With the Canadian Football League draft around the corner, host Jeff Morris is joined by Carleton Ravens football head coach Steve Sumarah to discuss, among other things, the great success his program has had in producing CFL draft picks – a total 11 since 2013.
Jeff provides us with a little bit (read: a lot) of history on the CFL draft, including some of Carleton & Ottawa U’s most memorable draft picks.
For those keeping score, the current standings for total number of players drafted sits at:
Ottawa U – 104
Carleton – 73
Jeff and Steve also discuss the East-West Bowl, a showcase of USports players eligible for the 2020 CFL draft, which takes place at Carleton’s MNP Park on May 11 @12:30pm. Get your tickets here.
This week’s ‘Mount Rushmore’ looks at the four best Carleton Ravens football coaches to be drafted into the CFL.
In the third episode of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast, we hear from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Carleton Ravens Football Dinner on April 5th, 2019. In a visionary (and pretty darn inspiring) address, Ambrosie not only speaks about growing the league internationally and creating new opportunities for Canadians to play abroad, but also how to “take back” the narrative and start growing the sport locally. Definitely worth a listen.
In this week’s ‘Mount Rushmore’, Jeff gives us the best two-sport athletes to have played for the Ottawa Rough Riders/Renegades/Redblacks. Tons of fascinating Ottawa sports history in this segment.
Carleton Ravens alumnus and Ottawa media mogul Jeff Morris records the pilot episode of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast – literally while on the road!
Jeff sets up the format for the show; Memories from his CFL draft evaluation (precursor to the combine) experience in Vancouver in 1984; Talks about the Junior Ravens football program; A look back at the 1976-1980 Carleton Ravens football teams, recently honoured at the school’s football banquet; This week’s Mount Rushmore looks at the four former Carleton Ravens who had the best CFL careers.
Editor’s note: Our friend, fellow CFL fan (Saskatchewan, but try not to hold it against him) and favourite uniform concept designer Nelson Hackewich was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences at this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton. This is the first of a couple recaps on all the great stuff the festival has to offer. Thanks Nelson! Super jealous!
It was a lengthy eight-hour drive through the frosted Canadian prairie from Regina to Edmonton, which gave me a lot of time to think about who to cheer for this Sunday in the 106th Grey Cup. People will tell you, “you’re from the west how can you not cheer for the west?”, or “the cup has to stay in the east!” But, over the course of the drive, I’ve come up with a few reasons which determined that, although I primarily bleed green, for one weekend in November, I’ll cheer for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Reason #1: Rick Campbell. He’s just a darn decent dude! Back when CFL Week was in Regina, I bumped into Rick almost daily in the Tim Hortons line at Evraz place, where we talked football and his love for Saturday Night Live. Plus, he is linked to not only the Riders, but the Eskimos through his father, the great Hugh Campbell.
Reason #2: The increasingly popular CFL adage of ABC – Anyone But Calgary. I think Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson hit the nail on the head in his West Final post game comments when he told reporters that Canada doesn’t like seeing them in the Grey Cup.
Anyway, onto the festivities!
Grey Cup Thursday
Edmonton has definitely come alive as the hotbed of Canadian football. Everywhere you look it’s decorated businesses, “Grey Cup” food and drink specials and the like. The city is roaring and ready to go! Everywhere you go people are dressed in all 10 CFL team (including the Atlantic Schooners) jerseys and apparel. Bars and restaurants are full and on American thanksgiving, where the NFL generally holds the spotlight, it was almost non-existent as the conversation turned to who is going to win on Sunday. I even heard a conversation about the Las Vegas Posse and Shreveport Pirates.
A smaller crowd strolled the street fest today taking in activations from Shaw (where you could sit in a Redblacks locker stall donning Brad Sinopoli’s jersey and equipment), get some s’mores compliments of TSN, or “Take a Kick at the Can” and see if you can last 8 seconds on a giant can of Twisted Tea (Mechanical bull style). Our night was capped at the outdoor street stage where Winnipeg’s The Watchmen played all their hits! Daniel Greaves (lead vocals) came out in a retro Bombers sweater and opened by stating “I wish the Bombers were here” and closed by asking the crowd “Who are we cheering for on sunday” with a primarily pro-Ottawa response.
