November 7, 2012
New, improved Ricky Ray in the pocket for the Argonauts
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - It was after the game in Toronto when Ricky Ray admitted it in a conversation with longtime Edmonton Eskimos equipment man Dwayne Mandrusiak.
“When we all watched him here back in the first game of the year, he looked uncomfortable. And after the game in Toronto he told me it still felt weird for him, that it was still uncomfortable for him,” said Mandrusiak, the only guy in the locker room left from when Ray fell off a potato chip truck and ended up an Edmonton Eskimo 10 years ago.
There were others who believed they watched a Ricky Ray who was dreading the experience of playing the Eskimos on both nights, much like Wayne Gretzky hated playing the Oilers and like Mark Messier and the other Hall of Fame Oilers dreaded playing against No. 99 after Peter Pockington sold him to Los Angeles.
But try find one who figures it’s going to be that way again now that the Eskimos are going to play Ray in a sudden-death playoff game.
“I think he’ll be different now,” said Mandrusiak.
Ray was 29 for 39 for 298 yards but only one touchdown in the 19-15 loss to the Eskimos in the much-anticipated season opener back on June 30. He followed with a less-than-stellar 26 for 38, for 251 yards in another one-TD night and tossed two interceptions in a 26-17 loss back in Toronto on August 27.
Ray and the Argos were the only team the Eskimos didn’t manage to lose a game against all season.
Whatever Ray was experiencing and how it played out for him going against the team he won two Grey Cups with, producing 40,529 passing yards before Eric Tillman traded him away for next to nothing, he has certainly proved he wasn’t on the downside of his career as the now-fired Eskimos GM suggested.
Despite missing four games due to injury, Ray produced 4,059 yards of passing, which projects to a 5,000-yard season.
And if it’s the same Ricky Ray who came back from injury for two games before being rested for the final week of the regular season, there’s no comparison to the Ricky Ray who struggled against his old team earlier in the season.
In his last two games, Ray threw eight — repeat eight — touchdown passes against just one interception, and had a 138.8 quarterback efficiency rating.
“In the last couple days of watching film, Ricky has improved,” said coach Kavis Reed.
“And, man, that’s hard to say. That Ricky Ray has improved. But Ricky’s game continues to get better.
“When that happens, given the level he’s already been at, it’s going to be a very challenging task for us to be able to contain him.
“His accuracy has increased. His timing is tremendous. His reads are tremendous. He’s moving in the pocket exceptionally well. He’s comfortable with his receiving corps. And they have their run game going. A lot of time is going to be invested in trying to figure out how to contain Ricky.”
Off the way the Edmonton held Ray at bay in the two regular season games, some might be inclined to think the Eskimos know their old quarterback so well, they know what to do.
Maybe. But if that’s the case I haven’t found an Eskimo to say it on or off the record.
And certainly not the guy who the Eskimos are hoping, sooner than later, turns into the next Ricky Ray.
“Ricky is the epitome of a pro,” said Matt Nichols.
“It was an honour to learn from him last year and I did learn a lot from him.”
Nichols hopes he’ll get the chance to play against Ray in this special playoff situation, because it would be special for him — not because of the trade but because of what, from his point of view, is a way better story.
“It’s a pretty cool deal that both of us are from the same hometown. There are not a lot of guys in pro sports from Redding, Calif.”