Argos' Ray finding comfort zone

Ricky Ray makes his debut as Argonauts quarterback against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the...

Ricky Ray makes his debut as Argonauts quarterback against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the pre-season opener on June 13. Ray led the Argos to two scoring drives in the first quarter. (fred thornhill/REUTERS)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:04 AM ET

TORONTO - There’s still a long way to go before Ricky Ray feels comfortable in Scott Milanovich’s offence.

Strides, though, have been made and as long as inroads are being achieved Ray has no doubt he’ll find that level necessary to lead an offence that simply must entertain fans.

In his debut last week in Hamilton, Ray looked out of sorts on Toronto’s opening two possessions.

He began to settle in and would lead the Argos to two scoring drives before exiting the game with Toronto leading 14-0.

“He’s progressing well,’’ Milanovich said. “It was really good for him to go out and struggle in those first two series. That happens in a game and there are time where you go out and it’s just not going well.

“Seeing him fight through that and having those two nice drives was a positive. That’s what you get with Ricky, he’s not going to lose his mind, he’s not going to get flustered, he’s going to keep plugging away. With Ricky there’s an understanding that when all is said and done, he’s going to play well at the end of the game. And that’s a comfort for a coach to have.”

For Ray, getting comfortable has been the theme at camp, comfortable in his new surroundings, comfortable with a new offence and comfortable with a receiving unit that can’t stay healthy.

Just as Andre Durie recovers from a nagging hamstring injury, he’s forced to miss reps on Saturday.

Ray’s familiar with Jason Barnes and Maurice Mann, but both are nursing leg injuries.

“From Day One to now the comfort level is a lot better,’’ Ray said. “We’re getting in a lot of reps, the tempo in practice is better and just getting used to the guys is further along.”

Only when he starts making his reads second nature will Ray begin to feel comfortable.

“Making sure you’re going to the right spots in the right situation,’’ said Ray. “From there you get a feeling for your receivers, how they run routes, how they like the balls. It’s all coming together slowly, but there’s a definite process to it.

“Some days it clicks really well, other days you have to work on certain things.”

On Friday, for example, Ray felt the offence was clicking.

On Saturday, Ray felt the defence came with a heightened sense of energy.

“It’s to be expected when facing such a tough defence,’’ said Ray. “Offensively, we just have to be consistent.”

Ray expects to play one quarter in Tuesday’s pre-season finale, one last chance to get ready for his June 30 Edmonton homecoming when the Argos kick off their regular season.

 

BLACK HUNGRY TO IMPROVE

 

From playing on football’s island to serving as the secondary’s de facto quarterback, Matt Black’s life on the gridiron has evolved.

Off the field, Black’s life has taken a turn for the better since his New Year’s Eve wedding to his college sweetheart, Erin, whom Black attributes for helping him become more conscious of his diet, an area he believes has made him a better player.

“She was getting on me to eat better,’’ said Black, who played his school football at Toronto’s Northern Secondary School before moving on to Saginaw Valley State, where he would meet his American-born wife. “And I don’t necessarily think I ate bad before.”

Black’s wife has a masters degree in exercise science.

Among other lifestyle changes, Black began to cut down on carbs, started to drink skim milk, more grains and vegetables.

“I haven’t felt this good since I started playing,’’ said Black. “I got to give her a lot of credit. She whipped my tail this off-season.”

Lighter on his feet, better equipped to operate under the Argos’ new high-tempo defence, Black, will continue to be one of the mainstays on special teams, but it’s his new role on defence that also excites him.

Up until this season, Black would man the corner spot, where he’d use his cover skills and athleticism.

In Chris Jones’ defence, Black is serving as Jordan Younger’s understudy at free safety, a position Black would play during the second and third quarters last week in Hamilton.

“It was my first time playing free safety,’’ Black said. “For a first game I thought I played fairly well, but my no means am I satisfied. It was a good starting point.”

Black sits next to Younger in meetings and the two are constantly communicating.

“When you play safety you’re more involved,’’ Black said. “You’re the quarterback back there getting guys lined up and it’s an adjustment having to know every single position in the secondary and having to know where everyone needs to go.”

In football talk, Black is spending a lot of time in his playbook.

“It’s a fun defence,’’ he said. “It allows you to play fast and physical and there are opportunities to make plays.”

It’s way too early to tell how many reps he’ll get at the safety spot, but Black is a fixture on special teams who is as fearless and productive as any Argo.

Last week, he served as special teams captain.

“I was surprised and flattered,’’ he said.

 


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