Team hospitality rooms open up Friday with the highly anticipated announcement of the Atlantic Canada franchise team name, the CFL fan state of the league, a dip into the Shaw conference center to check out more fan fest activities, performances by Maestro Fresh Wes and Canadian supergroup Toque, capped off by a stop in Riderville and back to the stage to catch The Strumbellas.
Grey Cup Friday
After a quick autograph signing with Saskatchewan WR Namann Roosevelt and Argos WR SJ Green, Canadian hip hop legend Maestro Fresh Wes, Dressed in a special edition Eskimos Damon Allen jersey custom made for the 2018 Grey Cup, got our day going belting out “Let your backbone slide”. Taking shots at current Canadian rap superstar Drake, saying “I’ve been doing this since he’s been on Degrassi” was classic. Wes was followed up by Canadian super group and cover band Toque, featuring Todd Kerns (Age of Electric) Brent Fitz (Slah, Myles Kenedy, Alice Cooper) and Cory Churko (Shania Twain, Live), who played nothing but hits from Loverboy, Streetheart, Chilliwack, and Queen City Kids. True Canadiana and very fitting for the Grey Cup festival.
From there a dip into the Atlantic Kitchen Party for the 10th franchise name unveiling. Seriously, is anyone shocked? There were rumblings early in the week from a few of my media contacts in the league that it would be such. If the Schooners weren’t called the Schooners, it would be crushing not only to the people that host the Atlantic Schooners Kitchen Party year after year, but all of the people that have dreamt of this moment for so long. The font they chose was an interesting “UA Falcon”, which is primarily used by Under Armour teams. Using a white font on a grey stormy background also leaves a lot to be desired. Will they be black and grey? Will they be black and gold?
The night was capped by visits to the #RNation Party, where we bumped into the lovely Redblacks Cheer team, Winnipeg RB Andrew Harris and Ottawa mascot Big Joe (and his forearms). Then a short walk down street fest to Riderville, where we saw performances by the BC Felions dance team, the Alouettes Cheer team and Rider Cheer team.
Saturday, we take in the Grey Cup parade, team walkthroughs at Commonwealth Stadium, a tour of the Oilers beautiful Rogers Arena, and cap the night with a performance by Tim Hicks. Can’t wait!
On Monday, July 30, Canadian Football League fans across the country were shocked to hear of the release of Saskatchewan running back and 2016 Most Outstanding Canadian Jerome Messam. The release of the star Canadian came as a result of voyeurism charges related to a 2016 incident that occurred while Messam was with the Calgary Stampeders, but only came to the attention of police in April 2018.
The CFL wasted no time voicing its position on the matter:
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has informed all member clubs that the league will not register a contract for Messam should any team attempt to sign him.
The release and black-balling of Messam came less than two weeks after the same treatment of Teague Sherman, defensive back with the Ottawa Redblacks. Based on complaints from three females, Sherman was charged with two counts of sexual assault related to incidents which occurred in November 2017.
Again the CFL wasted no time, stating that it would not register a contract for Sherman, adding that “the Canadian Football League has and abides by a policy on violence against women and condemns violence against women in all its forms.”
These back-to-back stances on charges related to sexual assault against women have drawn a clear line in the turf: there will be zero-tolerance in the CFL when it comes to violence against women.
While there are always those who problematize a zero-tolerance stance (and this is not the article to debate that), many in the CFL community are rejoicing in what appears to be a clear change in Canadian football culture. While Ambrosie has gained respect across the league for his hands-on approach on many fronts – expansion, instant replay, player safety, fan engagement – it is possible we have unknowingly stumbled upon another first: Randy Ambrosie as the CFL’s first feminist commissioner.
