Ricky Ray needs more than Trestman for Argos to be successful

Marc Trestman was introduced as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts on Tuesday and the 2009 CFL Coach of the Year wasted no time announcing Ricky Ray as his starting quarterback.

The move came as a surprise considering the contract extension Toronto negotiated with fellow pivot Drew Willy in early January. The deal may have been signed by the Argos’ old brain trust of Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich, but the $70,000 signing bonus included in the deal makes it impractical for Toronto to move the quarterback before 2018. For many coaches, this would mean allowing Willy to compete for the starting job.

Not Trestman.

“There will be no competition,” said Trestman at his introductory press conference. “Ricky Ray is going to be our quarterback until he shows us he can’t be.”

In a way, Trestman’s swift decision to declare Ray, 37, as his starter makes sense. Trestman was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders when starting quarterback Rich Gannon won the league’s MVP award at 37.

Anthony Calvillo was also in the advanced stages of his career when Trestman joined the Alouettes in 2008. He posted the best single-season passer rating of his career (108.4) in 2009. His age? 37.

Unfortunately for Trestman and the Argos, age and durability are two different things.

Calvillo did not miss a single game due to injury in ten years with the Alouettes prior to Trestman’s arrival. The only five games he missed during that time — the final five games of the 2007 regular season — were due to him temporarily stepping away from the game in support of his ill wife.

Ray, meanwhile, has appeared in just 53 of a possible 90 games since his trade to Toronto in 2012. Worse yet, this number is trending down: Ray has dressed for just twelve games over the past two years.

Games Completions Attempts Passing Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Anthony Calvillo (2005-2007) 49 1,147 1,760 13,876 68 42
Ricky Ray (2014-2016) 29 694 983 7,415 45 22

The numbers above summarize the careers of Calvillo and Ray over the three seasons preceding Marc Trestman’s arrival with their respective clubs. The rate of production is similar. The number of games played is not.

Toronto’s offensive line fails to inspire confidence in Ray’s quest to stay healthy.

Trestman’s offensive line in Montreal was dominant, featuring future hall of famers Brian Chiu (centre) and Scott Flory (right guard), and Leo Dandurand Trophy winners Jeff Perrett (right tackle) and Josh Bourke (left tackle). The Alouettes allowed just 22 sacks in 2008, by far the fewest in the CFL.

The Argonauts allowed 47 sacks a season ago and have since lost the versatile Greg Van Roten to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The interior of Toronto’s offensive line is solid with two-time East Division all-star Tyler Holmes at left guard, phenom Sean McEwen at centre, and former Ticat Peter Dyakowski at right guard (presumably). The tackle spots, however, remain a concern.

Veteran right tackle Chris Van Zeyl signed a huge contract extension in January, but, at 33, there are questions about his future productivity. The left tackle spot, meanwhile, is currently vacant. Securing a quality protector for Ray’s blindside will be one of Jim Popp’s first priorities in the coming days.

Ironically, Perrett and Bourke, Popp’s offensive tackles from Trestman’s stint in Montreal, are both currently free agents. Despite Bourke’s poor season with the Argos in 2016 (he was cut in January after signing a big money free agent deal the previous February), it’s not impossible to imagine a reunion in Argoland.

As much as Toronto needs help along the offensive line, however, their league-worst receiving corps is the bigger concern.

Anthony Calvillo had three well-established weapons when Trestman joined the Alouettes in Jamel Richardson, Ben Cahoon, and Kerry Watkins. The three receivers combined for 3,691 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2008, by far the most productive trio in the league that season (for perspective, Ottawa’s ‘big four’ of Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson, and Brad Sinopoli combined for just 22 scores in 2015 and 28 in 2016). As an added bonus, the Alouettes also had a 23-year-old S.J. Green on their roster when Trestman arrived. He would soon become one of the CFL’s brightest stars.

Toronto’s current receiving corps, meanwhile, is an unmitigated disaster.

Canadians Llevi Noel and Brian Jones may be ready to contribute more in their sophomore seasons, allowing the team to start two Canadian receivers (fourth-year man Anthony Coombs should also be in the mix at slotback). Toronto would then need to fill out its starting line-up with three Americans.

Free agent signees Jeff Fuller and Khalil Paden are likely candidates to start the season, but neither player is a home run. Fuller has struggled to stay healthy since joining the league in 2013, while Paden was released by Ottawa this past October, re-signing with the Redblacks only after Chris Williams tore his ACL.

The Argos’ eight other American receivers have combined to record a measly 27 career CFL receptions for just 327 yards.

Devon Wylie, the petite speedster out of Fresno State, caught 14 passes last season for 166 yards and a touchdown. Ohio State product DeVier Posey posted the other 13 receptions.

After Wylie and Posey, Toronto’s receiving corps is a mystery.

Joseph Morgan has some NFL pedigree, starting eight games for the Saints from 2012-2015. He recorded 471 receiving yards and three touchdowns over that time, utilizing his impressive speed to score two TDs of over 65 yards. Florida product Andre Debose has sub-4.40 speed, though he’s just two seasons removed from an Achilles tear. Jameon Lewis lacks size (5’8, 188), but was a huge playmaker at Mississippi State, scoring touchdowns as a receiver, rusher, passer, and kick returner. And Chandler Worthy, though just 5’9, 176, has an impressive 39.5-inch vertical jump.

