McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who threw just two passes — both completions — during his Argos rookie campaign, as well as Regina Rams rookie Noah Picton.
But with Ray expected to see little-to-no action Friday night when Toronto visits the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in exhibition action, Prokup and the others will have a valuable opportunity to shine.
“As you progress from high school all the way to the professional ranks … reps become more and more valuable because there’s less and less of them,” Prokup said. “Especially for a young guy, most of it is going to be mental prep and mental reps.
“But when you do get the opportunity to get a couple reps on film, you just watch those over and over and over for the good and bad. But we (quarterbacks) spend a lot of time together, we watch each other’s reps.”
Prokup said he learned plenty last year just watching Ricky on film.
“The nuances and little details of quarterback in terms of your feet, the rhythm of your feet, perpendicular setups with your back foot in terms of where you’re trying to get the ball,” he said. “And how he moves his head.
“Luckily we have these stripes on our helmets so you can actually see what Ricky is doing with his head and how he’s influencing different players. Just being in the same quarterback room as him I’ve felt myself develop just being able to watch him and try to soak in some of his knowledge.”
However, Prokup said he’s learning from all of Toronto’s quarterbacks.
“I’ve never been in a quarterback room like this before,” he said. “Just being around such great athletes and quarterbacks, in terms of mental and physical stature, is helping me develop.”
Toronto head coach Marc Trestman said while Prokup remains somewhat under the radar at training camp, he certainly has the potential to play in Canada.
“I think he’s a terribly talented young man,” Trestman said. “I believe he’ll be playing in this league at some point and time on his journey.
“He’s arguably one of the fastest or the fastest guy on the team. He’s an accurate passer, he spins the ball and can do it in dropback or on the move. He’s more mature than he was a year ago and he’s a great young man. We love having him around, he’s a great teammate to everybody here and I think he’s got a bright future.”
Trestman added Prokup’s special-teams prowess also speaks volumes about him.
“He’s got the toughness, he’s got the want to,” Trestman said. “He wants to be a great teammate and will do whatever it takes to be a part of our football team.”
Prokup admits it takes a different mindset to play special teams, but finds playing two positions very beneficial.
“You can take things back and forth,” he said. “From the quarterback room I can take the importance of mental preparation and put that into special-teams prep.
“I can work my special-teams rep in my mind as I would at quarterback, keeping it clear and concise so before each snap I can recite in my head exactly what I’m doing. And when I go back to the quarterback room, I think, ‘How can I attack quarterback with the same mentality as a special-teams player when you have to have that kind of dog about you?”’