Argos QB Ray must find the zone

Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich expects a lot out of his star quarterback, Ricky Ray, and...

Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich expects a lot out of his star quarterback, Ricky Ray, and will need just that with the tough Edmonton Eskimos coming to town for a Monday tilt. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:17 PM ET

TORONTO - It was back in Toronto’s season opener when head coach Scott Milanovich began to understand what would await an Argos offence that has yet to establish any consistency.

With the arrival of Ricky Ray in Double Blue, Milanovich watched game film of Ray’s days in Edmonton and noticed the amount of zone defences team’s would throw at the pocket passer.

Given Ray’s ability throw the ball downfield with an accuracy and touch that is second to none in the history of three-down football, it wasn’t surprising for Milanovich to see the amount of zone defences Ray had to face.

Patience becomes critical, especially when defences will yield underneath stuff and basically demand that its dropping linebacker and secondary rally to football and wrap up.

If ever a blueprint was provided, the Eskimos would produce it in their 19-15 win over the visiting Argos on June 20.

“There’ a lot more zone being played in the league,’’ began Milanovich on Saturday as the Argos ran what basically amounted to their final practice in preparation for Monday night’s arrival in Toronto by the Eskimos. “But we’re getting a lot of zone in particular.”

The Argos’ offence is far from reaching a zone where they can drive the field when a touchdown is required, be able to pound the ball along the ground when the clock needs to be managed or play light’s out football in a one-sided game.

Along the way this season, there have been glimpses, moments where Ray looked in sync, stretches where the offence would score with a game on the line, but there’s been no consistency.

In forging a 4-3 record, it’s been on the defensive side of the ball where the Argos have excelled, relying on a unit that attacks.

When they beat the Stamps in Calgary last week, Toronto’s woes in the red zone yet again led to field goals.

But when a lead needed to be protected in the fourth quarter, the Argos did keep the Stamps defence off balance and Ray was able to move the chains.

On Monday night, the Argos offence comes full circle against an Eskimos defence that’s as good as any in the CFL, numbers aside or whatever statistical ranking one cares to mention.

There’s a push up front, athleticism on the edge, depth everywhere and a belief that Toronto’s offence can be stopped given Edmonton’s ability to hold the Argos to one touchdown back in Week 1.

“When teams play zone against you, what you cannot do is have a drop, a penalty or make a mistake,’’ added Milanovich. “That’s what B.C.’s been doing so well. They’ll make you go the distance.

“If you make a mistake, you’re off the field. Edmonton’s doing the same and they’re able to rush the passer. They’ll play man to man too, but we need to be efficient in what we’re doing and Ricky needs to take what’s there.”

Given the changing culture Milanovich has initiated in Argoland, it would take time for Ray to learn a new offence and the many new faces to mesh together.

Dontrelle Inman showed his big-play downfield potential in Toronto’s home-opening win over the Stamps, Chad Kackert stepped up last week by providing a capable running and passing threat out of the backfield and there have been plays made by Chad Owens, Andre Durie and one game-winning reception by Jason Barnes, but the Argos offence remains a work in progress.

Against Edmonton on Monday, they’ll get another chance to measure themselves against a very capable defence.

“We’re not where we want to be yet offensively,’’ conceded Milanovich. “We’re growing.”

As long as the Argos continue to find a way to win, they can tolerate the growing pains and the occasional missteps, whether it’s a dropped ball, a penalty that negates a score or a turnover.

Eventually, though, the offence has to elevate its game.

The Argos, after all, invested a lot in Ray.

Ray hasn’t exactly been a bust, but a lot more was expected.

When one considers the challenges the Argos have faced, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Argos offence has yet to find its rhythm.

The Eskimos will once again challenge their former signal caller and Toronto’s new-look offence.

In Edmonton, the Eskimos recorded three quarterback sacks.

