June 20, 2012
Argos offence in slow motion
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
TORONTO - There is no better person on any football team more equipped to provide insight than an offensive lineman.
In football, any offence is only as good as its offensive line, a position under-appreciated by the casual fan and yet it’s an area that ranks as important as the guy lining up under centre.
As the Argos now get ready for games that truly matter after putting together a 2-0 pre-season that amounts to nothing, Jeff Keeping would hit the nail on the proverbial head when dissecting the state of Toronto’s offence.
“Our theme after two pre-season games is that we’re not coming out fast,’’ began Keeping following Tuesday’s 25-20 win over the visiting Als. “We’ve shown that we can finish and gut out these wins, but as a 12-man unit, as an offence, we simply must come out with a certain eagerness, a greater sense of urgency to make those first few plays successful.”
Naturally and justifiably, the focus will be on Ricky Ray, the player the Argos feel will lead them to the promised land, a road that fittingly begins in Ray’s former home when Toronto travels to Edmonton for the June 30 regular-season opener.
Ray, when all is said and done, will be fine because his ability to deliver the football and make the right throws is second to none in three-down football.
Against the Als, Ray actually got outplayed by Mac product Kyle Quinlan, whose fourth-quarter heave on his first play from scrimmage resembled a young Ray.
Much like last week’s performance in Hamilton, the Ray-led offence struggled on Tuesday, a series of interceptions that nearly forced head coach Scott Milanovich into keeping Ray longer in the game.
Ray is far from comfortable in the Milanovich offence and the Argos attack is far from a finished product, a unit that features one consistent piece in running back Cory Boyd.
Whether it’s dominating the line of scrimmage, establishing a running game to set up play action, getting injured receivers, namely Jason Barnes, back healthy, there are many issues that need to addressed in the days leading up to next weekend.
It begins, though, with better starts.
“We feel good with Ricky in the huddle,’’ added Keeping, a player who has evolved to the point where he’s now considered one of those all-important glue guys along the line of scrimmage.
“Like every team heading into the regular season, we all have the identical perfect record. Our offence will be fine.”
That’s the hope and it now falls on Milanovich to figure out what plays best suit Ray, how to avoid a start such as Tuesday’s matinee when getting past midfield was akin to dealing with downtown traffic in the middle of rush hour, a series of frustration and stagnant football.
In the next few days, roster decisions will be made, cuts arriving as early as Wednesday when GM Jim Barker makes himself available to the media.
The Argos are entering a very critical stage in their storied history, a time when so much has been invested in Ray, a time when so much energy is being put into the 100th Grey Cup, an opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime that simply must be seized.
It starts by putting an entertaining offence on the field and by starting to impose ones will.
“He’s going to be fine,’’ Milanovich said of Ray.
Milanovich would take responsibility for not putting Ray in a better position to succeed, but that’s what coaches do best by absorbing the attention.
Milanovich also challenged Jarious Jackson, who looked completely out of sorts in Hamilton, only to rebound by providing solid quarterback play on Tuesday.
Jackson will enter the season as the backup, a role the Argos envisioned when they acquired this low-maintenance veteran in free agency this season.
The way Trevor Harris has played in two pre-season games, he’s a lock for the third-string position.
But it’s the first-team offence that needs to step up, which begins by stepping on opponents early in games.
There was no panic in Keeping’s voice when discussing the pre-season and the need to start quick and decisive.
It’s a theme the Argos must embrace as the date in Edmonton now looms.
In an eight-team league, it’s often how one finishes the season that ultimately determines a team’s fate.
In Argoland, a quick start is essential when failure is sure to usher in changes to a franchise that already has seen its share of changes.
It starts on June 30 and based on how the Argos have started, granted with nothing on the line, they are not ready.