GUELPH, Ont. — Brandon Banks is a very fast learner.
Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has been very impressed with how quickly Banks has picked up the offence during training camp. Banks is in his first year with the Argonauts after eight seasons with the arch-rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“It’s a complicated offence and it takes guys some time but Brandon picked it up Day 1,” Dinwiddie said Tuesday. “Brandon has been pretty impressive, he’s got that juice . . . I’ve been pretty pleased with Speedy.”
There’s no questioning Banks’ football acumen. During his time in Hamilton he was a league all-star four times and in 2019 claimed the CFL’s outstanding player award after registering a club-record 112 catches for 1,550 yards and 13 TDs.
But the five-foot-seven, 150-pound Banks also prides himself as being a student of the game.
“It’s probably one of the most underrated parts of my game,” Banks said. “I’ve been playing football since I was four years old, I’ve never missed a season other than the COVID year (2020) . . . football is everything to me. I study football a lot, it just naturally comes to me. Obviously it’s different this year, I haven’t had to learn an offence in six, seven years so I took this approach very seriously. I’ve been in my dorm room studying my butt off trying to be available for the team.”
Banks, 34, signed with Toronto as a free agent after he and the Ticats mutually parted ways this off-season. Banks battled injuries in 2021, registering 44 catches for 474 yards and two TDs in 10 regular-season games as Hamilton made a second straight Grey Cup appearance, losing a heart-breaking 33-25 overtime decision to Winnipeg at Tim Hortons Field.
It was a disappointing end to a stellar run in Hamilton for Banks, who had 422 catches for 5,678 yards and 44 TDs over 111 career regular-season contests. The Ticats also played in four Grey Cup games during Banks’ tenure.
Banks nearly single-handedly led Hamilton to a championship in 2014, returning a punt 90 yards for a TD against Calgary with 32 seconds remaining that gave the Ticats the lead. But the dramatic play was called back due to a penalty, allowing the Stampeders to secure the 20-16 victory at B.C. Place Stadium.
Banks had a 45-yard TD catch earlier in that game.
However, Dinwiddie said he’s seen plenty of flashes of Speedy B throughout Argos training camp.
“I think he’s still Speedy B,” Dinwiddie said. “We didn’t really gameplan our camp stuff for him, we just kind of ran our stuff. We’ll move him around and put him in spots where he can be successful.”
Banks said he’s felt very much like his former self thus far.
“I feel young again,” he said. “I had a good off-season, I was able to get healthy . . . . get a little fast-twitch back into my body to get back to the Speedy B I once was. Mentally, I’m amazing as well. Every day is a new day, a new challenge for me and I’m having fun at the same time. There was one point last year where I thought I wasn’t having fun playing football. I’m having fun again, the sun comes up every day for me and I’m blessed to still be able to play football at this point and time in my career.”
Banks will see his first action of the pre-season Friday night when Toronto hosts Hamilton at Alumni Stadium in the final exhibition game for both teams. Banks admits it will be a little surreal facing his former team.
“It’s definitely going to be a weird feeling but at the end of the day it’s going to be football,” he said. “I’ll see a lot of friends, obviously, but I’m prepared for it, I’m ready for it and I’m just going to take what comes with it. I’ll be honest, I probably have a little bit (of Ticats blood) in me. It’s just natural, I was there for eight years but it has been a smooth transition with my teammates, the coaches, Pinball (Argos GM Mike Clemons) and everybody. I’m an Argo now, I’m 100 per cent Argos and doing everything trying to get Toronto a championship now.”
Dinwiddie said Banks will be with Toronto’s No. 1 offence Friday night. The plan is to go with the starters into the second quarter and no more than the entire first half.
“I’m just really looking for them to get into a rhythm and to where I feel comfortable for where they’re at and we’re executing at a high level,” Dinwiddie said. “Then just get them off the field and ready for Week 1.”
Toronto will get an opening-week bye before kicking off its regular season June 16 hosting the Montreal Alouettes.
NOTES: Veteran quarterback Antonio Pipkin, who was released Sunday by Toronto, agreed to terms with the B.C. Lions on Tuesday … Kevin Thomson, who’d been battling Canadian Michael O’Connor for the backup job with the Lions, suffered a rib injury in their 41-6 exhibition loss to Calgary on Saturday.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press