Jim Popp had success uncovering receivers in Montreal for two decades and should be able to restock Toronto’s pass catching arsenal over the coming seasons. The question is whether or not he can do it quickly enough to give his quarterback the tools to be successful.

Ricky Ray is a great quarterback — that much is certain. The future hall of famer has won three Grey Cups as a starter and has twice been named the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player.

Ray, however, is not Anthony Calvillo. Ray’s history of injury is long and the talent around him is substandard. Plenty of comparisons will be made between Trestman’s success with Calvillo and his future with Ray. These comparisons are easy to make and enticing for a beleaguered fan base that is re-upping season tickets at a glacial pace. Between Ray’s health and Toronto’s lacklustre roster, however, they may also prove ill-advised.

John Hodge

John Hodge

John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.
John Hodge
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John Hodge
About John Hodge (295 Articles)
John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.

9 Comments on Ricky Ray needs more than Trestman for Argos to be successful

  1. Ray has been a durable player for most of his career. Some of his recent issues (not unlike those experienced by Darian Durant) were ‘fluke’ injuries that could occur to anyone. Ray, to the minds of some, is just as capable as Calvillo. I expect big things this season.

  2. Move VZ inside and sign Bourke and Perrett.

  3. Marc Lebut // March 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm //

    Quite agree with John actually. All wil depend on who Popp will bring to fill the holes, but there are lots of holes to fill in Toronto. Bringing Perrett and Bourke could help as they know Trestman’s protection schèmes. Fact is they both lots a few steps and might not be able to play like the did a few years ago.

    Fluke injuries or not, they had their hit on Ray. What John doesn’t write, it’s all the previous injuries Ray had in Edmonton. Ray is far from being as healthy at 37 than Calvillo was. And yes, Ray won’t have the same quality weapons. And moreover, he won’t have a solid D to bring the O back on the field quickly, as the Alouettes had when Trestman came in.

    Another point is that Trestman’s system was unknown in 2008. It took a few seasons for the opposing DCs to figure it out. But they did so and Trestman’s last 2 seasons in CFL weren’t as glorious as the first 3. Milanovitch brought this system in Toronto and ran it until now. So Trestman’s system is now more than ever one that could be defended.

    I feel Ray won’t last the full season and the Argos will have to move from him from that point. In my mind, he’s gone by September. So this brings the question: will Popp be able to bring a franchise QB, which he failed in 3 seasons in Montréal?

    Well, there’s one Young QB that would be a perfect fit in Trestman’s O, and the kid is Rakeem Cato. He’s a very accurate passer who can make all the throws on a football field. This is what Trestman needs first. The only thing he would have to teach him is decision making. Quick reads, quick release. This is Trestman’s modus operandi. Not sure he’ll ever have that from Willy. He could have it eventually from Cato.

    Seems like Corey Chamblin will be DC. Expect D problems with the Argos, until they can hire someone who can do the job.

    • GoCats! // March 2, 2017 at 2:12 pm //

      Good points … I expect Popp and Trestman will be fine in the long term. I am not so convinced it would be a quick turnaround.

      I am surprised that Chamblin would be brought in a DC when Stubler, as far as I know, hasn’t gone anywhere. Though I might be biased by his so-so defense for this one year as DC in Hamilton.

  4. Jim popp should make big trade with the cats for manziel’s rights and bring another washed up nfler down here to try and play only to realize that he can’t!

  5. Chamblin as DC? where did that come from.Rich Stubler is by far the best dc in the league. Think they need more help elsewhere.

  6. “Ray is not Calvillo.” True. But Ray has done several things better that AC, especially in the first ten years of their careers. AC was able to stay healthy for so long, mostly because of his quick decisions and release. He avoided big hits for the most part. Likelt Trestman will employ a similar system with an aged Ray at the helm. Argos don’t have high profile receivers but I like the potential of some of the younger players. Wylie showed promise. He is quick like a young Dressler. Getting him the ball in space with the quick passing game should be difficult to defend. Argos also have some burners that should be able to stretch field both laterally and vertically. And Ray throws the deep corner route as good as anyone. When healthy, Fuller was a very solid receiver for the Stamps. Lastly, it would seem Ray is an ideal fit for Trestman. I disagree with a post that Cato would flourish . I just don’t see him having the skill set required to run a Trestman system. I think Cato can one day, be a starting QB in the CFL but he would not excel in a system that is all about quick reads and quick release. Cato’s strength is his ability to extend the play and use his legs . As for Drew Willie- please . He looked like a shadow of his former self last season. Zero confidence and did not appear to be able to lead an offense. He got overpaid by a desperate Argo GM. Perhaps he can learn from Trestman and Ray for another season and who knows- maybe he will turn his career around. When Calvillo played for the Las Vegas Posse and TigerCats , nobody- and I mean nobody would have predicted that one day he would be considered an all time CFL great.

    • GoCats! // March 3, 2017 at 8:57 am //

      While they probably had no idea of what AC would go on to do, I can recall being at a Cats – Lions game in BC place.

      When the Cat starting QB was replaced by AC (maybe Taylor or Dunigan?), I could overhear the two Lions fans behind me liking what they saw from AC, wondering why their team didn’t have a backup like him and musing about a trade that would bring AC to the Lions.

      I have no way of knowing but I expect they were disappointed when the Cats didn’t sign him and Montreal did.

      So some saw potential in AC.

  7. Receivers and tailbacks are the easiest positions to find/scout for on a football team. They have plenty of time to find receivers. You would think an “expert” like John Hodge would know this

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