Redblacks Waste No Time In Improving

By: Santino Filoso

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Just over 24 hours into free agency and the Redblacks off-season can already be declared a smashing success. Ottawa had some major roster holes to fill following a disappointing 2-16 season and four key signings by GM Marcel Desjardins should go a long way to reassure R-Nation that 2015 will indeed be a much better year on the field for the Redblacks.

The process of overhauling the offence began with the firing of Mike Gibson and the hiring of Jason Maas to replace him, along with a trade that sent LB Jasper Simmons, the Redblacks 2014 MOP (Most Outstanding Player) to Calgary for established veteran WR Maurice Price. The offensive retooling continued yesterday with the signings of a trio of 6 foot plus WRs; Ernest Jackson (International), Brad Sinopoli (National) and Greg Ellingson (International).

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“Once the ball goes up in the air, I’m going to go up and get it,” – Ernest Jackson

The 28 year old, 6’2”, 220 pound Jackson spent the last three season with the BC Lions and had a break out season in 2014, catching 49 passes for 813 yards, 3 TDs, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. The Redblacks got a good look at Jackson up close and personal in Week 16 when he torched Ottawa’s secondary for 195 yards and a TD in the Lions 41-3 blow out win.

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Hmmm, a Canadian QB in Ottawa wearing 12 eh…

R-Nation is already quite familiar with Brad Sinopoli as the 26 year old Peterborough native played QB at the University of Ottawa, winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most outstanding CIS football player in 2010. After being drafted by the Stampeders in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, Sinopoli spent two seasons as their 3rd string quarterback before making the difficult transition from QB to WR. Last year the 6’4”, 215 pound Sinopoli started 12 games for Calgary, making 20 catches for 197 yards and scoring 2 TDs.

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Before being injured in 2013, Ellingson was in conversation for CFL Rookie of the Year

QB Henry Burris should already have some level of familiarity with the 6’3”, 197 pound Greg Ellingson as they spent the 2013 season together playing with the Ticats. Ellingson was buried on Hamilton’s depth chart after struggling with injuries for much of the last two seasons, but despite missing time last year, Ellingson still managed decent numbers, making 32 catches for 429 yards.

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SirVincent Rogers, I knight thee a defender of the R

Not only will the Redblacks now have better players on the receiving end of passes, but the guys throwing them the ball should have more time too, thanks to the addition of the 6’4”, 319 pound SirVincent Rogers. With a pedigree almost as interesting as his name, Rogers spent the last two years protecting Ricky Ray’s blind side. Before coming up to the CFL, Rogers spent 2012 in the AFL, winning the AFL championship and playing offensive line and tight end for the Arizona Rattlers. As a TE he made 5 catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs so maybe when Jason Maas digs into his bag of trick plays we’ll see SirVincent catching some passes at TD Place.

In 2014 the Redblacks had over 45 dropped passes and many were drive and momentum killers. With the addition of Jackson, Sinopoli and Ellingson through free agency and the acquiring of Price through trade, Ottawa’s receiving corps has seemingly gone from a glaring weakness to a strength. New OL Coach Bryan Chiu now has an extremely large and talented Rogers to work with and their familiarity from their time together in Toronto with the Argos is an added benefit. When you factor in that most of the top prospects in the CFL draft are offensive lineman and that Ottawa holds the #1 overall pick, the two positions that the Redblacks really couldn’t count on last season suddenly look much better.

On another level, as a Redblacks fan you can’t help but smile seeing Desjardins come out of the gate swinging. His aggressiveness in pursuing free agents and improving the team is one that many Ottawa Senators fans wished their GM would show. The contrast between Jeff Hunt and OSEG’s commitment to fielding a winning and competitive team is never more evident than when one looks at the Sens and Eugene Melynk’s cheap ways.

At this point in time I don’t see the Redblacks making any more big signings, other than perhaps a few depth guys, maybe at QB, RB or LB. It’s also worth noting that Ottawa officially lost one of their own free agents when OL Alex “Truckstick” Krausnick signed the Eskimos. One year after being selected by the Redblacks in their expansion draft, Krausnick wasted no time in returning to Edmonton.

Let us know what you think about the Redblacks free agency moves so far in the comments below.

@RedBlackGade

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#TBT: Catching Up With Korey Banks

By: Santino Filoso

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For this week’s Throwback Thursday interview, I chatted with former Ottawa Renegade DB Korey Banks. Banks, an eight time CFL All Star, racked up 37 career interceptions, 22 sacks, 14 fumbles, 442 tackles, 7 touchdowns and two Grey Cup rings.

