Veteran Ray impressed with new Argos coach Trestman's attention to detail
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TORONTO — Ricky Ray isn't sure what the Toronto Argonauts' identity will be in 2017, but he's certain the team will be prepared for each game it plays under new coach Marc Trestman.
"He's probably the most structured, detailed coach I've been around," said Ray, who's entering his 15th CFL season and sixth with Toronto. "He puts a lot of thought into what he's doing, every little thing matters.
"He's thinking about every situation that's going to help us with our preparation and how we want to act as a team. He's a big guy on having standards, not a lot of rules but standards he wants us to live by and what kind of team we want to be and it shows. The guys were really focused in this camp and really bought into what he's preaching and that's exciting."
Trestman became Toronto's head coach this off-season as part of the CFL team's major front-office shuffle. GM Jim Barker was fired in January and head coach Scott Milanovich resigned to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach.
Jim Popp, who spent 21 years as the Montreal Alouettes GM, replaced Barker in Toronto. Popp was reuinted with Trestman, who led the Als to a 59-31 regular-season record from 2008-12 and two Grey Cups before being hired as the Chicago Bears head coach.
Despite his impressive CFL resume, Trestman said it's going to take him time to get reacclimated with the Canadian game.
"I've got some growing to do," Trestman said. "I'm going to continue to gather information and as much as I can utilize the resources I have to try and get that curve to not be as sharp as I might think it is."
Trestman, who's regarded as an offensive guru and quarterback technician, wasted no time putting his stamp on the squad, immediately naming Ray as his starter. Milanovich had installed newcomer Drew Willy — acquired in a late-season trade with Winnipeg — as the Argos' No. 1 quarterback, leaving Ray to decide whether to return as a backup or retire after starting just 11 games the previous two seasons due to injuries.
Toronto released Willy on Saturday, leaving sophomore Cody Fajardo and three-year veteran Jeff Mathews to back up Ray. A good sign for the Argos is that Trestman was also had a veteran quarterback in Montreal — pro football passing leader Anthony Calvillo — effectively directing his offence.
Ray played just one series in Toronto's two exhibition wins. He completed all three passes he tried for 26 yards in the Argos' 24-20 win over Montreal on June 8 and didn't dress for the club's 23-16 victory in Hamilton on Friday night.
"Ricky has done everything we've asked him to do in practice," Trestman said. "We expect as he gets into the season he'll continue to grow and get better.
"We don't know what kind of team we're going to have . . . we're not going to know until the end of November because we have so much to do between now and then."
Toronto lost speedy receivers Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer as free agents this off-season but did land veterans Jeff Fuller and veteran S.J. Green. Both are big targets — Fuller is six foot four and 223 pounds while Green is six foot two and 216 pounds — but have had injuries.
Fuller had 93 catches for 1,285 yards and eight TDs during his time with Calgary and Saskatchewan Roughriders but has battled knee, shoulder and foot injuries. Green amassed 444 receptions for 6,626 yards and 42 TDs in 116 career games with Montreal but missed most of last season with a knee injury.
Running back Brandon Whitaker, one of two 1,000-yard rushers last season, returns as a dual threat. The five-foot-10, 200-pound dynamo added 81 catches for 549 yards and four TDs.
Tackle Chris Van Zeyl and guard Tyler Holmes, both veteran Canadians, anchor Toronto's offensive line. Sean McEwen returns at centre and the Argos added J'Michael Deane, a six-foot-five, 312-pound Hinton, Alta., native who played for Grey Cup-champion Ottawa last year.
There'll be many new faces on defence, starting with co-ordinator Corey Chamblin. He led Saskatchewan to the 2013 Grey Cup title as head coach before being fired midway through the '15 campaign.
Defensive lineman Alan-Michael Cash and linebacker Bear Woods — both former Alouettes — are both expected to figure prominently in the unit.
The six-foot-two, 292-pound Cash had 138 tackles and 17 sacks over five seasons with Montreal. Woods was the East Division's top defensive player twice over the last three years but was released by the Alouettes shortly after the start of training camp.
Both played for Trestman in Montreal in 2012.
Linebacker Marcus Ball also returns after spending three seasons in the NFL. The six-foot-one, 208-pound Ball played with the Argos (2012-13) before stints south of the border with New Orleans, Jacksnvolle, Carolina and San Francisco.
Toronto re-signed kicker Lirim Hajrullahu after the St. Catharines, Ont., native made 37-of-42 field goals last year and boasted a 43.9-yard punting average.