Same old Ray

Edmonton Eskimos fan Scott Elderkin gets an autograph from quarterback Ricky Ray after the team...

Edmonton Eskimos fan Scott Elderkin gets an autograph from quarterback Ricky Ray after the team went through its first day of training camp Sunday, May 29, 2005. (Edmonton Sun/Perry Mah)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

Same old Ricky Ray.

Aside from earning 10 times more in salary than the last time he took a snap with the Edmonton Eskimos, Ray looked much the same yesterday on the first day of training camp as before he bolted for the New York Jets after sipping champagne with the Green and Gold in 2003.

Dubbed Frito Ray because he was driving a snack truck before his first tour with the Esks in 2002, Ray is already in the chips with the three-year deal for $1.2 million, plus a $400,000 option, he signed May 16 after his release from the Jets.

Back on the depth charts with Jason Maas, Khari Jones and Jason Johnson and sitting in the pocket letting the pigskin fly, it hardly seemed like No. 15 had been gone at all.

It's just that he's Pay Day Ray now.

"There's still a lot of guys coming back from the two years I played up here," Ray said. "That makes it a lot more comfortable for me.

"They know what I can do, but I've still got to go out there and earn their respect again and show I can still play. It just makes being in the locker-room easier. It's not like you're meeting new guys the first time."

WIDE-OPEN SPACES

Besides having to re-introduce himself to the wide-open spaces of the CFL field after giving it a go with the Jets in the phone booth they call a gridiron in the NFL, and familiarizing himself with a handful of new faces, it doesn't look like Ray will miss a beat.

"Ricky is Ricky," said head coach Danny Maciocia. "You watch him throw the football and he's got great touch. He's got great feel as far as coverages are concerned.

"If you ask Ricky, he probably wasn't satisfied with his first day. He thought he was off mark with a couple throws, but I'll tell you one thing, he comes as advertised."

Ray, 25, put money in his jeans, including a $185,000 signing bonus, by taking his chances in New York, but he never really got the opportunity he wanted with the Jets.

As the third-string quarterback, Ray dressed for three games in 2004, but he didn't see any action. Still, he has no regrets about taking his shot after leading the Esks to a win over Montreal in the Grey Cup.

"This is the most reps I've got in a long time," smiled Ray, who handled a clipboard more often than a football in New York. "It feels good to get out there and actually feel like you're getting some work and it's going to mean something.

'I NEED TO PLAY'

"At this point in my career, I need to play. I can't spend three or four years sitting around and holding a clipboard because it's just not going to get me anywhere."

The clear-cut starter in 2003 after taking over from an ailing Maas, Ray went 348-for-515 for 4,640 yards, with 35 touchdown tosses and just nine interceptions.

"He's the same old guy," said Maas, who watched Ray go to work after reaching his throw count of 65 passes. "That's the bottom line.

"He's just like all of us. He needs reps. We need a few days to get going again. Ricky is Ricky. I know what he can do. He looks just fine to me."

The Eskimos are endorsing Ray's cheques with the expectation of an encore of 2003 - even if Maas is the incumbent and Jones is in the mix.

"As far as the best interests of the team, if we have all three, that's what's in the best interests of the team," said Maciocia, asked about his wealth of talent at pivot. "As we go along, we'll determine who's one, who's two, who's three and who's four."

As for Ray, he'll let the chips fall where they may.

"I want to be No. 1. I want to play," he said. "I want to help this team go out and win every week we play. I just have to go out and be myself and do what I do. Hopefully, that's enough."


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