General manager Jim Popp says the “stars aligned” when he was putting together the Toronto Argonauts this season.
That was especially true in the case of two veterans — receiver S.J. Green and incumbent quarterback Ricky Ray.
They had faced one another in big games for more than a decade, mostly when Ray played for Edmonton and Green for Montreal, and they turned out to be dynamite when finally united on the same team.
Ray, in his sixth season in Toronto, had a career year with 5,546 passing yards, second in the league to Edmonton’s Mike Reilly’s 5,830. Green, an Argonauts newcomer, had his best season as a receiver with 1,462 yards, second only to Eskimo Brandon Zylstra’s 1,687.
Their play helped a hastily constructed Argonauts squad to first place in the weak CFL East Division and, after a cliffhanger win over Saskatchewan in the division final, a spot in the Grey Cup game.
“We were coming in late and our organization had cap room,” Popp said Wednesday as the Argonauts held their first practice ahead of the title game. “The stars aligned.”
“We got a great coaching staff together. We had money to pick up S.J. and [linebacker] Bear Woods, or [linebacker] Marcus Ball or [defensive end Cleyon] Laing. We were able to get key pieces. With S.J., I didn’t know he’d have the type of year he had, but I did know what he brought to the table. I figured he would be productive for us in whatever way he could. It just paid off.”
Green motivated after lost season
Green had something to prove.
He missed nearly all of the 2016 season in Montreal with a major knee injury, but felt he had fully recovered. He even put videos of himself training at full speed on social media.
But Kavis Reed, who had replaced Popp as the Alouettes’ GM, was on a spending spree, acquiring stars like quarterback Darian Durant, receiver Ernest Jackson and offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye. Little was left for a 10-year veteran like Green, who was traded to Toronto for a sixth round draft pick and a conditional 2018 pick.
“The entire process motivated me to have the type of season I had,” said Green. “Nothing that Montreal did could have motivated me any more. It was all self-generated.”
Ray found himself not only with one of the CFL’s most dynamic receivers but one performing at a higher level than most people thought after tearing three ligaments and a meniscus in a knee.
“I knew what a great a player he was,” said Ray. “Every player faces adversity throughout their career, some a little different than others, but coming off a big injury like that and seeing him in mini-camp, he looked totally fine to me.
“I never one time thought I was ever going to play with S.J. Normally when you have a great player like that, they play for one team and they never let them go. When I found out, I was a little nervous. I wanted to play good for him. I knew what kind of player he was. I just wanted to earn his respect and try to be able to make plays with him.”
“I would second what Ricky said — I really wanted to earn Ricky’s respect,” said Green. “When I came [into the CFL] in 2007, there were three elite quarterbacks in the league — Ricky, Anthony [Calvillo] and Henry Burris.
“So to finally get a chance to play with Ricky was a dream come true because the opportunity to play with an elite quarterback doesn’t come around too often.”
Balanced attack for the Double Blue
Green is not Ray’s only weapon. Armanti Edwards and DeVier Posey are other targets of choice, while James Wilder Jr. and Anthony Coombs can run or catch the ball.
Coach Marc Trestman lauded Edwards for his intelligence and calm demeanour. Edwards puts it down to having been a quarterback at every level of football before he turned pro.
“Playing quarterback, we always got to be level-headed,” said Edwards. “Just go play by play. I keep that frame of mind as a receiver.”
Edwards, who played briefly under Trestman with the Chicago Bears, was another of Popp’s off-season acquisitions from Saskatchewan.
“I’d been in contact with Jim Popp before. He tried to get me to Montreal a few years before this,” said Edwards. “I already knew Trestman’s offence and, of course, I already knew about Ricky Ray and S.J. Green. So I had a good feeling coming here.”