Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray is entering his 12th year in the CFL and his third with the Argos. He's coming off a season where he was injured twice, missing eight games, but still put up some eye-popping numbers. Ray passed for just under 2,900 yards, completing 77 per cent of his passes. He threw 21 touchdowns against just two interceptions, finishing with a mind-numbing QB rating of 126.4.
Ray sat down on Saturday for a chat with Mike Hogan, the play-by-play voice of the Argos on TSN 1050.
MH: What's different about camp this year?
RR: The same basic philosophies are still there that coach (Scott Milanovich) carries on about how we practice, our tempo and what he expects from us, but there is a new feeling. We have a new defensive staff, a lot of new guys on defence. Offensively, we're returning a lot of guys and coaches so it feels pretty similar.
MH: On your side of the football, it's good that you have the continuity that you do (Chad Kackert, Dontrelle Inman and Joe Eppele are the only 2013 starters not back this year). Can you put into words how important that is at this stage?
RR: It just makes things so much easier. Thinking back to the first year here, there was so much to learn, trying to get used to a new system and trying to get used to all the guys around you. Last year and this year, we've all played together and have a lot of game experience together and we're still running the same stuff out there, so you're not trying to get used to everything and you can go out there and try and improve on things from the previous year.
MH: What's your relationship like with Coach Milanovich in the off-season? Do you keep in contact continually trying to tweak things, or do you go home to Northern California and just ignore football for a couple of months?
RR: I pretty much go home and get away from football. He'll call me every now and then and tell me what's going on, say if they have any new ideas and really just see how the off-season is going, but it's only a couple of times a year. Other than that, I try to get back and relax and just get refreshed for the new year.
MH: Your first two seasons in Toronto saw very different results. The first year couldn't have gone any better, winning the 100th Grey Cup. Last year, everything was going fine when you were on the field, but you had to deal with a couple of injuries. When you look back at last season, just how frustrating was it?
RR: It was, just missing so much time and having to watch and rehab and do all that. It was fun to watch the guys play, to go out west and have that four-game winning streak, but not so much fun because you're sitting there watching and can't be out there playing. It was a weird year. We wrapped up first place and were just waiting around to see who we were going to play and had such high expectations and just weren't able to get it done in the playoffs.
MH: After the Argos were beaten badly in the 2010 Eastern Final by Montreal, some of them took it very hard, thought about it a lot in the off-season and used it as motivation. Did you think about losing last year's Eastern Final often?
RR: You think about it a lot, especially when you feel like you had a great opportunity to win the game. Sometimes when you get beaten pretty badly, it's easier to swallow those than the ones that are close games where you had an opportunity to keep moving on. It's funny because we're getting ready to play Hamilton in our next game (Thursday at Varsity Stadium), putting that film back on and then watching it (laughs) brings back a lot of not-so-good memories. So ya, that keeps you motivated. When you think about it, you try and work harder and you think about the next time you do get an opportunity like that to try and seize it.
MH: There are still four running backs competing for the starting job. (Steve Slaton and Jeremiah Johnson are the new imports, up against returnee RB Curtis Steele. Also in the mix is University of Manitoba rookie Anthony Coombs) All of them seem to add something different to the mix. How would you assess the group?
RR: It's been pretty fun watching them in camp. Curtis has a pretty good feel for what we're trying to do out there. He gives a ton of effort on every play. The new guys are both very gifted athletes. That's the position that we expect the most out of, with pass protection, running and catching out of the backfield and we've got three guys that can do it very well. Then you put Coombs in there and watching him, especially in one-on-one drills, he runs routes almost like a receiver, so he's going to be a good weapon for us.
MH: Grey Cup or bust?
RR: That's what it is every year (smiles). That's the expectation that (General Manager) Jim Barker and Coach Milanovich have put on us. They've built a great foundation here and we feel like we should be able to go out and win every year and have a chance to get to the Grey Cup.