Ricky will have to learn fast

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

For a football franchise whose origins stretch back more than 100 years, the Ricky Williams era will pass in the blink of an eye. One season, done and gone.

But, as brief interludes go, this promises to be something truly remarkable."Three weeks ago, I couldn't have even imagined something like this happening," Argos head coach Michael Clemons said yesterday, moments after welcoming the NFL star running back into the Argos family.

"In fact, three weeks ago, I was in Africa and when I called back here I was asked if we were going to sign Ricky Williams. I was completely blindsided. I'm thinking 'Is there another Ricky Williams? Are they talking about THE Ricky Williams?' "

To hear the Argos brass tell it, from Clemons to president Keith Pelley to owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, Williams has made an incredible first impression.

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Understand that this is a four-time offender of the NFL's drug policy, the first three for marijuana use. Yet no one, not in the NFL, where he's under contract to the Miami Dolphins, not here in Toronto where he already has made dozens of friends in less than a week, professes concern about Williams' character.

"In less than a half hour, I was absolutely captivated by Ricky," Clemons said. "It is very rare that you come in contact with someone who immediately has your best interests at heart, as well as their own.

"In that first meeting I immediately was enthralled with this person. My initial image was of a guy who has super-sized talent, explosive, physical, powerful, at times dominant as a football player.

"But then when I met the man, I encountered someone who exudes quiet charisma. He's cultured and inquisitive, intelligent and articulate.

"Before I met him I thought of him as a player who turned broken plays into highlight reels. But now my vision is a little bit different. I now think that he will not only make us a better football team but he'll make us a better organization."

The unlikely scenario that led Williams to Toronto started less than a month ago when the NFL announced Williams had been suspended for the entire 2006 season for his most recent positive drug test, a test result which Williams disputes.

Within two hours, at the initial suggestion of assistant general manager and personnel director Greg Mohns, the Argos had added Williams to their 35-man negotiation list, beating the Montreal Alouettes to the punch by only a few minutes.

"We quickly organized an action plan," Mohns said, "and within a few days we had talked with (agent) Leigh Steinberg, who initiated talks with the Dolphins."

Naturally enough, the Dolphins had their concerns. They want Williams to be back in a Miami uniform in 2007. He owes them more than $5 million in a judgment that the Dolphins won against him after he retired in 2004, having already spent his signing bonus. Because he's not being paid this year, however, Williams needs to earn some cash. Despite their reservations, the Dolphins recognized and respected Williams' need, though they were a little slow in giving final permission. That didn't happen until yesterday morning.

Because of the nature of the game, the CFL is a pass-first, run-second enterprise. But now that they have in their huddle one of the great running backs in the game, you can expect a subtle shift.

"We have always tried to adapt our offence to use all our people and their talents most effectively," Clemons said.

You can interpret that to mean that Ricky will get his touches. Clemons just doesn't know exactly how that will play out, or if he does, he's not saying quite yet.

For his part, Williams has to get himself in shape and learn the lay of the land starting this morning, with less than three weeks to go before the season opener.

"I knew nothing about the Canadian Football League," he said. "I knew that the guys were always running around before the ball was snapped. And that they had an extra guy on the field. But that's about it."

That will change in short order. Almost as fast as it took for this whole episode to unfold. And this is just the start.


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