Ricky's on the radar

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

There was little fanfare when Ricky Ray showed up for his first CFL training camp three years ago.

And even less when Ray trotted onto the field at the New York Jets' training facility late last summer.

Fresh off the Frito-Lay snack truck, the now 25-year-old was just looking to hook on as the Edmonton Eskimos' No. 3 quarterback in 2002.

"I didn't know if I even had a shot to make the team," said Ray, who draws the start in tonight's pre-season tilt between the Esks and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Commonwealth Stadium. "I felt the pressure of trying to earn a spot then."

The ever-cool Ray didn't buckle back then.

NO BIG DEAL IN NY

Following an injury to Jason Maas, Ray moved into the No. 1 spot and held the job until he bolted for the NFL after his sophomore season.

Winning the 2003 Grey Cup is no big deal to the folks in the Big Apple. But it is to Esks fans, which is why Ray is once again the toast of the town.

Despite head coach Danny Maciocia's mantra of competition at camp, Ray is in no danger of being cut.

Not following tonight's pre-season fixture, next week's rematch in Winnipeg or likely any time before the end of the '08 season.

Ray is a lock for one of the 40 roster spots and a solid bet to emerge as the starter again this season.

The six-foot-three, 210-pound pivot has completed 70.6 of his passes and thrown two picks through the first 12 days of camp.

As the Esks' highest-paid player, Ray will be the centre of attention tonight. Pre-season game or not, Ray knows he's under the gun to perform.

"It's professional sport," he said. "I felt the pressure when I was up here before. The pressure is a little bit different now but there's still pressure. You want to make the team and you want to start and you want to do well.

"There's a lot of things that you want to do but nothing is guaranteed."

Tonight's game plan calls for Ray to play the opening quarter and half of the second. Khari Jones follows Ray to the huddle with Jason Johnson tabbed to close out the game behind centre.

UNCHANGED

Maciocia knew what the Esks were getting when they lured Ray back into the Igloo. Save for his throwing mechanics, precious little about Ray has changed in the mind of the rookie head coach.

"Ricky Ray is Ricky Ray," said Maciocia.

"In the NFL, it's almost as if you're playing out of a phone booth. All your passes are timing throws. He had a long wind-up and he's tried to cut down on the wind-up."

Ray still won't out-throw many, if any, of the other quarterbacks. In Maciocia's book the Sacramento State product's true measure of arm strength is his accuracy.

"What I like about Ricky is where he puts the ball," Maciocia offered.

"Sometimes the coverage is so great there only one place he can throw the ball. He lays it right in there. That's something that's hard to coach, that's a gift that he's got."

While Ray continually demonstrates his unparalleled ability to throw with laser-like precision, it's unclear whether he's shown Maciocia enough to unseat Maas as the Esks' starter at this juncture.

"I don't know if (Maciocia is) going to be able to tell that from camp," replied Ray when the subject was broached.

"He's knows what he's going to get with me. He knows what he's going to get with Jason (Maas). He knows what he's going to get with Khari.

"The only thing I can do is go out, be myself and do the things I've done in the past. And, hopefully, improve on a few different things."


Videos

Photos