There was an air of almost giddy optimism surrounding a just-ended Argos practice, this week. Odd, you'd think, for a team that was in one of those troughs that are inevitably experienced at some point over a long season.
Maybe it was the devil may care attitude of once-again Argonaut Adriano Belli.
Perhaps it was the unseasonably warm temperatures. Most likely, though, it was the sight of quarterback Ricky Ray dropping, setting and zipping the ball to receivers with, apparently, pain free authority, and running back Chad Kackert taking hand offs hard in the gut with no lingering rib pain.
Perhaps it's all of the above. Whatever the impetus, practice was charged with more energy, enthusiasm and happiness than you would expect from a team that had lost three of its last four games, and probably said 'so long' to any chance at first place.
“Yeah, everyone’s excited," said receiver Chad Owens, the man most likely to reap the benefits of having Ray back behind centre. "Any time you get your starting quarterback back in the line up it adds something to the fire."
With a clean bill of health from the doctors and a playoff spot not yet clinched, Ray will once again step into the breach Friday night against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the dome. That's good news for the team as a whole, but as the numbers indicate, that is especially good news for Owens, as it marks a return to the pass and catch combo that had really been heating up prior to Ray being injured in Montreal back on September 23rd.
Owens entered that game as the CFL's second-leading receiver, with 938 yards. Four games later, he's still among the leaders, but has been almost completely stalled in the receptions and yardage departments, heading into Friday night's game with 1,077 yards. Since Ray was sidelined, Owens' numbers have dried up, as he and back up quarterback Jarious Jackson have connected on just 14 passes for a measly 139 yards in nearly four full games.
Chad Owens caught just 14 passes for 139 yards in almost four full games while Ricky Ray was out of the lineup. Friday against the Bombers, the Argos' go-to threat looks to pick up where he and Ray left off.
“It wasn’t a whole lot of what Jarious did or didn’t do," explained Owens, never once hinting at any frustration in the play of Ray's understudy. "I think it was us as a whole.”
Curiously, the Jackson to Owens combination actually enjoyed a great deal of success in Montreal, after Jackson came in cold late in the first quarter, Ray hobbling to the sideline after being injured in a collision with one of his own offensive linemen. 6 completions they had that day, for 87 yards. Not half bad and reason to hope the beat would go on for Owens in his breakout season as a receiver.
Following that jack rabbit start, however, came three games of sub-par statistics, very much in contrast to what Owens and Ray had been accomplishing. 2 catches for 3 yards against Winnipeg. 4 catches for 26 yards against Saskatchewan. 2 receptions for 23 yards, last Sunday, against the Alouettes. Zero touchdowns.
“Not to take anything away from Jarious," said Owens. "I’m not blaming him at all for my past three games where I really haven’t been productive as a receiver. At least, my numbers didn’t show that.”
“It wasn’t just Ricky going down," he continued. "Kackert went out for a couple of weeks. Anytime you get changes, you’re going to go through some adversity. But I think it’s all going to make us that much better.”
Could be. And the point of this column is not to deride Jarious Jackson, or Gerald Riggs Jr. Rather, to point out the fragile chemistry that goes into allowing a receiver to either dominate or become a non-factor. Owens'bdipping productivity in the last three weeks is owing to a number of things. No doubt, however, that the absence of Ray has been most telling.
“Hopefully, with Ricky in, we can start right back up where we left off,” said Owens.
Right back where they left of would be a very good thing for the Argos offence. In the three games previous to Ray's injury (back to back wins over Hamilton and a loss to the B.C. Lions), Owens' numbers were large. 25 receptions, 350 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Ray to Owens combo showed signs of hitting a new level and The Flyin' Hawaiian was feeling it.
Don is a very familiar voice to Toronto radio listeners. His razor-sharp wit, easy on-air manner and superb interview skills made him a morning radio staple for more than 10 years, at the helm of the FAN 590′s breakfast show. Follow Don on Twitter @ArgosLandry
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|