Argos look for spark from Ray

The Argos are hoping the return of quarterback Ricky Ray on Friday will spark the struggling team...

The Argos are hoping the return of quarterback Ricky Ray on Friday will spark the struggling team to a win against Winnipeg. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:32 AM ET

Timing, especially when one has spent an inordinate amount of time on the sidelines and inactive, always becomes an issue when a quarterback such as Ricky Ray drops back in the pocket and lets loose of the football.

But the timing of his return couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune moment, a point in time that will either make or break it for the Argos.

And by extension, decide the long-term fate of many, including the future of GM Jim Barker, who has no contract beyond this season.

That’s how high the stakes are in Argoland, how important Ray’s return means to a club that needs a shot in the arm.

If anything has been established in three-down football this season, it’s that anything is virtually possible, even Winnipeg playing host to a playoff game if somehow all the improbabilities and what ifs fall into place.

At 7-8, the Argos simply need to regain a confidence level that has been elusive all season, a year in which no streak has been able to be produced.

At 7-8, the Argos need to close out the regular season by playing a brand of offence that too often has bordered on the offensive.

Piece by piece, the Argos pretty much flawed, but each piece doesn’t look as bad when Ray is in the game, controlling tempo and getting the football to the right guy in the right spot.

Jarious Jackson did all he could conceivable do, but he’s no Ray.

“There’s just a sense of confidence,’’ veteran free safety Jordan Younger said of Ray’s presence. “That’s not to say there was no confidence for Jarious, but his (Ray’s) demeanor is just so poised and he’s so even-keeled, you just feel you always have a chance, no matter the circumstances, because you have a cool-headed guy back there.

“When you see a guy like that it helps you relax and just play.”

Ray, essentially, has had one practice under his belt to prepare for Friday’s game versus the Blue Bombers.

He’ll wear a brace on his left knee, an apparel not unfamiliar for this two-time Grey Cup champion having worn a brace on his right knee in 2005.

On Thursday, Ray spoke for the first time since he strained his knee in the first quarter of a Sept. 23 visit to Montreal.

In a nutshell, Ray knew the moment centre Jeff Keeping bumped into him that time on the shelf was required.

“I felt it right away,’’ said Ray. “It was similar to an injury I had back in college. You just need time to heal and that’s the frustrating part.”

He feels strong and he’s itching to play, but Ray has no clue what kind of timing he’ll have with his receivers, a unit that clearly missed its leader.

“I really don’t know,’’ added Ray. “Hopefully that’ll all come back right away. It’s been a few weeks but I expect to play as well as I can.

“It’s in my mind a little bit, but what can you do. You just go out and play. I’ve played enough games to have a feel for the guys.”

During the team’s one and only full practice on Wednesday, head coach Scott Milanovich noticed how deep Ray would throw the pigskin.

“The furthest I’ve ever seen him throw it,’’ said Milanovich, himself a quarterback during his playing days.

Ray’s return automatically makes Toronto a better team, a team capable of making a late-season push and, when not self-imploding, which is a big if, capable of legitimately competing for a Grey Cup.

The key is Ray, always was and will be, especially now that he’s been medically cleared.

Whatever happens on Friday, rest assured Ray will not have any built-in excuses in the wake of his extended absence, a point Milanovich hammered home during his availability on the eve of kickoff.

“I’m not going to handle him with kid gloves,’’ continued the coach. “He has to go out there and play football. Are we concerned about his health? Absolutely, like we always are.

“It’s football and it’s a physical sport. Once he’s out there, he has to go out there and play. They’re going to try to hit him and that’s the way it goes. We’ve got to let him play football the way he always has.”

 

IT'S A CONFIDENCE THING

While he hasn’t played in four weeks, Ricky Ray has been around the Argos enough to realize the toll losing has had on the team.

When he left the game in Montreal on Sept. 23, the Argos were trailing 10-0.

Toronto would rebound the following week in Winnipeg, but has since dropped two in row, both at home, in games that were pretty much decided well before the final whistle.

“You can see it,’’ said Ray of the team’s sagging confidence. “We haven’t played well the last couple of games and that wears on you a little bit as a team.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get down on yourself, but you have to realize we control what we do out there. We have to keep our attitude great, go out and play hard and make more plays. We’ve been having too many mistakes.”

Scott Milanovich can’t put a finger on it, but Ray’s return could be felt during the week.

“Ricky’s not a vocal guy, he’s a lead by example guy,’’ Milanovich said. “The thing he brings is a championship pedigree and guys know it.

“Receivers know if they get open, he’s going to put it on a dime. The defence knows if he gets a chance to do it, he’s going to put points on the board. It’s more of an unspoken thing and that’s no knock on Jarious (Jackson).”

 


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