May 30, 2012
Learning curve for RayNew Argos QB getting his feet wet
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Until football’s proverbial bullets start flying, Ricky Ray can only imagine what kind of offence the Argos will run under rookie head coach Scott Milanovich.
Until the Argos get matched up against an actual opponent with a game on the line, Ray is left to look ahead to what gains can be achieved.
For now, Ray is content getting his feet wet, learning a system so new that every snap, every practice, regardless of the experience that surrounds him, will be embraced.
The latest step was taken on Wednesday, a day when quarterbacks and rookies gathered at the Argos training base in Mississauga, where on Sunday the team’s full camp will begin.
With so much for Ray to shoulder, and with so much being expected, it’s never a bad thing when signs of improvement are visible.
And such was the case on the opening of rookie camp, a setting that featured so many prospects — most of whom no one would recognize — that it was hard for any onlooker, no matter how seasoned, to keep track of everything.
“There were four or five plays where the ball never hit the ground,’’ Milanovich said of a pass-and-catch drill that showcased Ray’s arm and quick release.
Until veterans show up, the next few days will not feature Ray or veteran Jarious Jackson exposed to team drills, which is not uncommon when arm preservation is the goal.
From his new surroundings in Mississauga, new teammates, new offence and a new culture, Ray is in many ways a rookie.
While it’s all nice to speak about a new start and feeling refreshed, football is a bottom-line business. The bottom line with Ray is that he simply has to produce.
The trade with Edmonton was so one-sided that Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman had to defend why a proven commodity such as Ray had to be moved.
By jettisoning Ray, the Eskimos freed up much-coveted salary in a cap system.
In Ray, the Argos acquired an experienced signal caller.
No player is under as much pressure to perform and no player will be given every opportunity to learn his way through the system than Ray.
By his own admission, Ray has lost count of the number of offensive co-ordinators he’s worked under during his career.
During his most recent run in Edmonton, Ray had to learn a new offence in what seemed like an annual exercise.
For obvious reasons, the quicker Ray learns all of the nuances, the better off the Argos will be when the season opener kicks off, ironically enough in Edmonton on Canada Day weekend.
“In a sense, the hardest part is that you’re starting from ground zero,’’ Ray said.
“In any offence, you want to learn the basics, learn the offence and go from there. Then in a few years you build off that and begin to fine tune things.”
Receivers will be honing their depths and finishing routes, while a quarterback such as Ray will be refining his foot work and timing.
Even though Wednesday was his first official day in Argoland, Ray did have a mini-camp with some of the team’s more accomplished receivers to familiarize himself with the offence. He has spent the off-season learning the Milanovich way.
“The play calls are familiar because I have heard them before,’’ continued Ray. “But it’s going to take time.”
What Milanovich is hoping to do is very unconventional, at least by today’s CFL standards.
In most offences, teams will spread the field.
In Milanovich’s system, the Argos will condense the field.
“In my nine years in the CFL, I’ve never seen an offence like this,’’ said Ray. “The track record in the CFL is to spread the field with splits (outside receivers) and make defences cover the full field.
“With this offence, you move guys around, bring splits in and condense the field to give guys more space to work.”
What Ray likes the most about Milanovich’s offence is how it does not put added pressures to make plays when flushed out of the pocket.
“There’s not a lot on the quarterback to make extra-ordinary plays,’’ added Ray.
“Read defences and get the ball out of my hands. I’m a pocket passer, where I go through my reads and make good decisions.”
There are no shortage of plays to call, which Milanovich will initiate each game. But the different personnel groupings and formations will allow the Argos plenty of options off one play.
“It’ll be the same concept where the one call will give us the opportunity to run 15 to 20 plays because of the changing personnel and groupings.”
There’s a lot to be excited about with these new-look Argos, but there’s plenty for Ray to grasp.
ANOTHER ARGO RETIRES
For the second time in as many days, the Argos had to deal with an abrupt retirement.
On Tuesday it was veteran linebacker/defensive back Willie Pile, whose locker room leadership will be missed. On Wednesday it was quarterback Adam Tafralis.
Tafralis, who served as a third-stringer in Hamilton, was signed to a free-agent deal this off-season.
Tafralis was projected to at least provide the Argos with a third arm, at best give veteran backup Jarious Jackson some much-needed competition.
As it stands, the Argos are now looking for another quarterback, an arm they hope to have in place before Sunday’s main camp opens.
Head coach Scott Milanovich cited a family issue with Tafralis that led to the move.
“He chose to retire at this point,’’ said Milanovich. “I don’t know if it’s a permanent thing.
“Adam’s a great guy and if the situation (at home) was right, we’d welcome him. He’s a talented quarterback and he would have had a chance to compete for a spot.”
B.J. Hall, who was as raw as can be, was released by the Argos. The team used the athletic Hall in third-down situations last year.