By: Santino Filoso
With the Ottawa Redblacks inaugural training camp currently underway at Carleton University, now is a perfect time to take a look at some of the 80+ roster of hopefuls general manager Marcel Desjardins has assembled over the past seven months. While certain starters are already set in stone, there are still numerous jobs up for grabs.
Even with the loss of a disgruntled Kevin Glenn, the Redblacks are deeper than most CFL teams at QB. Barring injury, Henry Burris will be the starter with Thomas DeMarco backing him up, leaving Corey Leonard and Danny O’Brien to grow as development projects and fight for the third-string job. At 39, Burris still has a lot left in the tank and his arm is as strong as ever. DeMarco got significant playing time last year as he filled in for the injured Travis Lulay (and more then held his own), which bodes well for the Redblacks should Burris go down.
With a stable of capable RBs, it will be very interesting to see who emerges as the guy to go for the Redblacks, or if Head Coach Rick Campbell decides to take a running by committee approach. Chevon Walker has the most distinguished career and has to be considered the early favourite, especially when you consider his familiarity with Burris from their time in Hamilton. Jordan Roberts is a dark horse to be a serious impact player. He dominated in college and with his speed and catching ability seemingly has the skill set to thrive in the CFL. (UPDATE: Looks like Roberts has been released) John Delahunt and Patrick Lavoie will be charged with lead blocking when the Redblacks run out of formations that include a fullback. Eric O’Neal and Michael Hayes round out the group and will also fight for carries.
To say that the Redblacks have a logjam at receiver would be an understatement. With so many players competing for a job, nobody can afford to have a bad practice. Veteran WR Paris Jackson is the elder statesman of this group and should have a breakout year after being under-utilized the past few seasons in BC. The WR group consists of imports like DJ Woods, Carlton Mitchell, Tim Maypray, and Travon Patterson, all of whom boast serious speed, while the non-imports consist of guys like Simon Le Marquand, Aaron Hargreaves and Garrett Burgess. Fred Rouse and 2014 2nd round pick Scott MacDonnell could see a lot of redzone reps due to favourable height match-ups.
(UPDATE: Redblacks have reportedly signed import WR Marcus Henry, days after he was released by the Edmonton Eskimos; Redblacks have also reportedly released former Ottawa U Gee Gee WR Delroy Clarke)
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that much of the Redblacks season will go as all-star lineman Jon Gott goes. He was the centre of attention on draft day and he’ll be the Redblacks starting centre, in charge of making all the protections calls to keep Burris upright. Gott could be flanked by guys like Joe Eppele, Nate Menkin, James Lee and J’Micheal Deane. No matter who winds up starting, you can be sure that they’ll be big, as every OL at the Redblacks camp is at least 6’3″ and pushing 300 pounds.
The defensive line will be led by expansion draft steal Keith Shologan, a heavy hitter with a knack for stuffing the run. Guys like Justin Phillips, Moton Hopkins, Dimetrio Tyson, Zack Evans, Jonathan Williams and Justin Capicciotti will provide depth to a DL rotation that should keep opposing QBs on their toes all game long.
A group of experienced veterans will lead Ottawa’s linebacking core. Jason Pottinger, James Green, T.J. Hill, Malik Jackson and Anton McKenzie are all proven CFL vets with big game experience. Travis Brown, Jeremiah Green, Jasper Simmons, Jordan Verdone and Will Heyward round out this athletic and savvy group of thumpers.
Amateur pilot and former Stamps safety Eric Fraser will be the focal enforcer of a “No Fly Zone” along with a revitalized Jovon Johnson. Former Saints DB Reggie Jones could wind up playing a significant role in the secondary and look for 1st round pick and jack of all trades Antoine Pruneau to frequently be on the field, despite being a rookie.
Ottawa native Kevin Scott is living out his dream of playing for his hometown as the Redblacks long snapper, while non-import Justin Palardy is locked in a fierce battle with import Paulo Henriques for kicking duties. Kick returning duties could all to either Tim Maypray, Antoine Pruneau or one of the RBs or WRs who distinguish themselves throughout the pre-season.
Desjardins has put together a nice blend of veterans and rookies, and nearly every positional group boasts a few players with significant CFL experience. One thing that already stands out, even after only a few days of camp, is that the Redblacks look like a very fast team. It’ll be interesting to see who distinguishes themselves during the two pre-season games and ultimately makes the team; hopefully Coach Campbell has some tough decisions to make.
(Photos courtesy of Ottawa Redblacks Facebook page)