Heart and soul of Esks

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

It's a ridiculous thing to say of a quarterback in his fifth year in the league who has already taken the Edmonton Eskimos to three Grey Cups and won two.

But it's Ricky Ray's team now.

All of a sudden, as this 59th Edmonton Eskimos season gets set to start, Ray is being looked at as more than "just" the quarterback.

He's being looked at to lead.

"The first few years I sort of saw myself as being a guy stepping in and filling a spot in the lineup," said Ray.

"In the past I've just looked at it as getting my job done. Now, it's going to be a little bit more.

DEARTH OF VETERANS

"In the first couple of years there were a lot of veteran guys. It's strange to come in here now and not see guys who have been here 10 or 12 years. All of a sudden I see guys looking at me as the veteran guy. It's something I've got to get used to.

"It is my team now. I recognize that. It's my job, now, to do a lot more to make guys better, to make sure they know their play books and know what to do in this situation and that situation, to play a part in making sure they all learn the game together and build off each other.

"I have to carry myself with confidence and experience and pass it on to the younger guys and let them know what's expected of being an Edmonton Eskimo."

Mookie Mitchell, who used to sit in the dressing room stall beside Ray, is gone. The very vocal Ed Hervey has retired.

Over on the other side of the room leaders Singor Mobley, Malcolm Frank, Donny Brady - and for the first third of the season - A.J. Gass, are gone.

Ray says he's not going to go through a personality transplant here. He's so soft-spoken he said everybody would probably be tempted to laugh if he stood up in the middle of the dressing room and tried to give a go at something rah rah before a game.

Sean Fleming, the one Eskimo who has seen them all come and go, says he'd probably be laughing the loudest.

"That's just not his personality. It just wouldn't seem sincere."

Veteran leader Dan Comiskey says Ray doesn't have to change a bit.

"If you can't play ball for Ricky Ray you shouldn't be here. I'm wearing two Grey Cup rings because he's been my quarterback."

Coach Danny Maciocia says the last thing he wants is for Ray to think he has to change who he is.

"I don't want him to try to change his personality. I can't see him turning into Jason Maas and launching his helmet 20 yards down the field."

Ray says not to worry.

"I'm not into the rah rah thing," said Ray.

"Besides I think rah rah is a little bit overrated. Last year we had a lot of rah rah and it didn't happen for this team."

The rah rah guys were, more often than not the guys who weren't getting it done anymore.

"I'm not going to be throwing any helmets or kicking trash cans. That's not me. I may only clap my hands together, but guys know when I'm upset. It shouldn't take too long for the new guys to read my body language.

"I'm never going to be real vocal. But I do need to step up and say something now. Guys are going to need straight answers from me now.

INTERESTING STUDY

"I'll always try to be a good lead-by-example guy. But sometimes things need to be said and now I'm going to be a guy who needs to say it."

You can factor a lot of things in at this time of year when it comes time to make predictions, but never forget the CFL is a quarterback's league and in Ray the Eskimos have what five or six other teams in this league don't have - a first-rate, first-string, prime-of-his-career quarterback.

To go from three consecutive Grey Cup games here to missing the playoffs makes him an interesting study going into this season.

Statistically, Ray had a pretty solid season last year, outstanding even if you consider the porous offensive line and the gong show going on around him.

"I look at that like I'm coming off my worst year here," he said.


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