TORONTO - Kevin Huntley is proof that even a 6-foot-8, 293 pound defensive tackle is not immune to the odd crisis of confidence.
Huntley’s personal crisis lasted about nine months and even a second straight East Division all-star nod last season could not put an end to it.
But Argonauts fans need not worry about Huntley these days. The confidence is sky high once again.
His biggest issue this days is a blister on his right foot that will keep him out of this afternoon’s matinee exhibition tilt with the Montreal Alouettes. That’s small potatoes compared to the feelings of uncertainty that clouded the second half of his 2011 season not to mention the entire off-season.
Put simply, Huntley’s body following a surgery on his shoulder prior to the 2011 season that mended a torn labrum and fixed a broken bone and a season long battle with Achilles tendonitis was not allowing him to play the game he has always played and that had Huntley feeling unnaturally (for him) insecure.
Even the season ending all-star award was met with a “Yeah, but ...” from the gregarious defensive tackle.
“Physically I couldn’t be who I was,” Huntley said. “It was just frustrating. I have never had a time in my life where I doubted my physical abilities or gifts. I have always been a guy for my size and at my position who has always been a good athlete.”
But the shoulder, which was basically a brand new shoulder after the surgery and the nagging Achilles problems that lingered even after he started wearing orthotics, not only limited his God-given talent to get to quarterbacks but had him questioning whether he was good enough to make this team in 2012.
“For me to have the year I had last year, I mean I made all-star, but it wasn’t to me an all star season. I didn’t feel like I honestly deserved it, kind of, because I didn’t feel I played the best I could have,” Huntley said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t want to but just because of physical limitations.”
Huntley’s season stats — 25 tackles and six sacks — were by no means poor but as he puts it: “I know I have been a nine sack, 40-tackle guy since I have been up here.”
A turning point of sorts for Huntley came as he was wrapping up some personal business in Toronto before heading home for the off-season. When the team introduced Chris Jones as the new assistant head coach, assistant GM and defensive coordinator, Huntley sat down with the man who would design the new defence and for lack of a better term got an understanding of what would be expected of him.
But it wasn’t until Huntley got that first practice under his belt — a good one by his own estimation — and then followed it up with another good one on Day 2 of training camp that Huntley felt like himself again, confident that his athletic abilities would once again allow him to do what he does best and that’s get to the quarterback.
“That’s when I knew I could still be me,” Huntley said.
And Huntley knows there will be no shortage of opportunities to hit quarterbacks with Jones calling the shots.
“His plan is to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as fast as possible and get him to make a decision that he doesn’t necessarily want to make because people are coming at his head,” Huntley said.
“Coach Jones motto is 1.5. He wants the ball out of the QB’s hands in 1.5 seconds. If the ball is out of his hand in 1.5 seconds, you can only go so far in 1.5 seconds. We just want to wreak havoc, create turnovers and be relentless.”
And now that health (the blister problem notwithstanding) is no longer an issue, Huntley can go about his business confident that he has the tools necessary to help make Jones plan of attack a success.
Dontrelle Inman has been one of Ricky Ray’s favourite targets in practice.
But for whatever reason, the two never really got on the same page in the first pre-season game in Hamilton.
Inman is intent on changing that Tuesday when the Argos wrap up its pre-season schedule with a matinee at the Rogers Centre against the Montreal Alouettes.
“ I don’t know what it was,” Inman admitted yesterday when the Hamilton game was brought up. “It was different. I guess we just had to get acclimated in that first game. Just calm down and relax. This game should be much better, more relaxed and just do what we have to do.”
While Ray arrived with a comfort level with both Jason Barnes and Maurice Mann, who he had played with before, Inman and Chad Owens seem to have developed a chemistry with their new quarterback the quickest.
Inman calls his chemistry with Ray a “blessing, a gift from God.”
“It’s a small percentage of people, wide receiver to QB ratio that actually have that connection where you can trust one another to get you the ball or get open,” he said. “Ricky has actually helped out a whole lot. He has made routes easier, made coverage reading easier. It’s his delivery. He puts the ball wherever you need it to be. All you need to do is get open ... As a wide receiver, that’s fantastic.”
Now it’s just a matter of showing it in a game.
If Ricky Ray was still in college, this would be that pre-exam period filled with all-night study sessions as he preps for the big test.
Despite having 10 years in the league, the offence Scott Milanovich has brought with him from Montreal is like nothing Ray has ever seen before and because of that Ray finds himself in this foreign state of uncertainty.
But what he does know is that once he has it down, the job of playing quarterback is going to be dramatically easier than it would otherwise be.
“It’s a tough one to learn from the get go,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of information. It’s probably the most multiple offence I have played in as far as concepts and routes and route combinations and formations and motions and personnel groupings.
“We are just so multiple at the things we do that it takes a lot of studying and learning to get used to all that. But in the end it is very quarterback friendly offence,” Ray said. “What I mean by that is it’s very straight forward with the reads. What you are looking at, where you are supposed to go with the football so I think once you get it down and are comfortable with where everyone is going to be, you can just kind of relax, go through your reads and make the plays you need to make.”
Both Ray and Milanovich chuckled when they were asked where the Argos starter is right now in terms of getting to he point where it is second nature.
“It’s tough,” Ray said. “In practice I feel pretty good. I’m completing a lot of balls, we’re making plays and it’s looking good. It’s just that game experience that we need. Being a quarterback in practice we know we’re not getting hit. We can sit back there and hold onto the ball for a half second longer or do some different things where in games everything speeds up a little more. We try to emulate that in practice as far as our tempo but the difference between knowing you’re going to get hit and knowing you aren’t makes it a lot different.”
Milanovich is already impressed with the progress Ray has made with it.
“I think he is doing amazingly well,” Milanovich said. “It’s going to be a growth process for him throughout the year. As fast as he has picked it up and gotten himself into the progressions, it’s been very impressive. Is he going to be perfect right now? No, he’s not. That will come with time but he is doing very well.”
In Tuesday’s game, Ray will run the offence the first quarter followed by Jarious Jackson for the second, Trevor Harris the third and newcomer Ricky Santos will work the fourth quarter.
JOBS ON THE LINE
Argos head coach Scott Milanovich didn’t have an exact number of jobs that were on the line heading into Tuesday’s second and final pre-season game of the season (Noon, Rogers Centre vs. Montreal), but he believes it’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10.
And while that may set off alarm bells for fans who look at the calendar and see the season opener just 11 days away, Milanovich seems completely at peace with it.
In fact, were it any less, Milanovich would likely be questioning the job he and the Argos player personnel people did in the off-season.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Milanovich said. “If they were all set right now then we would feel like we didn’t bring enough competition in, that there weren’t enough good players here.”
And as it stands now, it’s probably an even split between available jobs on the offence and defence, with one critical difference.
“With the injuries we have at receiver right now I would say it’s even (offence and defence) but if we were healthy at receiver I would have to say there were more openings defensively,” Milanovich said. “Right now it’s all pretty wide open.”
While Milanovich doesn’t feel any of the receiver injuries are long-term situations (five weeks or more) he’s not totally certain about Andre Durie who is dealing with hamstring problems.
Durie went for testing on Monday and Milanovich expected to know more by Tuesday.
“I expect Jason Barnes to be back and healthy,” he said. “With Andre we have to wait and see how the muscle responds. That one we are not sure about at this point.”
The Argos have also been without Maurice Mann since he sustained a long cut when he fell on the practice track surrounding the field the Argos were using earlier in camp.