TORONTO - Jason Pottinger couldn't help but make a rather bold prediction on Tuesday morning.
"If I was a betting man, and if it was legal for me to bet on this team, I would put a lot of money on the Toronto Argonauts to be hoisting the Grey Cup at the end of the year," the Argos linebacker said. "The talent is out there.
"(Wednesday night) is when we set the tempo and form the character that will be the 2012 Argonauts. It doesn't start in the first regular-season game, it starts in the pre-season. We're going to come out firing on all cylinders, nobody is holding back, nobody is saving themselves, we want to kick their ass."
The Argos could well hoist the Cup for the first time since 2004. At least, they and the city of Toronto will play host to the CFL's championship game on Nov. 25 at the Rogers Centre.
That's 5 1/2 months away, however, and whether the pieces fall into place for David Braley's Boatmen or shatter like glass largely will ride on the play of quarterback Ricky Ray.
Is that a lot to put on one man's shoulders? Sure it is. But this is the CFL, where a superior quarterback has to be the centrepiece for any team with realistic Cup aspirations.
For the first time in recent memory, Ray represents a key component the Argos have lacked, a quarterback who doesn't have to prove himself in camp and one who won't have second-guessers lining up at his locker-room stall if success is not immediate.
The Argos will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Wednesday in the first of two pre-season games. Though Ray is not likely to get many snaps -- a workload of increased intensity will come in the Argos' final pre-season game, on June 19 at home versus the Montreal Alouettes - the game in Steeltown represents the first chapter for the Argos in 2012.
As a member of the Edmonton Eskimos, Ray threw for more than 40,000 yards, completed 210 touchdown passes and won the Grey Cup in 2003 and 2005.
But the 32-year-old acknowledged that he was going to be hit by a tingling of excitement in the hours leading up to the opening snap at Ivor Wynne.
"Oh, for sure," Ray said. "My career has been a roller-coaster ride, a lot of ups and downs. This is a new opportunity for me and I feel like a rookie coming in.
"These are the real tests. You can go through training camp and practice, and especially being a quarterback, you are not getting hit. When the game comes, everything speeds up. That's what you have to get used to, the speed of the game and taking a few hits."
The Argos lost several important players in the off-season, with players such as Willie Pile, Kevin Eiben, Taylor Robertson, Bryan Crawford and Rob Murphy, among others, retiring or finding new football homes.
And when they face the Ticats, a handful of potential game-changers in 2012 -- Andre Durie, Claude Wroten, Jason Barnes, Maurice Mann -- won't play.
New head coach Scott Milanovich hasn't been overly enamoured with his team's consistency, or lack of it, since camp began nearly two weeks ago.
And though Milanovich said on Tuesday he won't put a lot of stock in what transpires at Ivor Wynne, it will mark a beginning for this Argos team, one that badly wants to be in the Grey Cup in its own house.
Does Ray have the potential to lead the Argos to the end of the November?
You could bet on it.
"I wouldn't say the mindset is different, because we always want to go out there and win games," Pottinger said.
"I would say there is a little more confidence knowing Ricky Ray's history and all of his achievements. He carries himself with a lot of poise, and it's infectious. It's a good thing.
"It's comforting knowing that we have that kind of experience leading us under centre. I would expect a little more swagger."
NEW COACH NOT NERVOUS
For someone about to step on to the field as a head coach in the Canadian Football League for the first time, Scott Milanovich was pretty cool about it on Tuesday.
"It's going to be a glorified practice for me," Milanovich said about the Toronto Argonauts' pre-season game on Wednesday night at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats.
"Other than the ebb and flow of the game, the communication with (special teams co-ordinator) Mike O'Shea and (defensive co-ordinator) Chris Jones, the situational football and how we are going to manage the clock -- those things are going to be fun for the first time."
Hired by the Argos last December, Milanovich spent the previous five seasons with the Montreal Alouettes, including the past four as offensive co-ordinator and assistant head coach.
"Certainly we want our guys to do well, and certainly the coaches want to get off to good start," Milanovich said. "But we are not putting too much stock in this game. It is evaluated just like the practices are."
PARKER LOOKING TO BURST
After keeping tabs on old friends Ken-Yon Rambo, Davis Sanchez and Willie Pile when they continued their football careers north of the border, Samie Parker can't wait to give the Canadian Football League a shot himself.
A veteran of 47 games with the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League from 2004-07, Parker will make his CFL debut on Wednesday night when he lines up for the Toronto Argonauts at the running back/slotback position.
"I haven't had the kind of camp I really wanted, but this is the opportunity to go out there and showcase what I can do," Parker, 31, said. "I'm still adjusting a little bit, trying to find the holes where I can fit in. But I'm finally going to get a real taste of the CFL game.
"There's more room (on the wider field), and it gives me an advantage to exploit some of the defensive backs. I'm looking forward to that."
With Andre Durie out of action for the pre-season game in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats, Parker should get his fair share of touches. He will return the football as well.
Parker won't knock Durie out of a job if he has a spectacular performance, but with a poor showing, his hopes for a job could vanish.
"I'm looking for a burst from Samie, I'm looking to see if he can line up on the right spot, does he know his assignments, is he going to be where the quarterback expects him to be?" Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. "It's pretty much the same thing for all of the receivers. He has showed some flashes, and he has had a little bit of inconsistency, but he has talent."