No QB controversy in Edmonton

Edmonton Eskimos quarterbacks Jared Zabransky (left) and Ricky Ray. (PERRY MAH/QMI Agency file...

Edmonton Eskimos quarterbacks Jared Zabransky (left) and Ricky Ray. (PERRY MAH/QMI Agency file photo)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:25 PM ET

Show me a football team with an 0-4, 1-6 or 2-6 record and I'll show you a team with a quarterback controversy.

But is there one here? Really?

Does anybody here really think that Jared Zabransky -- with 17 for 35 for 230 yards and a 48.6% pass completion record, two touchdowns against three interceptions and a QB efficiency rating of 53.3 -- should be No. 1 ahead of Ricky Ray?

Does anybody here really think that at age 30 -- with 2,741 for 4,073 for 34,176 yards and a 67.3% completion record, with 181 touchdowns against 109 interceptions and a QB efficiency record of 96.8 -- Ricky Ray has suddenly completely and entirely lost it as a starting quarterback and should be demoted to back-up status?

Not head coach Richie Hall.

"He is the guy," he said as the Edmonton Eskimos returned to practice Wednesday for Monday's Labour Day Classic.

"He'll start this week.

"When we go to line up on offence in Calgary, he will be the quarterback.

"Ricky Ray is our quarterback!"

To start Zabransky, even if it's to run the Stampeders defence around for a while to tire them out, just doesn't deliver the right message, he said.

"You have to be careful not to be pulling things out of the sky and lose the confidence of the players," he said.

The challenge may be to restore the confidence of Ray.

"My main concern is how Ricky is mentally. I'm sure he's disappointed and frustrated," said Hall.

Zabransky replaced the battered and bruised Ray after the Eskimos were down 14-0 after the first quarter and brought the Eskimos back to life in the 17-14 win over Saskatchewan. Ray came back in late to win it.

"We talked about it prior to that game. If Ricky struggled we'd make that move. He was recovering from that injury. We made that move and then went full circle and brought Ricky back in and he looked like a different player than he did at the beginning. He looked sharper than he did at the start of the game."

You'd think Hall might be concerned that Ray could return to Calgary and again be Stampeded like he was at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, not McMahon Stadium.

Ray clearly hadn't recovered physically from the first-quarter pounding which sidelined him in the Aug. 15 Calgary game.

Between now and 4 p.m. Monday he needs to recover mentally, considering the confidence-shattering circumstances which have surrounded him this season.

While the Eskimos did win their last game, the fact is that the offence was down 14-0 after being down 11-0 and 11-1 after first quarters of their previous two games. And their first quarter for-against for the season is now 65-14.

Maybe it's head coach Richie Hall's failure to motivate. Maybe it's Kevin Strasser's game plans and play calling. Maybe it's the offensive line. Maybe it's been all the dropped touchdown and big-play passes.

Maybe it's the loss of Fred Stamps, the No. 1 receiver with Kelly Campbell, the No. 2 weapon standing on crutches Wednesday. Maybe it's Ray.

The stats for the season for Ray are certainly substandard.

He's 147 for 220 for a 66.8% completion rate for 1,804 yards, with six touchdowns against six interceptions and an 89.7 QB efficiency rating. That's 670 yards short of Darian Durant, who leads the league, but Ray has missed roughly six quarters of the last two games. You know what the offensive line looked like before the bye week break. And you know how many touchdown and big-play passes were dropped by Campbell alone.

"Nobody likes to go out there and not play well," said Ray, who hasn't gone through a stretch like this since 2005 when he ended up as the MVP of the Grey Cup game.

"It's probably the easiest position to make a change and get different results. That's the one position a change can get you that," he added.

And there is his health.

"Obviously I'm not 100%," he said of the rib and sternum injuries that made it impossible to continue past the first quarter in Calgary in the 56-15 loss two games ago.

"But it's not a strength thing. I can throw the football."

And despite the sense that he is not entirely a confident or comfortable quarterback, he wants the football.

"I've played one half of a football game in the last month -- or at least it feels like that," he said of one quarter in Calgary, the bye week, one quarter against Saskatchewan and now a long week leading into the Labour Day game.

"That's been the good thing. It's given me time to heal up and feel better and go in there with no excuses."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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