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“There’s no competition starting out. Ricky Ray’s going to be our quarterback until he shows us he can’t be.”
With those straightforward words, the new head coach of the Toronto Argonauts settled the team’s most important question on day one of his employment.
Marc Trestman is just about the perfect coach for Ray at this late stage of the veteran quarterback’s career and there are a number of reasons for that, the most important being that Trestman is first and foremost a coach who painstakingly ensures that his quarterback is comfortable, protected and equipped for the job, both mentally and in how the players around that quarterback are employed.
Ray and Trestman will be speaking the same language right out of the gate, or at least close to it. Trestman and Scott Milanovich developed a way of doing things in Montreal and when Milanovich left the Als to become the head coach of the Argonauts in 2012, he brought much of that blueprint to Toronto, handing off those schemes and processes to Ray.
After at first being uncomfortable with it all, Ray blossomed during the late stages of 2012 and has been reading defences using an off-shoot of the Marc Trestman way ever since. No surprise, then, that Trestman announced that Ray would be his starter, when asked the million dollar question at his first media conference as Argos’ coach. Trestman’s presence should certainly give Ray cause for optimism; Ray’s presence most certainly provides the new coach with something he’s valued in the past and that is a proven veteran working the levers.
Ray, who’d been beaten up and battered something fierce over the course of three seasons, came back after major shoulder surgery only to suffer an early season knee strain and then a mid-season broken rib. However, he was looking as good as could be expected in a game against the powerhouse Calgary Stampeders last October.
The Argos lost that game by a score of 31-13, which was expected, all things considered. Ray, however had a good night, personally, when he wasn’t on his duff, throwing for 311 yards and a touchdown, although he tossed a couple of picks and didn’t finish with your usual Ray-like completion percentage, going 28-for-42. When he was afforded time in the pocket, he looked fine. When the Stampeders decided to tinker with that pocket – with extreme prejudice – Ray faltered. What I thought, on that night, was; How good would Ricky Ray look if he were taking snaps behind that Calgary offensive line right now?
Very good, was my conclusion.
Therein lies the key for Trestman, new General Manager Jim Popp and for Ray as the Argonauts try to make up for lost off-season time and attempt to be as competitive as possible right away; Give Ricky Ray time.
Popp and Trestman did exactly that for quarterback Anthony Calvillo while they were enjoying the heights of their successes with the Montreal Alouettes. The Alouettes’ offensive line – coupled with superb pass-protections from running backs like Brandon Whitaker – rarely surrendered very many pressures, never mind sacks. If the Argos can build some castle walls around Ray, he’ll be fine.
MONTREAL ALOUETTES LEAGUE RANKINGS 2008-2012
|YEAR||YARDS PER GAME||POINTS PER GAME||PASSING YARDS||SACKS ALLOWED|
It’s a big challenge for them to get that right away, of course, having lost their offensive lineman of the year (two years running) and most versatile pass blocker, Greg Van Roten to a free agency deal with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Van Roten, who played every spot along that line at some point in his two years in Toronto, emerged as a very good left tackle last season and so the team has a rather large question mark there. When Calvillo was gathering up passing yards by the bushel, he had the great luxury of having left tackle Josh Bourke in his prime, so the backside was sealed on his dropbacks.
If second year man Jamal Campbell is as good as some football experts think he is, the third round draft pick out of York University might fit the bill at left tackle. Too bad the Argos hadn’t had Trestman and Popp in place a couple of weeks ago. They might well have been able to sign free agent Derek Dennis and the left tackle question would have been answered. With Tyler Holmes – quietly outstanding the last two seasons – at left guard and impressive young centre Sean McEwen beside him, along with veteran tackle Chris Van Zeyl on the right side, there are good protection building blocks, bolstered with the veteran depth addition of long-time Hamilton lineman Peter Dyakowski, during free agency. There are other vets here, too, like Corey Watman and Wayne Smith, but we’re a ways away from concluding that Ray will get all the protection he needs to be successful.
At 37, Ricky Ray might very well still have plenty of miles left on his football odometer. Henry Burris played one of his best games ever in winning the Grey Cup last November, at 41. Tom Brady engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history last month at the age of 39.
Ricky Ray isn’t fragile. Quite the contrary. After being crushed under the weight of defensive lineman Charleston Hughes midway through the 2013 season, Ray’s throwing shoulder was badly damaged. He came back to play four games late in the year and then laboured in 2014 with that less than healthy shoulder, still being named the East’s Most Valuable Player. Surgery that off-season kept him out until late in 2015, when a still less than one hundred per cent Ray took over for Trevor Harris.
Last July, Ray’s left knee was sprained on a questionable hit. During the Labour Day game in Hamilton, Ray suffered a broken rib and partially deflated lung, but finished the game. Later, he returned to play in that Calgary game I’ve previously referenced.
So here we are. The Argos have delayed on their off-season front office decisions but they do seem to have arrived at a place where a beleaguered veteran quarterback can enjoy another day or two in the sun.
Theoretically, at least, there are reasons to believe Ricky Ray can emerge again as the quarterback we all know he’s been.