The first step in a process that will require months to iron out and ultimately perfect began on Saturday.
For many, it was the first day to meet new teammates and absorb an offensive playbook that will essentially serve as the Argos’ return to football relevance in a market where three-down football has had its challenges.
What can be gleaned and what must inspire the Argos and provide hope for the potential of a renaissance is the mere presence of Ricky Ray.
Talk to anyone who was on the receiving end of Ray’s heaves and the words associated with solid quarterbacks were offered.
Granted, the backdrop of a mini-camp featuring a passing game must be taken in context.
But impressions are made and it looks like the Argos are well on their way to fielding a legitimate passing game, an element that has no chance to take shape when there’s no genuine player lining up under centre, or in most offences the guy lining up in a shot-gun formation.
“It’s a chess match that’s going to test your mental abilities,’’ Jason Barnes began. “This is very exciting and it’s very complex. Personally, I can’t wait until we get down to the serious business of running this offence.”
Barnes will be given every chance to emerge as that long-awaited go-to receiver in Argoland, a position so elusive that no one has been able to grab it and run.
It says a lot about a passing game when a return specialist, in this case Chad Owens, leads a team in receiving yards and plays an entire season without producing a receiving touchdown.
But such was the fate of the Argos, a franchise that hasn’t seen such an anomaly in more than three decades.
With rookie head coach Scott Milanovich bringing new ideas, with GM Jim Barker bent on acquiring any piece that will help the process and Ray in the saddle, there’s finally potential and hope.
The beauty of this offence is that virtually every receiver, no matter where they line up, will be asked to make plays.
“I just love the attention to detail,’’ enthused Jarious Jackson, a class act who brings his veteran leadership and backup role to the Argos following years of distinguished service in B.C.
“If we’re going over minor details now, I can see this blossoming into something very special.”
Foot work, an area that too often gets overlooked in the passing game, eye movement, will become points of emphasis, besides the obvious need to deliver the ball in rhythm and knowing which area of the field to attack.
“It’s sort of a combination of what Montreal likes to do, but more than anything it’s just an offensive philosophy of attacking opponents,’’ Barnes added.
Much likes Als pivot Anthony Calvillo, Ray isn’t known for making plays with his feet, but both are more than capable of extending plays and moving the chains.
What’s unique about both is their presence in the pocket and ability to deliver the football on time.
“There’s just so many plays in this playbook and so many people will be asked to touch the ball,’’ Barnes continued.
Even if Barnes ultimately becomes Ray’s favourite target, players such as Maurice Mann, Andre Durie, Spencer Watt, to name a few, and even Owens in certain packages will be asked to step up.
“With this offence, the emphasis is on every receiver, not just a few,’’ Jackson added. “What this offence demands is that every receiver needs to understand how to run every route.”
For now, what the Argos need is time.
The next time players will convene is in early June when training camp begins.
Until then, it’s a matter of mental reps and learning Milanovich’s passing game.
For now, the Argos get passing grades for introducing something new and for finally being able to dress a true quarterback and a veteran quarterback who gets it, one who’ll provide character and a presence in the locker room no amount of completions can measure.
BOYD KEY TO ARGOS’ GROUND ATTACK
There’s no better friend in any passing offence than a running back, no bigger ally than having the option to hand the football off to a ball carrier capable of going the distance.
In Cory Boyd, the Argos have an elite talent, a player who is expected to average at least 20 touches a game, but a player whose role will be altered this coming season.
Saturday was the first day for the Argos to unveil their passing offence, an occasion that brought together quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Jarious Jackson and a cast of receivers.
No offensive linemen were required and no words needed to be expressed to understand what Boyd and the running game will mean once the Argos’ new offence grows into its finished product.
“Cory’s a monster,’’ said receiver Jason Barnes, whose brother Matt plays for the L.A. Lakers. “He’s going to be as big as any player in this scheme.’’
Jackson played with a similar downhill runner in B.C., when Joe Smith was running over defenders.
Boyd, though, can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
In Edmonton, Ray excelled in play action, which can only be executed when the ground game is established.
“You have to take the pressure off the passing game,’’ said Jackson. “And you do that by running the ball.”