POTTINGER WANTS ANOTHER SHOT

Jason Pottinger remains in football limbo, unaware if he’ll get to suit up Monday night, no longer certain how he fits into Toronto’s defence.

But he’s finally healthy and is finally able to practise at full strength, two key developments that at least allow the Mac product to make an impression.

Seven games into the Chris Jones system and it’s pretty obvious Toronto’s defensive co-ordinator has an affinity for players he once coached, players who can play man coverage in the secondary, players who are physical inside football’s proverbial box and players who will play fast.

When healthy, Pottinger more than fits the bill, his non-import status coveted as a potential ratio changer, but the veteran hasn’t been healthy and it’s hard to tell what role he’ll serve.

“We’ll see where it goes,’’ said Pottinger of his lot in Argoland. “As of right now I’m trying to work my way back on the roster. I have to prove that I’m healthy and make some plays wherever they put me.”

Pottinger has practised on special teams all week as the Argos were preparing for the Eskimos.

When a player such as Pottinger, who has battled his share of adversity, is able to practise on the first day of practice week, it’s an encouraging sign at a time when so much has gone wrong for this classy Canadian.

“It’s a big step,’’ said Pottinger of his return. “It feels good. I haven’t felt this good since last year in training camp. I’m pretty excited.”

Who knows what the future holds for Pottinger, at least as an Argo, but for now he’s grateful for the chance.

When healthy, Pottinger is too good to be playing exclusively on special teams.

Like he showed last year in beginning the season as Toronto’s starting middle linebacker, Pottinger is more than capable, a smart football player who is seldom out of position.

When he hurt his knee, an injury doctors felt would require season-ending surgery, in the season opener in Calgary, Pottinger defied the doctors and would eventually returned.

It’s no secret the Argos defence played better under Orlondo Steinauer, an improvement that coincided with Pottinger’s return at middle linebacker.

This past off-season, Pottinger went under the knife to repair his damaged left knee, reported to camp in great shape and was prepared to battle for a starter’s role.

Given his familiarity with the Jones system, Robert McCune emerged as the starter and has more than shown his worth on a defence that does not feature any individual.

In Week 2, oddly enough against Calgary, tore his left hamstring.

“It had nothing to do with the knee,’’ said Pottinger. “It was just bad luck. One can argue they might be related, but who knows. It’s tough to say.

“It’s been mentally tough, but what makes it good coming to work every day is hanging out with a great bunch of guys and at the same time watching us win.

“It hurts me not to be out there, but at the same time it’s fun to watch.”

 

 

COACH LIKE WHAT HE SEES

Upon further review, Argos rookie head coach Scott Milanovich remains a proponent of video review challenges.

Heading into Monday’s visit by the Eskimos, Milanovich has yet to face one of those potential game-changing moments where video review is required.

But it’s just a matter of time in an 18-game season where the margin for error has been as thin as ever in recent CFL memory.

“I haven’t had many issues, but in my opinion I haven’t had any tough decisions to make,’’ acknowledged Milanovich. “I like our process and I don’t know what else we could do.

“If I see it (a play that merits a challenge flag), I’m going to trust my instincts. If I don’t, I’ve got to trust the guys up in the booth.”

The issue of review challenges was brought to light during last Thursday’s visit by the Ticats to Montreal, where a 40-yard completion to S.J. Green was ruled a catch by the officials, even though the Als receiver dropped the ball.

Hamilton did not challenge the play, which led to a Montreal field goal in a two-point Als win.

Milanovich challenged a punt return fumble by Chad Owens in Montreal last month that was overturned, leading to a Toronto field goal.

In last week’s win in Calgary, Stamps head John Hufnagel challenged an Owens fumble the on-field officials did not call. When reviewed, it was ruled a fumble.

“If I see it personally, I’ll throw it,’’ added Milanovich. “If I haven’t seen the play and think it’s a possible challenge, I’ll get on the head set and get the opinion of the guys (assistant coaches) upstairs.”

 

 


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