A whole new outlook

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

It didn't take more than a few plays for fans to detect the difference.

Ricky Ray had time.

Lots and lots of time.

"It was a glimpse of what we can be," said the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback.

"To have time like that ... it was great. One some plays there I went to the fourth read. If it's like that every night, it's going to open up everything in the playbook."

Nobody got to see much of the new improved Eskimos offensive line in the first pre-season game in Calgary with Ray playing only one series and a total of eight plays.

But last night ...

LOTS OF POSITIVES

There were a lot more positives out there than expected, but questions remained in a lot of areas. One of those areas, however, wasn't the offensive line. I don't think there's any question we're not going to have the offensive line to kick around anymore.

Behind veteran Dan Comiskey, back-from-retirement Kevin Lefsrud, a much more svelte Patrick Kabongo, Joe McGrath and Tim Bakker, Ray was able to set up, plant his back leg, make his reads and put some ooomph behind his passes. He actually looked like he'd found an arm in the off-season.

"Night and day," said Eskimos' coach Danny Maciocia of the offensive line. "That's the unit I'm most proud of.

"I relate to them and I think they relate to me. I took so much heat last year, I'm pulling for them and I feel they're pulling for me," he said of suffering the wrath for playing McGrath and Kabongo on training wheels last season.

It wasn't that Ray's play was particularly deserving of a rave review as he put in a full three quarters completing 20 of 30 passes for 287 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions, losing possession of another on a fumble and having a TD called back on a holding penalty by Kabongo. He only put up 10 points.

It was Stefan LeFors who threw the big play to set up the fourth-quarter touchdown which made the difference in the 18-12 win over the B.C. Lions in the club's final pre-season game.

For the record, the offensive line did give up three sacks. But still, you could see it.

"They gave our quarterbacks a lot of time. Right now they are our strongest unit offensively."

Give a first-rate quarterback first-rate protection and a lot of good things are going to happen.

It's amazing, when you consider that Ray has put up the numbers he has behind second rate offensive lines. He played the entire season last year with his life in danger with the loss of Bruce Beaton, Chris Morris and a one-year-retirement of Lefsrud.

With all the great quarterbacks the Eskimos have had over the years and the lack of protection Ray has played behind, it's mind-boggling that he's put himself in position to set a slew of team records in only his fifth season with the green and gold?

Ray needs 3,087 yards to tie Warren Moon for first in Eskimos history (21,228), and 226 to equal Tracy Ham for first in career pass attempts (2,433).

Think what those numbers might have been with a first-rate offensive line in front of him for more games than not?

GAVE A TASTE

The Eskimos gave their fans enough of a taste of the talent and Jacques Chapdelaine's new offence to earn the patience Maciocia is hoping to get here.

"I told Jacques he better open it up tonight or they'll start treating him the way they treated me here the last two years," he laughed.

"We have a lot of team speed and that showed tonight," said Maciocia. "Now we have to work on directing it and making sure it heads the right way. Having this kind of speed was foreign to me and the coaching staff. We left quite a few points out there, but when we clean that stuff up ..."

He pronounced running back Tyler Ebell as "the real deal" and receiver T.J. Acree is going to be a tough guy to cut after four catches for 94 yards.

"When I signed T.J. Acree someone said I signed him because he looked just like me. He may look like me but he runs faster."


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