RR: As an American coming to Ottawa, what was your first impression of the city?

KB: It was unreal. It was my first time out of country and I was so excited. I entered the league in 2004 after being cut from the NFL. At first I hated living in a hotel without a vehicle and not really making any money, but I loved the atmosphere, vibe and people in the city. Ottawa was great to me man, I loved everything about it.

In 2005, your second year in the league, you quickly became a fan favourite, leading the league with 10 interceptions. How were you so successful so early in your career?

I actually predicted I’d get 10 picks in pre-season interview. My confidence was high because I knew I almost made it in the NFL and that as a young guy they’d throw the ball at me to test me. By the time QBs knew I could play, I already had 7 or 8 picks. After the season I had a few NFL teams come sniffing but they weren’t offering a lot of money up front and Ottawa put a big offer on the table, so I couldn’t pass it up.

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A lot of people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?

I was too young into my career to really understand that part of the business. I didn’t look at it like other people, I just looked at it like there’s an owner and I’m a player and we had a mutual respect. If I saw him I’d say hello but not much else because I knew that to keep my job I had to perform at a high level.

When the Renegades folded in 2006, did you have any idea where you would end up?

I was getting calls from Ticats at the time but in the dispersal draft they traded with Saskatchewan, and I knew I wasn’t going there as they already had guys like Omar Morgan and Eddie Davis. BC really came out of nowhere but it was a good change for me, I went from from shit to sugar, last place to Grey Cup. I wasn’t used to losing and only ever had a losing season when I was in college at Mississippi State. Losing was killing me but the most disappointing thing about the Renegades folding was that us players felt like we were about to turn things around. When Ottawa went under the best players were scooped up but a lot of good friends lost jobs.

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I’m sure every interception is satisfying but did you enjoy picking off certain QBs more than others?

I loved picking off Anthony Calvillo or Ricky Ray, when you got those guys, you knew you were really doing your thing. But now that I think about it, the most satisfying interceptions were when I got Dave Dickenson in practice, because he knew the all angles. Dickenson didn’t have the strongest arm but his ball placement was perfect.

Were you a big trash talker?

Early in career I was, but I did it to get noticed and make a name for myself. Where I’m from that’s how you got noticed. Later on in my career I matured and didn’t need to do it as much. I mean of course I still did it, but I didn’t waste time trashing talking guys I played three times a year. I knew to save it for the playoffs.

How did you pump yourself up before a big game?

I had a routine to do the opposite actually. I listened to slow music because I  had to mellow myself out. I knew the next couple hours would be high pressure with me flying around so basically I had to meditate and get my mind right.

Who was the toughest receiver you ever had to cover?

I played against a lot of great wide receivers. I think I had tough match ups every week, going head to head with guys like Ben Cahoon, Jason Tucker, Milt Stegall, Geroy Simon, Fred Stamps, Nik Lewis, DJ Flick, and Jeremaine Copeland. Week after week they kept coming and I had to come in and set the tempo. Against guys like that you have to stick your fork in the ground, stand strong and make them play your way. If you blink they’ll beat you all day.

During your CFL career you played for Ottawa, BC and Winnipeg, where was the toughest stadium to play in and why?

I wouldn’t say it was the toughest atmosphere, but in Hamilton I only ever made a few plays. After some success against them early in my career with Ottawa, once I went to BC something about that stadium just threw me off a bit. In 10 years I think I only made 5 or 6 big plays there. I’m not saying I played poorly in Hamilton, just that I didn’t have great games there, never really got my mojo going.

Obviously this season things in Winnipeg didn’t work out as you hoped, what happened there and what are your plans for next season?

I don’t know what happened there, I always respected everyone and did what I needed to do. When I came into Winnipeg they gave me a big contract, hyped me up as an impact player and everyone seemed to be on the same page. I had a great camp, picking off 8 passes in practice, was a stand up teammate and always did what I was asked. It boiled down to the fact that Gary Etcheverry had a problem with me, which I never understood since we were working towards the same goal. One day in practice I asked him a question and he just nodded and jogged off without answering me. At the next meeting he starts it off by talking about how players shouldn’t question coaches, etc. etc. This is the same guy who doesn’t use a playbook, he just writes plays on the board and then erases them. As a player you feel uncomfortable as you have nothing to reference when studying. To Etcheverry players are just horses to be run. He’s a total joke and a clown. I’m not denying he’s got a good football mind but the man’s a clown and has no relationship with his players.

