The Toronto Argonauts had chances the past two weeks to win big statement games against the CFL's top-performing teams and take control of first place in the East division. Instead, they lost to the Montreal Alouettes and the B.C. Lions. Now, toiling in second place in the East, the Argos must try to regain ground in the standings this week without the help of starting quarterback Ricky Ray, turning instead to backup Jarious Jackson.
The Argos confirmed Tuesday that Ray will miss this week after injuring his left knee early in a 31-10 loss last Sunday to the Alouettes. The team said its 32-year-old starting pivot has a sprained medial collateral ligament and won't need surgery. Head coach Scott Milanovich expects Ray to be day-to-day next week and is hopeful he'll miss just one game.
Ray had thrown four passes – three of them complete for 30 yards – before getting hurt Sunday. Ray got tangled up with Argos centre Jeff Keeping and took the weight of the 290-pound lineman on his leg. Jackson completed 15-of-31 passes for 198 yards in relief, along with one interception.
Jackson will get his first start in an Argos uniform. He joined Toronto in the off-season after he was released by the Grey Cup champion Lions as backup to Travis Lulay. In a seven-year stint there, Jackson tossed for more than 7,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000.
One would expect some slight changes to Milanovich's offence with Toronto's pocket-passer being replaced by the mobile Jackson. Predictably, the Argos are very tight-lipped about any wrinkles, not willing to give advancing scouting tips to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before their game in Manitoba's capital on Saturday.
"There's nobody quite like Ricky. Jarious has different skills; he has a stronger arm, and he is a different type of leader that I think our guys will respond to, and we'll do what we have to do to fit Jarious' skill set, but he can do a lot of the things Ricky does," Milanovich said. "Ricky is a lead-by-example kind of guy. Jarious is just more vocal."
Jackson admitted he had a little of that "rookie" feeling jumping into the game in Montreal. Leading the first unit in practice on Tuesday for the first time, the 35-year-old veteran backup is energized by getting a full week of repetitions. Although the Bombers are the last-place team in the East with a 3-9 record, they are coming off a bounce-back win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and they lead the CFL in sacks. The 6-6 Argos trail the top-place Als, who are 8-4, by four points. Hamilton rests in third at 4-8.
"I just focus on Winnipeg. I can't focus on how far Montreal is ahead or how far we're behind or who is behind us," Jackson said. "We all know it's there. You just focus on the game at hand and let it play out."
The Argos would not comment on the severity of Ray's sprain.
"I'm not a doctor, but all I know is his knee is sore and we're going to take care of [Ray] and what is in his best interest in the long term," Milanovich said. "Ricky said he has had something similar in the past, and that he healed quickly. All we are worried about is this week. Jarious is going to do a good job."