September 2, 2012
It was love at first flight for Ray and Owens
By IAN SHANTZ, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver can be a bit like a first date.
Maybe there are butterflies and an instant connection.
Or maybe the whole thing is ridiculously awkward, will clearly never work and ends with one of those insincere hugs, the kind you’d expect from, say, an in-law, or Mitt Romney.
“The be honest, it’s one of those things where you either have it or you don’t,” Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray said. “Some receivers, you just find that chemistry comes really easy. Other guys, you never really find it.
“You try to work on it and get some extra drills, do some extra things in practice ... but if you’re spending that much time on it, it’s probably not going to come.”
Chad Owens has had a few months to acclimatize to the team’s new pivot and so far, it would appear the pair is well on its way to becoming a match made in football heaven.
Owens’ 588 receiving yards are a career-high for the Flyin’ Hawaiian, while Ray has been durable if not resilient considering Toronto’s well-documented struggles on offence at times this season.
The veteran quarterback, in his first year in Argoland, ranks fourth in passing (2,324 yards) among QBs this season.
Like any new QB-receiver relationship, there have been wrinkles.
“Definitely, you’re going to have those situations where you’re not on the same page. You thought he was going to throw it now and he was waiting for you to get open later. Those situations happen,” Owens said. “But it’s because of those situations that you grow. I’ve been through it, Ricky’s been through it, all the receivers go through it. It’s a matter of how you respond.”
Ray says Owens’ unpredictability has been both a blessing and a curse at times.
“He has got so much athletic ability ... we’ve got to tell him less is more sometimes. You’ve got so much speed, you’re going to be able to win (the play) just by doing that,” the quarterback said. “In other routes, you need that shiftiness, so for us it’s just getting the routes down.
Ray said keeping up with Owens’ rocket-fuelled legs has been an adjustment, too.
“There has been a couple times in camp and in games where he makes it a tough throw for me, especially on longer drops or some stuff when we give him a deeper route,” Ray said. “But I think we’ve been pretty good and on the same page as far as me reading his speed.
“He’s been doing a really good job.”
While neither player is satisfied with where the Boatmen sit at this juncture, Ray and Owens, in their first season together, have combined as one of the team’s more legitimate threats on offence.
The chemistry between the two is apparent, with Ray’s accurate arm lending itself to the receiver’s traits of speed and athleticism.
Near the end of practice on Saturday, Ray threw into the end zone with pinpoint precision from 30 yards out, while Owens extended his reach perfectly to collect the pass just inside the zone.
“He’s certainly a guy that Ricky’s looking for when he gets in a pinch,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “He trusts he’s going to get open. He trusts he’s going to make big plays.
“Chad just needs to keep doing what he’s doing — play fast and hard — and those things will continue.”
As the Scullers prepare to clash with rival Hamilton on Monday in what what’s clearly the biggest game of the year so far for both teams, Toronto will look for big contributions from Ray and Owens, as has come to be expected.
Both players are comfortable with the pressure put on their shoulders and feel they’ve reached a point working together where they’ve established a positive symmetry and are ready to take it to a new level.
“With Chad, I feel pretty confident,” Ray said. “We don’t throw everything perfect or see everything the same way, but for the most part it’s been pretty good.”
Owens thinks his on-field relationship with Ray can only get better.
“Training camp was our first go-to together. We were all just getting used to learning the offence and it was about getting the timing right. It takes a few games,” said Owens, who takes three receiving TDs and 1,222 combined yards into Monday. “But it has grown tremendously. It just takes going through things to build that chemistry,” he added. “We’re still building. It’s going to be an ongoing thing all the way to the Grey Cup.”
RAP IT UP
Scott Milanovich swears he didn’t pick the music.
“It was not me, I can tell you that,” the Argos head coach said following Saturday’s practice. “I’m not sure who picked the music — we’re going to have to reevaluate that.”
Milanovich was joking, of course, but the loud rap music being pumped through speakers on the practice field in Mississauga — the first time the coach has deployed the exercise with Toronto — had its purpose.
“It gets loud there from time to time,” Milanovich said of Ivor Wynne Stadium, where a sellout crowd is expected to take in Monday’s Labour Day Classic. “I don’t expect that we’ll have to use the silent count, but it’s a good exercise and good for the guys to have to focus on (quarterback Ricky Ray’s) cadence and just kind of lock into the snap count.”
Meanwhile, if the coach is planning to insert receivers Maurice Mann or Ken-Yon Rambo into the lineup on Monday, he wasn’t saying after practice.
“We’re still evaluating. We’ll make a decision in the next two or three days,” the coach said.
Mann did not play last week against the Eskimos and Rambo was signed recently following an injury.
The team must disclose its 46-man roster on Sunday.
RENT GOING UP
Andre Durie says the rent is definitely going up if and when Justin Medlock returns to live under his roof in Burlington.
“Gotta charge him that NFL tax,” Durie joked following practice on Saturday.
Medlock, a one-time Argos kicker who most recently starred with the Tiger-Cats, learned earlier this week that he has locked up the kicker’s role with the Carolina Panthers of the NFL following the release of veteran Olindo Mare.
Medlock stayed at Durie’s home in Burlington last season and the two have become close friends.
“I’m so proud of him. I know the work ethic he has and he has been wanting this for so long,” said Durie, a veteran Argos running back.
“It definitely shows you that it’s possible to reach that next level if that’s your goal.”
JOHNSON HAS SEEN IT ALL
Jeff Johnson has seen it all. Fights in the stands. Beer bottles flying. He even remembers seeing cops being thrown down the stairs at Ivor Wynne Stadium a few years ago.
“There was a stoppage in play because of a ruckus up in the stands. I looked up and saw that,” said the Toronto Argonauts running back, who started his CFL career in Hamilton and hasn’t missed a Labour Day Classic in his 13 seasons in the league.
“There’s a common theme at any Labour Day Classic. It’s an angry game,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of energy and passion in the air, the fans are crazy and beside themselves and it bleeds onto the field.”
Players have been kicked out of previous year’s games and Johnson said he wouldn’t be completely shocked if it happened again.
“Throughout the season you can review film and occasionally you’ll see an opponent take a play off,” he said. “In games like this, you will not have anybody take a play off. We smack each other in the mouth the entire time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While his involvement in the annual game has probably given Johnson enough stories to pass onto several generations of grandchildren, not every Argos player is as familiar with the game.
“I have not talked to any of the veterans about what to expect, but through all the hype and everything, I know it’s an important game,” rookie Argos receiver Dontrelle Inman said following practice on Saturday.
Having attended the University of Virginia, Inman understands the value of a rivalry game, however. His Cavaliers have a long-running college rivalry with the Virginia Tech Hokies that reignites each season.
“The towns closed. It gets real dramatic,” Inman said.