It's been quite a stretch between CFL starts for Jarious Jackson.
The former Notre Dame star will be under centre Saturday when the Toronto Argonauts visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Incumbent Ricky Ray will miss the contest due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee suffered in Sunday's 31-10 road loss in Montreal.
Toronto signed Jackson, who spent seven seasons in B.C., as a free agent in February as insurance in case Ray was hurt. Jackson has a 14-8 career record but will make his first CFL start since Aug. 12, 2010 when he completed 18-of-31 passes for 194 yards and two interceptions for B.C. in a 37-13 road loss to Saskatchewan.
"I feel fine, I feel normal, I feel great," Jackson said after practising with the first unit Tuesday. "I don't know how much different it [Argos offence with him under centre] is going to be.
"We still have some of the same plays, the same reads. I'm sure we'll have a few wrinkles here and there like most teams do but for the most part we're running coach's offence."
Fortunately for Toronto, Ray won't require surgery. Argos head coach Scott Milanovich hopes to have his starter back in the lineup Oct. 8 when Toronto hosts the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"This is why we brought [Jackson] here, for this type of situation exactly," Milanovich said. "The positive thing is he basically played an entire game last week.
"It would've been tougher on Jarious had this happened to Ricky late in the fourth quarter. He got a whole game's worth of snaps and we kept him in for one extra series just so he could get some no-huddle and get some experience in a three-minute type of drill. He's locked in [Tuesday] like it's gameday so I expect him to do well."
Ray started in Montreal and was 3-of-4 passing for 30 yards before leaving in the first quarter. Jackson, 35, came in and finished 15-of-31 passing for 198 yards with an interception.
The six-foot-one, 232-pound Jackson brings a different skillset to Toronto's offence than Ray. The former Notre Dame star is more mobile and can use that ability to escape pressure and either buy his receivers more time or take off himself upfield.
Ray, 32, sports a solid 5.3-yard rushing average this season but has only run 15 times this season. He's a much more accomplished passer, standing third overall among CFL quarterbacks with 3,371 yards and tops with a 68.3 per cent completion average.
But Milanovich wouldn't divulge how different Toronto's offence would be with Jackson under centre.
"I'm not going to help [Bombers head coach] Tim Burke any more than I have to," Milanovich said. "He's going to have to wait until Saturday to find out what we do or don't do differently.
"There's nobody quite like Ricky. Jarious has different skills, he's got some more mobility, has a stronger arm and does some things differently. He's a different type of leader I think our guys will respond to. We'll do what we have to do to fit Jarious's skillset but he can still a lot of the different things Ricky can do."
Shot at 1st place
Toronto (6-6) remains second in the East Division four points behind front-running Montreal (8-4) and four points ahead of third-place Hamilton (4-8). However, with a shot at first place firmly in their grasp the last two weeks, the Argos have dropped both games.
"I think it says we're not quite there yet and we need to keep going at it and working at it and continue to improve," Milanovich said. "But even if we had won those games, I'd be telling you the same thing.
"It's just we weren't quite ready."
Jackson's first start of the season will come against a rejuvenated Winnipeg squad. While the Bombers (3-9) have the CFL's worst record, starter Buck Pierce made a triumphant return in leading the club to a dominant 34-12 home win over Hamilton on Friday night.
After missing eight games with a foot injury, Pierce finished 21-of-31 passing for 288 yards and a TD. Running back Chad Simpson was also a dominant force with 134 yards on 19 carries and named the league's offensive player of the week as Winnipeg snapped a four-game losing streak.
Bombers linebacker Henoc Muamba was named the top Canadian after registering five tackles, one sack and one forced fumble against Hamilton.
Two challenges Toronto will face are excessive crowd noise and swirling winds at Canad Inns Stadium. There's also the matter of an aggressive Winnipeg defence that has 29 sacks, tied with the defending Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions for the league lead.
"We'll have to do what it takes to keep [Jackson] clean," Milanovich said. "Hopefully we're able to run the ball and mix it up and move Jarious out of the pocket here and there to take heat off our guys.
"In Winnipeg you always have the issue with the weather and wind so it's always a kind of fluid gameplan when you go into there."
What impresses Jackson most about Winnipeg's defence is its ability to pressure the quarterback without having to send its linebackers.
"That's saying a lot about their front six and how they're able to get pressure and use the other six, sometimes even seven, other guys in coverage," Jackson said. "Winnipeg has always been a team that's good with that front six so it does present some challenges for us.
"But you know, hey, we're part of this league to and we have to go over there and play those guys."