Ultra-athletic defensive lineman Shane Ray has come to respect the talent level in the CFL since strapping up with the Toronto Argonauts.
Ray was added to the Argos’ exclusive 45-man negotiation list in December and signed his contract in February after being out of the NFL for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The 28-year-old viewed the Canadian league as a way back onto the football field.
“The CFL game has been really fun for me, playing in the NFL I didn’t really know what to expect with all the changes. Just figuring everything out and getting in tune with how the game flows. It hasn’t been a super huge transition for me, I’ve come out ready to work everyday,” Ray said.
“These last few years have been tough for me, getting injured in 2017 and having to rebuild myself. And then years of not having the contact I wanted with NFL teams, that weighs on you mentally. It’s given me a new appreciation for the game.”
The six-foot-three, 245-pounder has the skill set to thrive in the CFL if he can learn to play on the bigger field, but he admits not knowing much about the three-down league until a workout for Argos scouts. He views the opportunity in The Six as a chance to rebound and return to the NFL or alternatively start a career in Canada.
“I can’t say that I would just come out here and run through guys, that’s not what’s going on. These guys all get paid and they come into work with their hard hats and they’re ready to go — I appreciate the competition,” Ray said.
“I definitely don’t think that if you’re a player that’s in this position to come out here and play in the CFL, that you should take it as high school football. There are talented players out here and you definitely have to come in every day with the mentality that you’re going to work your craft.”
“I feel like the thought with guys that come over here from the NFL is that they don’t take it serious. I take this very serious, this is not just something I’m doing. This is what I love to do, I’m playing the game of football and I want to win. I want to go out there and I have things that I want to do for my legacy.”
According to coaches, talent evaluators, and teammates, Ray was “nearly unblockable” for the Argos entire training camp at the University of Guelph. His consistent performance has earned him a starting position on the opposite side of future Canadian Football Hall of Famer Charleston Hughes.
“Self scouting report on my ability to get to the quarterback: exceptional. If I can’t do anything else, I can rush the passer. That’s been something I’ve always had a knack for, that’s what I love to do. I look forward to putting it on tape. I can sit here and talk about it, but guys that are on the field they can see what I’m capable of doing,” Ray said.
Hughes has been helping Ray learn the nuances of pass rushing in the Canadian game. The four-time three-down league sack leader and six-time CFL all-star has been a sounding board for the uber-talented Ray. The word “elite” has been used by people around the Argos to describe his abilities as pass rusher.
“We have a D-line group chat and he’s putting his highlights in there. We all have the opportunity to see and we all understand what he’s done in this league,” Ray said.
“My first few days here, he didn’t hesitate to give me information. He was watching some of my tape, and was explaining to me how the steps are a little bit different as far as when you want to do your move here compared to the States, it’s been working for me.”
The first-round, 23rd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has shifted his mentality to focus on winning the Grey Cup. Ray wants to add a CFL championship to his Super Bowl LI ring, which he won as a rookie with the Denver Broncos. Double Blue head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has noticed Ray being open to learning the CFL brand of football.
“A lot of guys that come from the NFL don’t know exactly what they’re getting into in the CFL and they’re coming up here for the wrong reasons. He’s coming up here because he loves football and he wants to play it again,” Dinwiddie said.
“I’ve really liked that approach. Those guys that have that approach coming from the NFL usually make an impact. The guys that think they’re bigger than the CFL, and they come up here and they don’t know what they’re getting into, there’s a rude awakening for them.”
Ray proved throughout camp that he was fully healthy once again. The main issue that caused him to fall out of favour in the NFL was a “complete wrist dislocation” which caused him to snap the main ligament in the joint. He went from thinking it was a six-week surgery to having a 14-week surgery amid the loss of blood flow in his wrist. Ray had to get screws to put everything back and hold it together.
“For an outside linebacker/defensive end, your hands are everything. It took a really long time just to get that strength back in my wrist and my whole arm to be honest. Nobody really knows what you go through,” Ray said.
“Nobody knows how much work I really had to put in to get to this point. My body and my weight back — all the eating, lifting, training, the rough nights, the not knowing if I would get another opportunity. For me, this is everything.”