Argonauts training camp primer

Quarterback Ricky Ray. (QMI Agency)

Quarterback Ricky Ray. (QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 PM ET

Five Biggest Questions

Who will emerge as Ricky Ray’s go-to receiver?

Jason Barnes has the edge given his familiarity with Ray, but the Argos have installed a new offence. With so many receivers signed, it’s anyone’s guess who will ultimately line up where.

Who will protect

Ray’s blind side?

Veteran Canadian Wayne Smith will get the opportunity at left tackle, but this former first-overall pick has been injury prone in recent years and was basically shown the door by the Ticats.

How best to deploy

Chad Owens?

He’ll get a chance to compete as a receiver, but Owens’ strength is on special teams. Unless he turns heads, best way to use him on offence is in select packages that get him the ball in space.

How long before Ray understands the offence?

A lot is expected of Ray, but he’s coming into a new environment and new scheme. Getting on the same page with his offensive line, receivers and new head coach are paramount.

Who will fill the leadership void?

Bryan Crawford (retirement), Willie Pile (retirement), Kevin Eiben (free agency), Byron Parker (free agency), to name a few household CFL names, are no longer in Double Blue.

Coach’s corner

Jim Barker’s hand-picked successor, Scott Milanovich, makes his debut as head coach. He brings an offensive philosophy gleaned from years of experience on both sides of the border and across the pond, where Milanovich worked for NFL Europe.

A quarterback by trade during his days, Milanovich played for Barker in the XFL and, more recently, spent time in Montreal working alongside Als head coach Marc Trestman as Montreal’s O-C. More than just produce wins, Milanovich’s offence is expected to draw crowds to Rogers Centre — at least that’s the hope of upper management, which has already gone on record as saying it wants an entertaining team.

“It’s (Milanovich’s offence) different from some of the things I’ve done in the past,” said new Argos QBs coach Jason Maas, a signal-caller who rode shotgun with Ricky Ray in Edmonton.

“The philosophy of the whole offence is different than most teams in the CFL. The way Scott has built this offence, instead of spreading everyone out, you try to condense the field and try to make everyone on defence have to play ball.

“The first thing I noticed when I saw it was the attention to detail every little concept had to be in in order to make that happen. It was refreshing to look at something totally different, knowing you needed to put in the extra work to understand it. But once you do, it opens up another realm of opportunities.”

Line ’em up

One of the areas the Argos must iron out is their offensive line, a unit that saw the departures of all-star left tackle Rob Murphy (retirement) and centre Dominic Picard (free agency), while import tackle Edawn Coughman was released as he awaits trial on a weapons possession charge. Ideally, the Argos would prefer an all-Canadian line, a luxury that frees up a starter’s role for an American, either at receiver or on defence.

In Murphy and Picard, the Argos lost two linemen known for their nastiness. “You don’t replace them,’’ said offensive line coach Steve McAdoo, who enters his third season in Toronto. “Everybody has to have their own attitude. The tempo we’ll instill in camp will force them to play with a sense of urgency.”

Chris Van Zeyl, the team’s starting right tackle last season, is expected to expand his role.

“He’s changed a lot since I got here,’’ added McAdoo. “He’s matured a lot and he’s ready to step out and take that leadership role. I think he’s ready for that challenge.”

Keeping up with the Joneses

With so much invested in Ray, the Argos weren’t very active in free agency when so very little cap flexibility was available. One of the biggest additions in Argoland is Chris Jones, the team’s new defensive co-ordinator who left Calgary, a team that lobbied the league to have the Argos fined for tampering.

Jones will have complete authority on defence and basically went out and signed players he felt would fit his attack system, names no one, not even diehard fans, would know. There’s plenty of Greg Mohns, Toronto’s former personnel chief, in Jones, two guys who care little of any baggage a player brings with him.

When pressure is emphasized, getting guys who can play man coverage in the defensive backfield is an absolute must. If linebackers aren’t in attack mode, they’ll be asked to cover running backs and slotbacks in certain packages. Ratio-changers Ricky Foley, who tied for the team league in sacks, and Jason Pottinger, who underwent off-season knee surgery, are expected to start, assuming they earn it. With so much that can possibly play out during camp and during the two exhibition games, the Jones defence is one area worth watching very closely.

Younger and wiser

If anyone merits an increased leadership role, it’s veteran Jordan Younger, who is as smart and savvy as any player in football. During his distinguished run in Double Blue, Younger has been asked to play shut-down corner, was asked to line up at linebacker to extend his career and he’ll now be asked to anchor the secondary at free safety, a role he assumed late last season.

“This is his time,’’ said Argos secondary coach Orlondo Steinauer, who was promoted to defensive co-ordinator mid-way through last season.

“I hope he can step up and be that leader. I think he’s at that point where he can both, play freely and lead.”

Given his high pigskin IQ, Younger will be among the first to master Jones’ defence. Given his stature in Argoland, Younger is more than capable of serving as a team captain.

 


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