Ricky Ray has plenty of ground to make up with the Toronto Argonauts.
Toronto took the veteran quarterback off the six-game injured list Thursday, allowing him to practise for the first time this year. The 35-year-old Californian spent the first half of the season recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and said it felt “weird” throwing passes again.
“It feels like you’re coming out from a long off-season and trying to get back into the rhythm of things,” Ray said. “The only bad thing is everybody else has already done that.
“I’ve been watching for a long time but it definitely feels weird, it feels like I haven’t done it in a while. I feel I’ve got the point where I can make most of the throws . . . it’s just about getting out there and throwing to some receivers and trying to get used to being out there again.”
The six-foot-three, 210-pound Ray has enjoyed a successful tenure in Toronto since being acquired from Edmonton after the 2011 season. Ray led the Argos to victory in the 100th Grey Cup in 2012 and has been the East Division’s outstanding player the last two years.
But Toronto (6-3) hasn’t skipped a beat with backup Trevor Harris. The Argos are tied atop the East Division with arch-rival Hamilton heading into a crucial home-and-home series with the Tiger-Cats starting Monday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field.
“I’m excited to have Ricky back,” Harris said. “He’s a Hall of Fame player, he’s a Hall of Fame teammate and he’s always there as a good sounding board for me, so we welcome Ricky back with open arms.”
Harris, like Ray in the final year of his CFL contract, leads the league in touchdowns (19), completion percentage (74.4) and efficiency rating (112.7) and is fourth in passing yards (2,453). Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said while Ray will likely dress Monday, Harris remains the starter.
“He (Ray) is going to be active more than likely but he’ll be the third teamer,” Milanovich said. “It’s still Trevor’s team.
“(Ray) has to prove to me and us he’s fit and able to help us but we’re not in a hurry with him.”
Veteran slotback Chad Owens, who has missed four games with an ankle injury, also practised Thursday. Milanovich said Owens could play Monday if he has no setbacks physically.
Ray underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in December and admitted he wasn’t expecting such a long recovery process. The three-time Grey Cup champion, in his 13th CFL season, admitted he experienced anger and frustration with the slow progression of his shoulder and was worried about whether he’d be able to come back.
“Probably all of those (emotions),” Ray said. “Some days you come out and it feels pretty good and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s about ready to turn the corner,’ then you come out another day and it’s maybe not as good as the day before and it plays with your mind quite a bit throughout the process.
“It wasn’t really a day-to-day thing, it was more a week to a couple of weeks thing. I could sit there and think back and be like, ‘You know it does feel better than it did a couple of weeks ago even though today wasn’t a good day.’ That’s what kept me moving forward.”
Toronto completes its home-and-home series with Hamilton at Rogers Centre on Sept. 11. Then it will have a bye week before travelling to Ottawa on Sept. 26.
“Physically, I have to get used to throwing to receivers with a rush coming . . . another thing is the speed of the game,” Ray said. “We’ve got many new guys on this team and I haven’t had any time with them to develop that relationship and respect for each other and that’s where you kind of feel a little bit out of it.”
But finding playing time for Ray will present a challenge for Milanovich because he also doesn’t want to damage Harris’s confidence or disrupt the chemistry of a winning team.
“I understand the situation,” Ray said. “I’m just trying to get myself healthy where if for some reason my number is called to be ready to go and I don’t have any expectations of anything other than that.
“It’s hard to come in halfway through the year and not have played at all, not even having had a training camp and expect much other than do the best you can and be there for any role that you have to play.”