Redblacks 2016 training camp battles

By Cranky Frank Clair

My view from the corner of TD Place Stadium isn’t the greatest. I don’t talk to coaches and can’t see the whiteboards downstairs. But I still have a view of the RedBlacks heading into camp.

The Redblacks 2016 training camp storylines don’t begin with the opening of camp. They begin with key player departures during the offseason. Ottawa lost a star RT and DE, a very solid DT and two very good defensive backs. Colouring every story is the need for CFL teams to start seven Canadians, and when one comes off the field, another must go on. This is important context for the stories that will unfold over the next 3-4 weeks.

Offensive line

Photo Ottawa Citizen

The big question mark on the offensive line is whether the Redblacks can use a Canadian at RT. This would help their ratio elsewhere on the field. So watch for solid offensive guard Nolan MacMillan to get a look at right tackle, which will open up the spot for last year’s #1 draft pick Alex Mateas to start at G. Tackles have to be highly mobile to handle the fast and agile CFL defensive ends. MacMillan may not be able to make the transition. If he stays at G, then the RedBlacks will have both Mateas and perhaps their first rounder Lauzon-Séguin on the bench ready to fill in when an injury hits. As for RT, if not MacMillan then look for it to be one of two Americans. The candidates are former BC Lions OT Tommie Draheim or the 6-7 Jake Silas who was on the Redblacks practice roster last season after a weekend-long sniff at an NFL rookie camp. The rest of the o-line is set and there will be few depth jobs available. 

Defensive Line


The defensive line has a lot of question marks, and how they’re answered could determine whether the Redblacks earn a home playoff game in 2016. 

D-line gets complicated if the team can only start three Canadians on the o-line. Star defensive end Justin Capicciotti and his Canadian status may be irreplaceable. GM Marcel Desjardins seems to like former Ticat Arnaud Gascon-Nadon to replace Capy, but that’s a big leap. Connor Williams could step up but hasn’t shown a lot even when not injured. So that spot could go to an American. Options include the hyper-focused LaDarius Owens from Auburn, small school standout Emmanuel Graves, 6-6 Kendall Williams, or newly-signed small school standout Jake Ceresna who has solid testing numbers but played against weak competition. The players will sort this out themselves by stepping up (or not) during camp and pre-season.

Aston Whiteside was brilliant at the other DE position last year until his knee injury and the Redblacks were forced to sign the now-departed Shawn Lemon. Whiteside is reportedly ready to play, but until he faces full contact we won’t know if his knee will get him around the corner as effectively as it did last season. #RNation is crossing its fingers on Whiteside’s return. Even with Whiteside’s return, he could be shut down by opponents if he is the only threat. Much of the 2015 success was because they could apply pressure all along the line of scrimmage. 

Just when DT seemed stable, at press time, former NFLer Amobi Okoye is still not signed while the club awaits medical clearance. Okoye had a promising NFL career before a serious medical issue forced him out. He’s apparently recovered and is looking strong. Hopefully, medical sign-off is a technicality that will be cleared up soon. If not, DT becomes a huge question mark. Zack Evans and Moton Hokpins can’t play every snap. DT needs players rotating in and out to be effective. Okoye, Evans and Hopkins would be a formidable trio that would likely be augmented by a Canadian to avoid ratio issues elsewhere when Evans rests. 

Receiver

One solution to the probable lack of a Canadian DE could be starting Jake Harty at WR. Harty seems faster and more versatile than Scott MacDonnell. Again, this is something that will get sorted over the next few weeks. 

The import spots at receiver seemed set until Texas WR John Harris arrived. He put up very impressive numbers his senior year with the Longhorns against primetime competition. Lack of NFL interest could be because he saw very few balls prior to senior year. He’ll provide stiff competition at camp for the incumbent American WRs. Expect Chris Williams to be able to concentrate solely on receiver duties from day one this season. Ellingson and Sinopoli were unknown quantities to the opposition at the beginning of 2015. Expect them to get more attention now, opening up the field elsewhere. 

Defensive Backs


The d-line justly gets a lot of credit for its 2015 success; “D-Block” deserves credit for many of their league-leading sacks. There are two big departures in Jovon Johnson and Brandyn Thompson. Fortunately, D-Block is deep. The incredibly-named Forrest Hightower was emerging as a solid player last season once he got some playing time, while Abdul Kanneh and Jerrell Gavins firmly established themselves last season as very reliable and dangerous. Brandon Sermons was fairly steady last season. We can also expect an unknown to emerge at camp. It’s the CFL way with DBs.

