Argonauts confident in backup QBs

Backup quarterback Trevor Harris has looked comfortable in the pocket at Argonauts training camp....

Backup quarterback Trevor Harris has looked comfortable in the pocket at Argonauts training camp. (DAVE THOMAS/TORONTO SUN)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

In a perfect football world, Ricky Ray takes all the snaps, makes every right read and delivers the ball on time to whomever is open down field or on checkdowns.

Ray is the incumbent QB in Argoland, a three-time Grey Cup champion whose understanding of Scott Milanovich’s offence has Toronto poised for a potentially explosive season.

Ray is a pocket passer, but one who is more than capable of making plays on his feet when flushed or when nothing unfolds in an opposing secondary.

He’s not the most athletic, but as long as the chains get moved and an extra set of downs are created, there’s no reason in trying to initiate contact at the risk of getting hurt.

When Ray was injured last season, it came on a rather benign sequence in Montreal, a game that saw the Argos lose to the Als, a game that saw Ray lost for roughly four weeks when centre Jeff Keeping rolled into the QB.

With Ray locked up with a new contract and looking very much at ease, the Argos have a succession plan that will soon be made much clearer.

Whomever emerges between Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros immediately exposes them to Ottawa, the CFL’s incoming franchise that will hold an expansion draft in the weeks following the upcoming season.

Harris and Collaros are different in their quarterback styles, two players whose career paths had never crossed until last season’s training camp.

Harris auditioned for Milanovich in a private setting, while Collaros, whom the Argos had on their negotiation list, had just been released by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The two worked out together as each began to understand the Milanovich system and its many nuances and reads.

Their passion for the pigskin allowed Harris and Collaros to grow closer as teammates and friends.

Given their familiarity with the Argos offence and how efficiently each played last week in Winnipeg, where they combined to complete 17 of 23 attempts for 210 yards and one touchdown, the battle for Ray’s backup is between Harris and Collaros.

In Mitchell Gale and Josh Portis, the Argos have depth, but neither has taken a single snap in a regular-season game.

More than anything, the Argos have a pleasant problem that will soon require a resolution.

With so much evaluation that plays out in camp, it’s been said that pre-season games don’t have any added meaning.

But when competition is so close, exhibition games can decide a pecking order.

“You have to control what you can control,’’ said Collaros. “We don’t choose who gets what rep.

“It’s out of our hands. It’s not like we’re playing one on one.”

Tuesday marked the unofficial end for camp.

On Wednesday, the Argos are scheduled to conduct their walkthrough at Varsity, which will play host to Thursday’s pre-season finale against the Als.

Collaros isn’t thinking too much about Thursday and the potential consequences.

“It’s the last audition,’’ he conceded.

Both Harris and Collaros have looked at ease in the pocket, providing the Argos a level of comfort in the event Ray is forced to miss a period of time.

Last season, veteran Jarious Jackson, who had just won a Grey Cup ring serving as Travis Lulay’s backup in B.C., was signed as a free agent.

When Ray hurt his knee in Montreal, Jackson filled in, asked to manage an offence rather than win a game.

The sense with this year’s Argos is that both Harris and Collaros can win games if Ray is unavailable.

Granted, the Blue Bombers didn’t do anything exotic with their defensive schemes last week, but there was a presence with Harris and Collaros that can’t be measured, a feeling of confidence that seemed to rub off on their teammates.

“The better you know the offence, the faster you can play,’’ said Collaros. “It’s about reacting and not thinking too much when you’re out there, which is usually when the best results happen.”

Having that one year under their belts clearly has made Harris and Collaros better quarterbacks.

Each attended the team’s mini-camp in Florida, where veteran CFL backup and occasional starter Alex Brink also auditioned for the Argos, who would later decide to release Brink.

“Knowing the terminology, what the words mean, the route concepts, it helps you play faster,’’ added Collaros.

In Winnipeg, Collaros used his athleticism and ability to throw on the run late in the first half when he used his skills to improvise on a sequence that was Doug Flutie-esque.

“I thought I did all right,’’ said Collaros of his evening in the ’Peg. “There are always things you can clean up as a quarterback, there are always plays you want back because you want to be perfect.

“There was ball location on a couple of routes, but I thought I went through my progressions well.”

OFFENCE IN A COMFORT ZONE

Quarterback Zach Collaros has been able to watch the Argonauts’ first-team offence from a unique vantage point.

As someone competing for a backup role, Collaros often takes snaps with players listed down on the depth chart.

When starting quarterback Ricky Ray takes his reps, the players around him are those projected to start the opening season as the incumbents.

“Confident and comfortable are the two words I would use to describe the offence,’’ said Collaros. “Having virtually every guy back gives you that level of comfortability.”

Collaros was basically trying to make an impression last season, biding his time until his chance arrived in Toronto’s season finale against Hamilton.

“Even Ricky last year was learning on the fly,’’ said Collaros of Toronto’s offence and the players who were being integrated in a new system. “It makes them that much better and it’s impressive to watch.

“The older guys are helping the new guys. Offensively, we had a good camp. The first group was exciting to watch.”


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