Ricky Ray is anxious to get started with Marc Trestman.
Trestman named Ray his starting quarterback Tuesday shortly after being introduced as the Toronto Argonauts new head coach. It was a bold endorsement considering Ray has started just 11 games the last two years due to various injuries.
But after losing the starter’s job to newcomer Drew Willy at the end of last season, the 37-year-old Ray says he’s invigorated by the opportunity to play for the offensive-minded Trestman.
“Definitely going into training camp knowing where you stand allows you to focus in a little bit tighter on what your job is,” Ray said during a conference call Thursday. “It’s nice to have the confidence of the coach (right) off the bat and go in there and have the first opportunity to really prove yourself to him and the team.
“You don’t have to deal with uncertainty and not really knowing what your opportunity is going to be or what your role is going to be.”
Predictably, the six-foot-three, 210-pound Ray was non-commital about playing past 2017.
“You’ve got to play it one year at a time,” Ray said. “There’s so much that can happen in professional sports and for me, that’s kind of the approach I’ve always kind of taken.”
Trestman has a well-earned reputation as a quarterback guru. In 2002 as the Oakland Raiders offensive co-ordinator, he helped a 37-year-old Rich Gannon become the NFL’s most valuable player after Gannon compled 67.6 per cent of his passes for 4,689 yards with 26 TDs and 10 interceptions.
Over 17 seasons as an NFL offensive co-ordinator and position coach, Trestman also helped San Francisco’s Steve Young, Arizona’s Jake Plummer and Detroit’s Scott Mitchell succeed. As well, he led the Montreal Alouettes, with veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo in tow, to three Grey Cup appearances (two wins) from 2008 to 2012.
“I’m definitely excited about learning from him, playing in his system and all the things he’s going to bring,” Ray said. “Going from not knowing what was going to happen . . . to now being able to focus in on it has definitely made me excited.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of experience coaching quarterbacks and getting them to play at a high level. It’s definitely a great situation for me to go into.”
Ray, a three-time Grey Cup champion entering his 15th CFL campaign, said he never seriously considered retirement this off-season.
“I knew I was coming back,” he said. “It was just what situation was I going to be coming back into?”
Ray had plenty to ponder with the off-season departures of GM Jim Barker â€” who acquired Ray from Edmonton in December 2011 â€” and head coach Scott Milanovich. Barker was fired Jan. 24 then three days later Milanovich, the only coach Ray had played in Toronto, resigned to become the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks coach.
Former Montreal GM Jim Popp was hired to succeed Barker on Tuesday.
Trestman takes over an Argos team that finished last in the East Division with a 5-13 record. Offensively, Toronto committed a league-high 50 turnovers and was second-last in touchdowns (38), passing yards (260.9 yards per game) and tied for second-last in scoring (21.3 points per game).
After missing 15 games in 2015 following shoulder surgery, Ray led Toronto to a 2-2 record last year before leaving with a knee injury in 30-17 home win over Montreal on July 25. He returned for Toronto’s 16-13 road loss to B.C. on Aug. 31 but suffered a rib injury in a 49-36 Labour Day loss to Hamilton.
That sidelined Ray until a 31-13 road loss to Calgary on Oct. 21, Toronto’s second-last game of the season.
Ray, the most accurate passer in CFL history (67.97 per cent) anticipates a smooth transition with Trestman’s offence. After all, Milanovich was Trestman’s offensive co-ordinator in Montreal before going to Toronto.
“Scott brought the same system over and many of the same philosophies I’m sure he got from Marc,” Ray said. “It’s not like I’m going to be learning a whole new playbook or trying to get adjusted to a totally different philosophy.
“It’s going to be pretty similar so I’m just looking forward to learning from him, getting his take on the system and how he coaches quarterbacks.”
Ray said his surgically repaired right throwing shoulder has felt fine in off-season workouts but the true test will come in training camp.
“I don’t know if it’s ever going to feel as good as it was when I first started playing,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m going to be better off than I was last year.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press