It may be a roster move that’s not popular in Edmonton. A whole lot more, though, in Hamilton.
Argos’ general manager Jim Barker knows a major decision like this will not make everybody happy, even among the Argo faithful. However, in the end, it seems the right thing to do.
“Every decision this organization makes is about winning the Grey Cup,” said an unapologetic Barker, when asked about the decision to keep star quarterback Ricky Ray, the CFL’s Player Of The Week, out of the line-up Thursday night against the Hamilton Ticats.
It may very well enhance the Ticats’ fortunes for a victory, keeping them alive in the chase for the final playoff spot in the east. That might, in turn, put a bullet in the Edmonton Eskimos’ chances of claiming the spot.
But, as Barker says, it’s about calculating the right moves for the Argos, not winning friends in green and gold.
Beyond that, the case for resting Ricky Ray as opposed to playing him is strong, based on Ray’s not fully healed knee injury as well as his performances in the last two games. Even some Argo fans might not agree with that, but Barker is sure that the team would be questioned one way or the other.
“I get flak for everything, said Barker. “The same people that’ll give us flak would be the first to yell at us ‘why would you play this guy or that guy?’ if he gets hurt. You’re gonna get flak either way. So as long as you stay true and you do what is in the best interest of this organization to win a Grey Cup, then you can wake up and look in the mirror in the morning.”
If Ray had struggled in his previous two starts, if there seemed to be a comfort zone not yet attained by the veteran quarterback when it comes to running head coach Scott Milanovich’s offence, a stronger case to play him could be made. You’d believe that he needed another opportunity to continue getting in the groove. However, Ray came off a three week absence in ridiculous fashion, albeit in a losing cause, against Winnipeg in Week 17, throwing for 383 yards and 4 touchdowns.
There was no rust to see and Ray followed that performance with another gem in Saturday’s win over Saskatchewan. His quarterback rating for those two games works out to an incredible 141.5. Ricky Ray does not, it seems, have trouble rebounding after a period of inaction.
The decision to sit your starting quarterback is never an easy one but Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich agree that a healthy Ricky Ray – one that can watch a potential first round playoff opponent from the sideline- is better than potentially losing him to injury in a game that doesn’t affect their playoff chances.
“There’s no momentum that needs to be gained here,” offered an insistent Barker. “The thought that we’re going to lose momentum is absolutely ludicrous. He was off for three weeks and came out and threw for four touchdowns and almost 400 yards. Our number one thing is that we need to be able to hit these playoffs with the best possible team we can have.”
That, the GM believes, can be achieved by ensuring Ray is not overtaxed in a quick turnaround so soon after the game in Regina.
“We’re on a short week,” continued Barker. “Playing on five days’ rest. More players get hurt on a short week than anywhere else. Not that I’m worried about him getting hurt, but if he gets kicked in the leg like he did before and he’s out of the Grey Cup (picture), you and every other critic is going to say ‘why was he even in the game? They didn’t need to do that.”
Ray still wears a brace on his left knee to ensure it’s stabilized. When asked if he would physically be able to participate against Hamilton, he said: “I’d be fine to play.”
As for Milanovich, it seems he makes the decision to keep Ray in civvies with little or no second thought, echoing his general manager’s mantra that the longer range goals are the ones that matter most.
“There’s plenty of logic behind it. Short week, he’s not a hundred per cent healthy and I believe it’s my job to get him into the playoff game as healthy as he possibly can be. I think that’s in the best interest of our football team,” Milanovich said.
So, Jarious Jackson gets a chance to be a hero to Eskimo fans (and Argo fans, who’d like nothing more than to see their arch rivals punted from post-season) if he can come up with a game-winning performance. Jackson, that is, along with young prospects Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros.
They’ll all get playing time, according to Milanovich. Ray is philosophical about the whole thing.
“There’s so many different ways coaches like to handle situations like this. Some coaches just choose to rest their guys,” he explained. “So, it’s all on what coach wants to do and he’s decided to rest me and let some other guys play. I try not to think about ‘what if’ and what else we could be doing.”
Ray has performed well against Hamilton this season, with the exception of throwing touchdown passes. In three games against the Ticats, he’s tossed just one TD strike as well as two interceptions, although the Argos have won twice and he’s racked up a very healthy 938 yards at the expense of the Tabbies’ pass defence. Will watching the improving Ticat defence from the sidelines give him a leg up should the two teams meet again on November 11th?
Perhaps. Ray’s return from injury, as mentioned, has been stellar and he, Barker and Milanovich all agree that sideline time might have been a blessing.
“I think there’s something to that,” said Milanovich. “I think he looked at it from a different perspective. Things were starting to click a little bit (Prior to Ray being hurt) maybe not to the degree of these last two weeks but he was moving along.” Ray agrees: “You definitely have a different perspective not being out there,” he explained. “I went through that for three games, just kinda sitting back and watching. I think when you’re playing, you’re so locked in on what you have to do that you don’t notice a lot of things that’s going on and when you’re not playing, you kind of notice everything. I’m gonna be watching from the sidelines trying to see coverages and what they’re trying to do to us defensively,” he said of the Ticats.
“When you’re no longer playing, you see the game more like a coach sees it,” added Barker. “It’s like the lights have turned on in terms of what Scott (Milanovich) wants. (Ricky) and Scott are so on the same page now that what happens is what you’re seeing. He’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence. There’s really nothing to be gained with him playing this week.”
If that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the Eskimos, so be it.
As Barker says: “We put ourselves in a position to make the decisions that are best for us and that’s all that matters.”
THE EXTRA POINT
Ever since big Joel Reinders arrived in Argo camp just over two months ago, many have wondered just when they’d get a look at him in game action. Looks like Thursday night will be that night, with a number of Argo linemen dinged up, particularly guard Marc Parenteau, who’s listed as doubtful for the Ticat game.
“I’m definitely ready,” said the 6’8”, 315 pound Reinders, in anticipation of his first regular season action in a long, long time.
“It’s been three years since I actually played a regular season game, since back in my Waterloo days. My last pre-season game was with the Giants at the end of August.”
Reinders is filled with anticipation, ahead of his first angry football after such a layoff.
The first play’ll be interesting,” he said.
“There’ll be guys that actually want to hit and hurt me rather than guys on the team who are trying to make everybody better,” he said with a smirk.