Ricky Ray isn’t concerned about heading into the 2018 CFL season without the benefit of any pre-season reps.
Ray didn’t play in either of Toronto’s two exhibition games as Argonauts head coach Marc Trestman gave youngsters McLeod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin the starts. But the 38-year-old Ray says he’ll be more than ready Friday night when the Argos open the season in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“The way we have practice here it’s like a game for us every day,” Ray said. “We’re doing (starting offence) versus (starting defence) at full speed … so the speed of the game is there.
“Obviously I’m not getting hit in practice. That’s going to be the biggest adjustment going into a game. It’s just getting hit a few times and then reacting to that.”
Protecting Ray will be vitally important for the defending Grey Cup champions. After enduring two injury-plagued campaigns, Ray made 17 regular-season starts last year before leading Toronto to a 27-24 upset Grey Cup win over Calgary, a league-record fourth as a starter and second with the Argos.
Ray took time in the off-season to ponder his future, eventually deciding to return for a 16th CFL season.
Ray enjoyed a resurgence under Trestman, finishing second to CFL most outstanding player Mike Reilly of Edmonton in passing with 5,546 yards to go with 28 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. After being limited to just 12 games over the previous two seasons, Ray led Toronto (9-9) to first place in the East Division after finishing last in 2016 with a 5-13 mark.
The day Trestman was hired last year, he named Ray his starter. Ray responded by leading Toronto back to the CFL playoffs and being named the East Division’s outstanding player for a third time.
Still, in December the Argos acquired Franklin from Edmonton and signed the 26-year-old to a two-year deal. However Trestman said he’s not yet decided whether Franklin or Bethel-Thompson will back up Ray.
“I don’t see the separation right now we’d be looking for,” he said. “We’ll go at it a little bit this week.”
Ray has played in 233 career CFL games. He enters 2018 as the league’s fourth-leading career passer (60,429 yards) behind Anthony Calvillo (79,816), Damon Allen (72,381) and Henry Burris (63,227).
Veteran S.J. Green (104 catches, 1,462 yards, 10 TDs) anchors Toronto’s receiving corps while running back James Wilder Jr. (872 yards rushing, 51 catches for 533 yards) returns after being named the league’s top rookie last season.
Although Ray didn’t play in either exhibition game, he still stayed sharp mentally on the sidelines.
“It’s a good perspective on the sidelines just kind of getting to look at the defence and see how they’re adjusting to things,” he said.
Ray will have two new offensive coaches in 2018. Former receivers coach Tommy Condell replaces Marcus Brady (Baltimore Ravens) as offensive co-ordinator while Hall of Famer Calvillo begins his first season as Toronto’s quarterbacks coach.
Toronto also will have a new defensive co-ordinator, promoting former linebackers coach Mike Archer to the post after Corey Chamblin decided not to return. Greg Quick replaces Archer as linebackers coach.
Ronnie Pfeffer, of Kitchener, Ont., assumes the full-time kicking chores after beating out former Argo Swayze Waters during training camp.
Breakdown of the 2018 Toronto Argonauts
Marc Trestman, entering second season
2017: Finished first in East with 9-9 record; beat Saskatchewan 25-21 in East final before upsetting Calgary 27-24 in Grey Cup game.
The acquisition of QB James Franklin was Toronto’s biggest off-season move, but not its only one. The Argos bolstered their secondary Sunday by acquiring veteran defensive back Abdul Kanneh from Hamilton after adding T.J. Heath and Ronnie Yell in the off-season. Heath returns to the team that traded him to Winnipeg less than two years ago. Other notable newcomers include linebacker Taylor Reed and defensive lineman Frank Beltre.
He was the Grey Cup MVP but receiver DeVier Posey was released this off-season to join the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. Defensive lineman Victor Butler has reportedly filed his retirement papers after Toronto wouldn’t release him so he could pursue NFL opportunities. Other notable departures include short-yardage quarterback Cody Fajardo, defensive linemen Daryl Waud and Alan-Michael Cash and offensive lineman Corey Watman.
Players to watch
QB Ricky Ray returns for a 16th CFL season, coming off a resurgent ’17 under Trestman. Running back James Wilder Jr., the CFL’s top rookie last year, is looking to become the first player in CFL history to register 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in the same season. Linebacker Marcus Ball will again be the leader of Toronto’s defence that will be without veteran Bear Woods (back) to open the ’18 campaign.