TORONTO — The future starts now for the winless Toronto Argonauts, with James Franklin at the helm instead of talismanic veteran Ricky Ray.
And as luck would have it, Franklin will make his first start as an Argo this weekend against his former team, the Edmonton Eskimos. Just to add some extra spice, Saturday’s contest at BMO Field is the first half of a home-and-away series that continues July 13 at Commonwealth Stadium.
“It’s good and bad,” said Franklin. “Some would say that it’s a benefit that I’ve got to see the (Eskimo) defence the last three years. But at the same time it’s still practice, it’s not live … It’s kind of funny how it works out that it is my first start. But I don’t think it’s necessarily an advantage. And I don’t think it’s a disadvantage.”
Ray was stretchered off in Toronto’s 41-7 loss to Calgary on June 23 when he suffered a neck injury after being sandwiched between Calgary’s Ja’Gared Davis and Cordarro Law. The 38-year-old is not expected back this season although there has been no such formal pronouncement.
“It’s been a rocky start,” said Argo linebacker Marcus Ball. “We’re not in good feelings right now with Ricky being out and the way he went out. But we’ve got James ready to roll, man. He’s ready to step in and do his deal.
“We’re 0-2 right now but it’s still very early. We still have the same goals to attain. And those goals are still there for the taking. So we’ve just got to get back on board and get this thing rolling.”
Edmonton (2-1-0) posted wins over Winnipeg (33-30) and B.C. (41-22) around a loss to Hamilton (38-21)
The 26-year-old Franklin, who threw for 6,692 yards and 51 touchdowns at the University of Missouri, spent the last three seasons in Edmonton backing up Mike Reilly before joining the Argos this season.
He has appeared in 14 games, seven of which were in his first season in 2015 with the Eskimos when Reilly was injured.
“His play time may not have been as significant over the two seasons after that. But what you don’t see on game day is the stuff that goes on the field in practice, what goes on in the meeting rooms, things like that,” said the 33-year-old Reilly. “And you could certainly see James grasping the offence better and better as each season went on.”
Franklin is 2-1 in three career starts while Reilly is 47-34 in 81 starts. But the Edmonton veteran is 2-5 as a starter against Toronto, one of just two teams he has a losing record against (along with Calgary).
Reilly is off to a good start this season. He has already thrown for 1,020 yards and enters this week’s play as is the league’s top-rated quarterback.
Toronto’s defence can expect a workout.
Edmonton’s Duke Williams and Derel Walker started the week leading all receivers with 308 and 299 yards, respectively, after Week 3. And C.J. Gables was No. 2 in rushing with 241 yards after a 165-yard performance against B.C.
Reilly and Williams earned player of the month honours in June while Gable was named a top performer for Week 3.
The defending Grey Cup champion Argos, who opened the season with a 27-19 loss in Saskatchewan, are the only CFL team yet to post a win.
“Our performance as a team was unacceptable. That starts with me,” Toronto coach Marc Trestman said after the Calgary loss. “Our team didn’t appear ready to play and I hold myself accountable for that.”
Trestman said the coaching staff “evaluated everything” during the bye week.
Reilly is taken nothing for granted.
“They’re the Grey Cup champs,” he said. “They’re a good football team. They’re only two games into this thing and we know we’re going to get their best. And James has a great team behind him. I think he understands that.”
EDMONTON (2-1-0) AT TORONTO (0-2-0)
Saturday, BMO Field
IT’S EARLY DAYS BUT: The Argos rank last on offence in 15 statistical categories.
THE LIFE OF REILLY: Eskimos QB Mike Reilly, the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, led 10 touchdown drives in June and is on pace for his third consecutive season throwing for more than 5,500 yards.
NEW BLOOD: Toronto, which has four sacks in two games, acquired defensive lineman Eric Striker from Saskatchewan this week in exchange for a player on the Argos’ negotiation list.
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