It’s only the second game of the season, but for Ricky Ray and the Toronto Argonauts it’s an opportunity to establish an identity at home.
Ray and the Argos will play their first game of 2012 at Rogers Centre on Saturday, playing host to the Calgary Stampeders. The good news for Toronto is it has won its past three against the Stampeders, including both contests last year.
Calgary opened the year with an impressive 38-10 home victory over the Montreal Alouettes last weekend but is just 2-3 in its past five games in Toronto. Ray and the Argos are coming off a disappointing 19-15 road loss to Edmonton, which spoiled Ray’s return to Alberta seven months after the Eskimos dealt him to the Argos after nine seasons.
Ray was 29-of-39 passing for 298 yards and a touchdown in his Toronto debut, but has yet to look totally in sync with new head coach Scott Milanovich’s offence. But Ray said it’s important the Argos find their offensive mojo at home.
“That’s kind of what we haven’t been able to establish is that rhythm and consistency we wanted so far,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of good things but we’ve also done a lot of bad things.
“We really haven’t gone out there and just played a really good, solid game to where we can be aggressive and do the things we want to do on a consistent basis. For us, it’s trying to find that consistency.”
And for Milanovich, that means getting off to a good start offensively.
“We certainly would like to start faster, that’s something we work on every single week,” he said. “We have the first 15 plays that we do as a staff and Ricky is included in that, just to try and get him comfortable.
“It didn’t happen last week even though he had a first down on his first play but obviously we’d like to start faster and I think it’s just a process we’re going to have to work through right now.”
Toronto certainly didn’t help itself against Edmonton with 18 penalties for 118 yards. Those mistakes, Milanovich said, overshadowed many of the good things the Argos did against the Eskimos.
“Despite the penalties, the were so many things that were good,” he said. “There are flashes of them being aggressive yet still playing smart.
“We just need a more consistent effort throughout a game that way. The teams that are good find a way to be able to be aggressive, to go after people and still be disciplined in what they’re doing schematically. Absolutely I think it’s an attainable goal.”
Milanovich said while playing well in Toronto is important, the Argos can’t be consumed by making the home opener a must-win affair.
“Certainly we need to win games at home, that’s kind of the history of football everyone talks about that you need to hold serve at home,” Milanovich said. “B.C. [the Grey Cup champion] was a great example of that last year, they started 0-5.
“We’re not going to worry too much about that stuff. We concentrate week to week, we’re locked in on the Stampeders and are going to go out there and give them everything we’ve got.”
While Ray will play just his second game in an Argos uniform, he should be very familiar with the Stampeders after spending nearly a decade with archrival Edmonton. However, Ray said Calgary’s defence, under defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell, is much different than it was last year under present Argos defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones.
“When Chris was there they were a very pressure-oriented defence, a lot of zero coverage and press man-to-man, getting up into your face and challenging you,” Ray said. “With Rick, what we’ve seen on film, he mixes it up pretty well, playing some man and some zone and different types of each one.
“It makes you guess a little bit more back there as a quarterback.”
Jones spent four seasons as Calgary’s defensive co-ordinator – the past two also as the CFL club’s assistant player-personnel director – before abruptly leaving for Toronto. The Argos were fined $5,000 by the CFL for not asking the Stampeders‘ permission to speak with Jones before announcing his appointment as their defensive co-ordinator, assistant head coach and assistant GM.
Campbell, meanwhile, is in his second coaching stint with Calgary – in 2010 he coached the team’s running backs – but first as the club’s defensive co-ordinator. Like Ray, Campbell has spent the bulk of his CFL coaching career in Edmonton (10 seasons), holding down a variety of positions during that time.
“I was in Edmonton for a while when Rick was there and he was doing some different things than he’s doing now,” Ray said. “I don’t know how much I can carry over.”
Milanovich had nothing but praise for the effort Calgary’s defence showed against Montreal, the team he spent five seasons with as an assistant coach with before coming to Toronto.
“They did not make mistakes, they did not get out of gaps, their linebackers can really run, their DBs were in the right spots and when they had to cover man-to-man they did a nice job,” Milanovich said. “There were a couple of chances that Montreal had for big plays and weren’t able to take advantage of them.
“It’s going to be one of those games. We need to be able to run the football better than we did a week ago and when we have opportunities to make big plays and have our shots down the field we need to be able to make them.”
Calgary’s Drew Tate, beginning his first full season as the starter, completed 25-of-35 passes for 299 yards and a TD against Montreal, but also surrendered two interceptions. Veteran Nik Lewis was the busiest Stampeders receiver with 12 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Tailback Jon Cornish, a native of New Westminster, B.C., was the CFL’s Canadian player of the week after rushing for 86 yards and two TDs on 18 carries while adding three catches for 28 yards.
“He’s very good,” Milanovich said of Cornish. “He’s a downhill runner who runs through arm tackles and he’s got speed when he gets the corner.
“I think he’s the total package.”