When the Bombers started playing games with me, putting me on the IR and stuff, the joke ended up on them as they were on the hook for my salary this season, and with the settlement I got to stay home this year and get paid. The whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me hate the CFL. Well, actually not the CFL, just Winnipeg, I hope they never win anything again. As for my career I’m done with football.

Did you still keep in touch with any of the other guys you played with in Ottawa?

I still talk to Kyries Hebert, Jason Armstead and I recently met Quincy Coleman for some drinks. I catch up with Brad Banks once in awhile as well.

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Why did you wear #24?

When I first came to Ottawa the equipment manager gave it to me. I got off to a good start using it and everyone in every pro league wearing #24 was balling, so I decided to roll with that.

What piece of football advice would you offer to young players looking to take their game to the next level?

You gotta ask yourself before you think about a career as a football player, do you have anything else to fall back on? Don’t just go into it wanting to be a football player, since you can’t control that. You’ve gotta understand the game and your opponent and then you’ll do well. If you don’t know the game you’re competing on athletics.

When CFL fans hear the name Korey Banks, what would you like them to think of or remember?

I’d like them to remember a guy who played the game at a great level. When a new DB breaks into the CFL and has sustained success, not a flash in the pan one year wonder, but success at a high level for a number of years, I’d like them to say “Man that guys reminds me of Korey Banks”. That would truly be satisfying.

Thanks for your time Korey and best of luck to you in the future!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography

Ranking the CFL’s Signature Looks

By: Santino Filoso

Sig·na·ture (ˈsignəCHər,-ˌCHo͝or/)

noun

  1. a person’s name written in a distinctive way as a form of identification

The CFL in conjunction with Reebok recently released a brand new line of 3rd jerseys. This new “Signature Look” line has been mainly met with scorn and criticism even though they’re not all bad. In fact, we here at Defend the R took it upon ourselves to conduct a thorough analysis of each team’s new getups and rank them for you! Factors that went into our decision included visual appeal, style, fan interaction, use of team colours, how the uniforms looked in person vs being photoshopped/enhanced and ties to team history. Without further ado, here are the rankings:

9) The Saskatchewan GREENWHITES

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Though we are a fan run, independent blog, we here at Defend the R were privileged to sit in on Saskatchewan’s meeting with Reebok’s creative team. Here’s the *actual* transcript of how it went down.

Reebok: Thanks for coming today everyone, before we begin I’d just like to-

Saskatchewan: Green

Reebok: Uh, yes, okay, as I was saying-

Saskatchewan: Green

Reebok: Okay, maybe I’ll just give you the floor

Saskatchewan: Green, green, green

Reebok: Hmmm, alright, we can work with that, how about 50 shades of green?

Saskatchewan: GREEN!

Reebok: Why don’t we break for lunch?

Saskatchewan: Did you say watermelon!?

Reebok: I’m sensing a theme here….

All kidding aside, these uniforms are a complete mess. If every shade of green was meant to be sewn together on a piece of fabric, Martha Stewart would’ve done it already. The helmets a look like watermelons which is an ode to the fans who wear them in the stands and the “Rider Nation” tag inside the collar is a nice touch. The GREENWHITES also deserve praise for breaking new ground as the first and only team in pro sports history to feature a tramp stamp on their jersey.

Montreal Alouettes v Saskatchewan Roughriders
You can get your own GREENWHITE tramp stamp tattooed for free after every home win!

8) Winnipeg Blue Bombers

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Traditional team colours, who needs’em? Not the Bombers faithful, at least to management’s thinking. Ditching their beloved golden threads, the Bombers instead embraced their inner warrior by sporting the US Military’s Arctic camouflage. There’s not a lot to like if you’re a Bomber fan, as even the helmet looks like the after splatter of a flock of seagulls. It’s as if Reebok mixed up their Toronto and Winnipeg files with this look being the bastard love child. Last time I checked the team without gold and wearing double blue was based in Toronto. Maybe these uniforms will prove to be a stroke of genius late in the season as the team will blend in and disappear into the snowy weather. When even your players struggle to appear enthusiastic, you know you’ve missed the mark.

Jason Vega isn't impressed
Jason Vega isn’t impressed

7) The Toronto Argonauts

chipmunk   should never go with this  titanswhite

What do you get when you cross Alvin the Chipmunk’s trademarked A with the Tennessee Titan’s road uniforms?  The Argos’ new signature look of course! Don’t get me wrong, I love me some powdered blue but the layout is simply all wrong. The best part of this look is the helmet, which looks crisp and clean.

