It’s been a very different off-season for Ricky Ray.
The Toronto Argonauts’ veteran quarterback said he’s been throwing pain-free this off-season for the first time in two years. He had shoulder surgery following the 2014 campaign that forced him to miss Toronto’s first 15 regular-season games last year.
Ray did return as Toronto’s starter _ including its 25-22 East Division semifinal loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats _ but readily admitted his arm strength wasn’t where it was prior to the injury. These days, the 36-year-old Californian said he’s feeling like his old self.
“This off-season has been a real positive one for me compared to the last couple that I’ve gone through,” he said Wednesday during a conference call. “I’m not feeling any pain in my shoulder . . . I’m still in my off-season training right now but I feel like I’m as close to where I’ve been in the past before this injury.
“Obviously when I step out there in training camp I want to feel like I can make every throw and there’s nothing this off-season that says I can’t do that right now.”
That’s good news for the Argos as backup Trevor Harris _ who led the squad to a 9-7 record with Ray sidelined _ signed in the off-season as a free agent with Ottawa. After developing youngsters Harris and Zach Collaros (now in Hamilton), Toronto has just three quarterbacks on its roster: Ray, Logan Kilgore and veteran Adrian McPherson.
“They (GM Jim Barker, head coach Scott Milanovich) do a good job of scouting . . . of bringing in talented guys and teaching them how to run this offence,” said Ray. “This offence is very quarterback-friendly, they give you a lot of information and tell you exactly what you need to do.
“As long as you can come in and learn and be coachable, you’re going to get back there and have success.”
Ray was expecting to compete with Harris for the starting job after signing a two-year, incentive-laden extension with Toronto last December. Ray said Harris’s absence won’t change his mindset.
“He (Harris) had been in Toronto with me from the beginning so he knew the offence really well and we talked a lot about football and were roommates on the road,” Ray said. “Just not having his support, I’ll miss that.
“We’re going to have some guys coming into camp that have experience in this offence so I’m looking forward to working with them a little bit closer. My mindset going into the season won’t be different.”
Ray, entering his fifth season in Toronto, is currently working with Tom House, a former major-league pitcher who now tutors NFL quarterbacks. For the first time in his football career, Ray said he’s being coached up on the finer points of passing.
“Really, his big thing is performance rehab,” Ray said. “A lot of shoulder exercises, building up all the little muscles in your shoulders, all the throwing muscles, going for a proper warmup to get ready to throw.
“Before it was just kind of pick up a ball and throw to get warmed up where here we do a lot of exercises before we even touch a ball. I’ve never had fundamental coaching in my career so it’s nice to go through all this and have something to focus on and work on to improve.”
Ray will have to adjust to not having one of his favourite receivers after veteran slotback Chad Owens signed as a free agent with Hamilton.
“Chad was probably one of my top guys, we had such a good feel for each other right from the get-go,” Ray said. “But throughout my career I’ve had to get used to new guys and develop different relationships with different guys.
“We had a young receiving corps last year so I’m definitely going to have to find that with one of these guys and hopefully that will happen fast like it did with Chad.”
Ray, a three-time league all-star and Grey Cup champion, won’t have to wait long to see his former teammate. Toronto kicks off its tenure at a refurbished BMO Field on June 23 hosting Hamilton.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere . . . it’s going to be pretty awesome,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being in an outdoor stadium, a smaller stadium, a packed house.
“As players we’re excited, I’d think the fans are excited about the venue. It’s just a great time to be a Toronto Argonaut.”