Ricky Ray appears to be another step closer to a possible return from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for six games.
The Toronto Argonauts quarterback was back under centre on Wednesday, as the defending Grey Cup champions did a light walk-through on offence.
It’s just the first step in the team’s game-week preparation, but head coach Scott Milanovich says he will decide later this week whether to start Ray in Monday’s Thanksgiving Day game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Guelph, Ont.
The 33-year-old pivot will progress to taking reps in pads with the offence in practice Thursday, his first since the injury. But Milanovich is being cautious not to rush Ray back, as the Argos (9-5) sit atop the East Division and have already secured a playoff spot.
“Ricky needs to make enough improvement over the week to where myself, the coaches and the doctors think that he can be successful,” Milanovich said. “We don’t have to send him out there at 75 [per cent] or 80 per cent because of the job that Zach [Collaros] has done, but when Ricky Ray gets up to 90 [per cent]or 95 per cent, he’s going to be out there because (he’s) one of the best there is.”
The three-time Grey Cup champion was off to an exceptional start to the 2013 season before suffering a partially torn muscle in the back of his throwing shoulder on Aug. 23.
The 11-year CFL veteran went down in a loss to the Calgary Stampeders when he was driven into the turf by defensive lineman Charleston Hughes.
To that point in the season, he had completed 148 of 189 passes for 1,824 yards and 15 touchdowns against zero interceptions. His completion percentage of 78.3 and his quarterback rating of 134 were tops among CFL starters.
Ray didn’t need surgery and says he was able to do most daily tasks with his arm and keep doing lower-body workouts.
He couldn’t find another quarterback who had suffered this injury – a partial tear to the teres major muscle – so it was hard to predict how to rehab it and what the outcome would be.
“It was a slow progression. It started with short tossing of a little medicine ball, then we threw a football short throws, and it kept progressing to longer throws and more throws,” Ray said. “Then, we worked on getting the conditioning back in my arm, so the number of balls to throw has really picked up over the last week or two.
“I’m trying hard to get everything back healthy and strong.”
The veteran passer known for his stunning deep-corner routes says he hasn’t had to change his throwing mechanics during the rehab.
His backup, Collaros, has led the Boatmen to four wins in six of the contests Ray has missed, and the team is two games ahead of second-place Hamilton (7-7) in the East with four games left. The Argos added Ray to the team’s active roster last week, and had him dress as the third quarterback last Friday so he could reacquaint himself with his game-day routine.
Last year, after sitting out three games with a knee injury, Ray returned to play his best football of the season.
“This injury has been a little different because it’s been a bit longer,” he said.
“But when I come back, I expect to play well. I have tried to stay involved in meetings and stay in it mentally as best I could.”