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6) The Hamilton Tiger Cats

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Raise your hand if you thought these garbage bag grey uniforms would be ready in time. The Ticat’s new look features charcoal grey to incorporate the smog from the factory smoke stacks surrounding Tim Horton’s field. The yellow reflector numbers are a nice touch as they will help fans keep track of their favourite players through the haze of still settling construction dust. Much like the Argos, the best part of these looks are the helmets with the faded tiger logo on one side and the player number on the other.

If your pet tiger is looking this grey, take him to the vet ASAP!
If your pet tiger is looking this grey, take him to the vet ASAP!

5) The Montreal Alouettes

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The Als stuck to their traditional colours by going with grey and silver on their futuristic looking new uniforms. Going back to their roots, the Alouettes chose to honour the first French Canadian Bombing unit in the Air Force, the 425 Squadron, who were nicknamed the ’’Alouettes”. Renown for their toughness and bravery, the 425 Squad was the inspiration when Montreal chose it’s team name in 1946. The only real knock on this look that for whatever reason the team and league have released very few pictures, so it’s really hard to judge just how good the complete product is or what the helmets really look like. One thing that does stand out is that the feather sleeve design looks like snowflakes. The Als decided to only use MTL on the front because it’s a) unilingual so they avoid any problems with Quebec’s strict language police and b) it saves space.

Dévoilement 3e Uniforme des Alouettes de Montréal
It’s 425, not 4225!

4) The Edmonton Eskimos

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The Eskimos stuck to the KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple) philosophy with their new look and I can appreciate that. The Eskimos kept to what they and their fans know, the green and gold colour scheme and in so doing created something that both traditionalists and younger fans can enjoy. While the enormous double Es might not be the prettiest thing to look at, keep in mind that these are supposed to be signature looks, so who can fault the Eskimos for putting their signature front and centre? Stitching the lyrics to part of their fight song inside the collar is a subtle touch that links these jerseys to the team’s storied history

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“The Green & Gold is bold”

3) The BC Lions

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Jumping the gun on the rest of the league, BC actually released their signature jerseys last year, only they called them their “Premier Look”. The bane of sports announcers league wide, these sharp uniforms boast a gun metal look that is perfectly offset by the safety pylon orange outlining their black numbers. Though some complain the numbers are hard to read who cares, unless you’re playing the Redblacks, Ticats or Stampeders, you’ll be the only team on the field in all black! The Leos didn’t mess with a good thing by leaving the paw decal on the side of the helmet untouched.

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Sorry Bighill, you’re #3 actually

2) The Ottawa Redblacks

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A wise man once said that once you go plaid you’re always glad and boy was he ever right. From Day One the Redblacks have embraced Ottawa’s lumber history and considering that our mascot is an axe wielding (though kid friendly) lumberjack, it was only a matter of time before plaid worked its way onto our uniforms. It’s called a Canadian tuxedo for a reason and we here in the Nation’s Capital choose to embrace stereotypes. The Redblacks signature look definitely puts the red in Redblacks. The checkered helmet is the crown jewel of this uniform (literally), though it’s a bit strange to see an Ottawa helmet without the white iconic R on it. But to be fair to Reebok, it probably didn’t mesh well with the plaid since everyone knows that the only thing that goes with plaid is more plaid. The one thing holding this look back from top spot is the big white looking (but actually silver) saw blade on the front, it just screams out of place. Not to mention the fact that it has an uncanny resemblance to a Dr. Seuss character.

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Long lost cousins?

 

1)  The Calgary Stampeders

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The Stamps must really love the Redblacks home uniforms, because their signature look is almost exactly the same. This NRA approved uniform sports a pair of revolvers on the shoulders and gloves; a tribute to the Wild West or a reflection of the city’s gang violence? What vaults this look ahead of all the rest is Calgary’s new helmet. The bitumen black front of the helmet fades away to red and is highlighted by speed lines and a chrome horse logo. Like the GREENWHITES , Ticats, and Esks, the Stamps also have an engraving stitched on their collar, but theirs is in Latin. It doesn’t matter that nobody on the team could tell you what “Quidquid Requiritur,” means (Whatever It Takes), having a dead language on your jersey simply makes you cool.

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Will you buy your team’s new jersey? How would you rank’em? Be sure to leave a comment and let us know!

@RedBlackGade