TORONTO - Two games into the season and Edmonton Eskimos GM Eric Tillman, no stranger when it comes to pulling off big moves, is second-guessing his decision to trade Ricky Ray.
For Ray’s part, Toronto’s starting quarterback isn’t thinking twice now that Tillman has gone public, his feelings aired on an Edmonton radio station at a time when the club’s quarterback position is tenuous at best.the Tillman did not mince his words.
“Honestly, I would probably not,” he said. “I would have listened to my wife, who begged me not to make the trade because she talked about the fact that we had just gone 11-7 (making it as far as the West final), and that we could actually have an off-season where I might be semi-popular in Edmonton for a change and to stay status quo.”
Tillman, for the record, made the move to free up cap space with an eye to the future.
In Toronto, there would have been no future — at least not much of one in terms of quarterback play — had a player of Ray’s ilk not become available. For the first time in a long time, the Argos have a legitimate quarterback, and arguably the finest passer in the long history of the Boatmen, which is saying a lot. In the past half century, the tandem of Condredge Holloway and Joe Barnes, each excelling in a run-and-shoot system, Matt Dunigan, Doug Flutie and more recently Damon Allen have led the Argos to Grey Cup titles.
Ultimately, championships are the measuring sticks for any player, especially at quarterback. During his run in Edmonton, Ray would help lead the franchise to two titles.
The way the Argos have looked this early in the season, they are more than capable of representing the East in the championship which, as fate would have it, takes place in Toronto.
In terms of dropping back in the pocket and making throws, any throw to any side of the field, Ray is in a league of his own. He commands a huddle, has taken some of the pressure off of Toronto’s line and is turning average receivers into a bona fide threats.
But history would clearly be different in Edmonton had Tillman not shipped Ray in a package that landed Steven Jyles, who was twice pulled from last week’s embarrassing 17-1 loss in Regina.
“The trade was done and I’m happy to be here in Toronto,’’ said Ray. “This is a great spot for me. I think the offence is better designed to handle my strengths. I’m excited to play in it and this opportunity is great. I’ve been over it (trade) for a while. I was lucky to play in one place for so long. The trade happened and I was a little shocked and upset at the beginning, but throughout the off-season, I was really excited to come here and work with Scott Milanovich.”
The rookie head coach has added a few wrinkles to the system he ran in Montreal, a scheme that allows a quarterback such as Ray to read and deliver the football. As a pocket passer, it fits Ray’s skill set.
Had the Argos not shot themselves in the foot in Edmonton, Ray’s homecoming in the season opener would have ended in a win. And had the Argos been able to finish off drives last weekend, the Ray-led offence could have scored 50 points.
Two games in, and you can count on one hand the number of bad throws by Ray, who is coming off a 400-yard passing game heading into Saturday night’s kickoff in the Hammer.
Against Calgary, the Argos ran some no-huddle to change tempo, a decision that leads to two plays being called and Ray having final say on what gets run.
“We don’t have an audible offence,’’ said Ray.
An audible is what Tillman wishes he could have exercised.
For now, though, he is getting skewered. But he is shrewd and there’s still plenty of time to address matters.
In Toronto, the Argos are building and, as good as Ray has looked, the best has yet to be seen.
SIX POINTS BETTER THAN THREE
The red zone is one area the Argos offence must address, a dimension QB Ricky Ray says comes down to better focus.
While they have put points on the board, turning red zone opportunities into TDs is the goal of any offence.
Whether it’s penalties that lead to first-and- long, dropped passes or turnovers, Ray knows the Argos must get better in their execution.
When he watched film of Saskatchewan’s win over the Ticats, Ray saw how the visitors capitalized on their red zone chances.
“They (Roughriders) got some man looks,’’ said Ray. “And they were able to get (Weston) Dressler the ball.”
Saskatchewan’s slotback scored three majors in a blowout win.
For the Argos to escape Ivor Wynne Stadium with a win on Saturday, Ray understands the importance of scoring six points and not settling for three.
“Sometimes it is a win for the defence if they hold you to a field goal,’’ conceded Ray.