Linebacker

This is pure speculation, but I wonder if a move to FS might be considered for current SAM linebacker Antoine Pruneau. Last season’s FS Jermaine Robinson could ably slide over to a vacant DB position. Marcel Desjardins is bringing a lot of LBs into camp. Pruneau’s passport and his effectiveness means he’ll be on the field somewhere, but IF he has picked up any speed over the offseason and if any of the LBs in camp turn enough heads, Pruneau could end up at FS. A glaring hole in the defensive backfield requiring Robinson’s services could also force the move. Pruneau plays a vital pass and run coverage role as SAM LB, and a very fast, smart and reliable player would have to emerge to replace him.

It’s hard to determine before camp whether that player exists. 

The team has brought in a lot of LBs who look impressive on video playing for small colleges. One of them could emerge to push David Hinds or Damaso Muñoz. Both are solid, particularly Muñoz who has been one of the league’s underrated players since he arrived. LB prospects will have to push Hinds or one of them will have to show ability to play SAM. Special teams performance is the best path for aspiring LBs to make the roster, even better if they are Canadian. 

QB, RB and Special Teams


Nothing to see here, folks. Burris is the number 1 QB. Harris won’t start until next season as long as Hank stays healthy and winning in 2016. RB is largely set, although history shows the need to have a steady supply. Expect a back or two to emerge during camp. Lavoie is a beast at FB. Kicker and punter are set for the first time in RedBlacks history. Finally. 

It all starts Sunday. I’ll be watching from the southwest corner, if you need me.

Follow Cranky Frank Clair on Twitter – @crankyclair

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Photos from OttawaRedblacks.com, unless noted.

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Guest Post: A tour of TD Place

With the Capital Gaming Expo taking place in Ottawa this weekend, our friend and board game guru Stephen Conway was fortunate to get a private tour of TD Place earlier today. Conway, host of the popular board game podcast The Spiel and a special guest of this weekend’s Expo, is a lifelong Colts fan and a recent addition to #RNation South. Here are Stephen’s impressions of the stadium and some great photos.

Greetings from snowy Ottawa. Getting ready for 3 fun days at the Capital Gaming Expo!

Started with a special treat this morning: a private tour of TD Place, home to the Ottawa Redblacks of the CFL. 

It’s a fantastic facility in the Glebe neighborhood in the heart of the city. Not a bad seat in the house. We got to see the team locker room (including the ageless QB Hank Burris’ locker) and player’s lounge, the luxury suites, the press box, and walk around the field. A real treat for any fan of football. Now I just have to come back this summer for a game! 

TD Place is also home to the Ottawa Fury FC soccer team (who would have been practicing on-field if not for the snow) and there’s also a hockey rink built under one side of the stands, home to the Ottawa 67’s. 

Next door to the stadium is the Aberdeen Pavillion (you can see it in the distance through the windows in the pic of the bar), one of the oldest standing indoor hockey rinks in the world. The Ottawa Senators played there in 1904, including games for the Stanley Cup.

    

    
    
      

    
 

      

    
    
   
 
I have to thank my pal Fabio Del Rio for turning me into a Redblacks fan. So glad he could come on the tour as well.

Thanks to the CGE staff for organizing the outing and to the Redblacks for the tour!

Thanks for sharing with us, Stephen. See you at TD Place this summer!

@DefendTheR

Nevill’s Take: Redblacks home helmets need more red!

Our man @NevillCarney – he of several Ottawa Redblacks-related exploits – has an idea for the Redblacks home (black) helmets heading into the 2015 season. Have a read and vote below to let us know what you think!

With all the free agent signings last week, it really looks like the RedBlacks will see a drastic improvement in Year 2.

Another area I feel the team can improve is their look on the field. As I have indicated earlier on Defend the R, I haven’t been the biggest fan of their current look.

Realizing that their jerseys can’t change after a mere season (the uniform manufacturer, Reebok, apparently likes to keep the same set for a minimum of 2-3 years before changes are made), I offer the suggestion that they improve the helmet design and add more red; something that is in the hands of the Ottawa equipment managers rather than Reebok.

Here’s my proposal:

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Ideally, with training camp right around the corner, I would love to spread the word and see if this can’t reach the @RedBlacks directly.

With them having their locker room sale for all of last year’s game-worn gear, they will be preparing to order 2015’s inventory soon.

Maybe we can catch them at the right time! What say you, Ottawa? Yay or Nay?

Nevill

Redblacks post-season fan focus group

Our man Nevill Carney – he of the Redblacks theme song, several Redblacks jersey concepts and a loyal Defend the R reader – was fortunate enough to attend an Ottawa Redblacks focus group shortly after the 2014 season. (FYI, Gord Holder wrote a bit about the session here.) Nevill was kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences from the event.

Shortly after the end of our inaugural season of the CFL’s return to the nation’s capital, I was surprised to find an email invitation to a focus group discussion with other fans. It was held on November 13th at the Heart and Crown in the Byward Market and was geared towards what went well and what didn’t go well for this past season.

