EDMONTON — Edmonton Eskimos head coach Richie Hall walked into the interview room and before anyone had a chance to ask a question, announced “Yes, he’s healthy.”
He is quarterback Ricky Ray, who hasn’t thrown a pass in practice all week. Ray left early Wednesday, didn’t even practise Thursday and wasn’t an active participant in Friday’s walk-through.
Ray is sore from last weekend’s critical 31-28 road win over the B.C. Lions when he ran for 135 yards on 12 carries.
While Ray took some punishing hits, both he and Hall insist the veteran quarterback will be under centre when the Eskimos host the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday (TSN, 5 p.m.).
“I feel fine,” Ray said. “But if I can’t do what I do out there, then I won’t play.”
On Friday, the CFL fined Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian an undisclosed amount for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ray.
The Eskimos (5-10) are tied with B.C. for third spot in the West Division standings with both teams having three regular-season games remaining. But Edmonton controls its own fate as it owns the tie-breaker with the Lions. The Eskimos are on a nice roll of late, having won three of their last four games. Saskatchewan (9-6) has lost two straight.
“He’s sore but he’ll be okay,” Hall said of his quarterback. “I don’t see any reason why he would be restricted.
“If he can play he can play. It’s just a matter of how sore he’s going to be, no different than any other player at this time of the season.”
The Riders expect to see Ray at his familiar spot to start the game but don’t anticipate he’ll take off like he did in Vancouver despite Saskatchewan’s defence being ranked second-last against the run.
Riders head coach Ken Miller admitted run defence is a legitimate concern “based on the fact we got pushed around last week” in a 34-26 loss to Calgary.
The club has made a concerted effort all week to work on its defensive schemes and player attitudes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson said the Riders will have a spy on Ray to keep him contained and force him to pass.
Normally that would be playing into Ray’s strength but the veteran isn’t having one of his better seasons. He’s only ranked fifth among quarterbacks in passing yardage, has the third-lowest efficiently rating and has thrown more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (10).
“We haven’t passed it very well the last couple of games so we have to pick up that area,” Ray said. “Ten touchdown passes, that’s a really low number.
The Riders go into the game minus three key starters who were injured against Calgary: kicker Luca Congi, receiver Rob Bagg and defensive end Brent Hawkins.
Congi will be replaced by Eddie Johnson who took over in Calgary, Cary Koch assumes Bagg’s roster spot and six-foot-six, 256-pound former Eskimo Montez Murphy will be a backup defensive lineman as rookie Shomari Williams starts at end.
The Eskimos have five roster changes. Receiver Kamau Peterson, kick returner Tristan Jackson and fullback Mathieu Bertrand have been put on the nine-game injury list while defensive lineman Neil Puffer and receiver Tyler Scott move to the practice roster.
The club signed well-travelled Jason Armstead to return kicks and plucked rookie Samuel Fournier off Hamilton’s practice roster to replace Bertrand.
Andre Talbot and Brad Smith have both been added to the roster to take Peterson’s spot.
The Riders and Eskimos have split their last two meetings but Edmonton is 8-2 versus Saskatchewan at Commonwealth Stadium.
“It’s a big game for us because we’re chasing that playoff spot,” said Hall. “We have the opportunity to not only control our own destiny but to take control of the situation.
“As long as we continue to win it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. That’s why this game is so vital to us, it can provide some separation. As well, looking ahead to the post-season, it provides some confidence.”