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.