I was very impressed that OSEG wasted no time to reach out and hear feedback directly from some of their fan base. The moment I walked into the private room for the event, I was greeted by OSEG President Jeff Hunt himself and knew that this was a genuine effort to improve things for 2015 and beyond.

There were about 12 fans present – of various ethnicity, gender and age – and each had a turn to speak about what they liked or didn’t like about this past season. About two-thirds were season ticket holders, while the rest were individual ticket buyers.

Mr. Hunt took the time to listen and write notes while each person had the opportunity to speak their mind about this past season. Among the topics discussed were:

– Transportation to and from TD Place
– Parking spaces
– Concession options (or lack thereof, especially beer/alcohol options on site)
– Visibility of the scoreboard
– Gameday experience
– Branding of the team
– Social media (and ways to make the overall fan experience immersive for RedBlacks supporters)
– Lineups for washrooms (mainly a female complaint)

Of these topics, concessions, transportation and gameday experience got the most attention.

Most of the talk regarding concessions had to do with long lineups and lack of notable beer/alcohol options on the South Side. For those who wanted something other than standard stadium booze (i.e. Budweiser), there were complaints that they had to either go to the North Side or wait in line at the bar on the lower concourse of the South Side (near the Frank Clair statue) for long periods. It seemed like lack of signage was a cause for this and hopefully it will be addressed moving forward.

Long lineups were touched on, but mainly relating to the home opener back on July 18th, where issues were expected for that first major event at the new stadium. Personally, I didn’t find lineups to be an issue this year. Considering there is a capacity of 24,000, I still find I can maneuver around more freely than at Sens games at Canadian Tire Centre which has a lesser capacity of about 19,000.

Transportation was, as expected, addressed in the discussion and it seemed like the majority of fans were onboard (pun intended) with taking the bus to games. Everyone seemed to really love the convenience of having one’s game ticket count as a pass to and from games. When surveyed, it seemed like most agreed that they would stay longer and take in the nightlife at the various onsite restaurants that will be opening for next year.

What I didn’t know was that the underground parking had just opened in time for the 67’s return to Lansdowne for the fall and has a capacity of about 1,200. From what I understand, parking can be purchased online (at Capital Tickets) in advance for those who absolutely insist on driving to games in the future. (Of note: I gave it a try at a 67’s game a few weeks back and it can be accessed from Queen Elizabeth Drive. There are stairs that lead you up to street level close to the Aberdeen Pavilion on the East Side.)

The last topic that was prominently addressed was gameday experience at TD Place. Many things were discussed, including the HD screen to the volume of the PA/music and the “Wood Cookies” after each Touchdown.

The visibility of the scoreboard on the West Side was brought up and the request was made to have another on the East Side to increase visibility for those who had issues seeing it from their seat. It was almost comedic how quickly Mr. Hunt seemed to basically say ‘yeah, that’s not happening’ due to the immense cost of the current screen. Frankly, I don’t know of any stadiums – NFL included – that have two large scoreboards on site. The only alternative option I can think of would be to have a 4-sided (hockey style) one suspended over center field between the North and South stands but yeah….money, money, money.

One thing that was widely praised was the North vs. South competitions between pauses in play and at half-time. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of it. In addition to the 1vs1 events, I suggested that they increase the number of participants in 2vs2 and 3vs3 contests such as Bubble Soccer or video game events on the HD screen. I think this is an area where a lot of fun can be had by everyone! Being a family-friendly environment seemed to be a real goal of OSEG’s. There were even some jabs at the infamous ‘Mardi Gras’ promotion of the Glieberman era that brought a few laughs!

The only real bit of info regarding branding that seemed to be touched on at the focus group was the use of plaid and really trying to make that our version of “Rider Pride”. Sort of like a “Proud to be Plaid” theme.

Sensing this was their vision in advance, I updated my uniform concepts to reflect the subtle plaid touches on the arm striping, and presented them to Jeff to look at. He admitted that the red numbers on the current home black uniforms are hard to see on TV. Maybe they will be proactive and change that for next season? Here are the updated concepts:

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The emphasis on the plaid on the arms and the lack of white being the major adjustments on them.

To be honest, not a lot of attention was given to the team’s performance on the field this year. I basically assured Mr. Hunt that ‘history will record we won our first game at TD Place and not much else matters from our inaugural year.’ It seems like anything related to onfield performance will be addressed by our GM, Marcel Desjardins, during the off season. Stay tuned, I suppose!

Overall, I think everyone felt that they had a chance to have their voices heard. Big props to OSEG for having this event as they seem to really want to knock this out of the park (wrong sport, I know…) for generations to come. Looking forward to 2015!

Nevill Carney

Thanks again for sharing your experience with #RNation, Nevill!

@OTTRoughRiders