The word “feminist” has become a contentious term in recent years largely based on ill-conceived notions of what it means to be a feminist. Fed by pop culture references that paint feminism as the bastion of angry, man-hating women who want to strip men of their masculinity, prescribe women’s role in society and in the home by denouncing “traditional roles,” and turn the world into a place where pant-suited women rule and men are secondary, our collective concept of feminism has deviated significantly from the truth. So then, what does it really mean to be a feminist?
A feminist is a person, any person, who supports equality between women and men. Simple as that. In fact, the concept that any one gender is or should be superior to the other, whether men OR women, is the exact opposite of feminist principles. The essential concept of equality extends to all facets of society; political, economic, personal, social and cultural. It doesn’t mean that men and woman can and should be exactly the same; they’re not. It means men and women should have equal freedom and choice to pursue opportunities in life without facing discrimination.
When it comes to issues of violence against women, including issues of sexual assault, feminism supports the inherent rights of women as human beings to live free from violence, harassment, discrimination and unequal treatment based on gender. Feminists advocate for women’s rights as human rights, and in fact also advocate for men’s rights and recognize the harmful effects that traditional prescriptive gender roles have on men.
So is commissioner Ambrosie the first feminist CFL commissioner? Well, not really, no.
It would be unfair not to acknowledge the huge strides taken by the league under former commissioner Jeffrey Orridge with the development of an official CFL Violence Against Women (VAW) policy in 2015. Developed in partnership with the Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA) and following consultations with multiple experts in the field, the policy applies to all personnel, not just players and coaches, and includes a provision that everyone in the CFL will receive annual mandatory training on violence against women and the issues surrounding it. According to Tracy Porteous, former Chair of EVA Canada and current Executive Director of EVA BC, “the leadership being shown by the entire CFL is to be applauded profoundly. Violence against women has long thrived in the shadows so when organizations, especially those led by men, step forward to ask, ‘what can we do to break the silence?’ it shines an important light on a subject most people don’t know what to do with. Through this policy the CFL is changing history.”
Many clubs have embraced and even gone above and beyond the call to provide the mandatory annual training, including the BC Lions, who partnered with EVA BC and the government of BC to deliver the four-year, hugely successful Be More Than a Bystander campaign; and the Toronto Argonauts, who partnered with the White Ribbon Campaign in 2015 to create Huddle Up and Make the Call, a program that raises awareness and issues a call to action in efforts to help end male violence against women. More recently, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers launched a three-year campaign in 2016, Break the Silence on Violence Against Women, consisting of a series of player-led talks and workshops on VAW in high schools across Manitoba.
While Ambrosie may not be the first feminist CFL commissioner, under his watch the CFL VAW Policy has certainly gone from a promise on paper to a resonating culture shift. The zero-tolerance handling of the Messam and Sherman charges are not the first signs of change since Ambrosie took office. In March of this year, the CFL voided Euclid Cummings’ contract with the B.C. Lions after he was charged with four criminal counts, including sexual assault charges involving two alleged victims. Ambrosie further launched an internal investigation into how Cummings was allowed to play the entire 2017 season with the Edmonton Eskimos, despite Winnipeg having previously informed the league and Edmonton of the charges. Interestingly, the CFL official statements concerning Messam and Sherman now include clear instruction that the league will not recognize contracts for these players with any team (presumably while legal proceedings are underway).
It’s possible the recent swift-acting stance taken by the CFL is a “once bitten, twice-shy” response by Ambrosie to what’s become a series of mishandled incidents and subsequent tarnishing of the CFL’s strong reputation as a pro-diversity, pro-inclusion league. Prior to the Cummings situation and after a great deal of fan uproar, the league stepped in to reverse the hiring of Art Briles by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in August of last year. Briles, a long-time friend of current Ticats head coach June Jones, was fired in May 2016 from Baylor University. While serving as the program’s football coach, an investigation discovered the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations against football players. One of the allegations resulted in a settlement with a former student who said she was a victim of gang rape. The suit claimed Baylor turned a blind eye to sexual assaults to build a strong football team under Briles. She said she was aware of 52 incidents of rape by more than 30 football players between 2011 and 2014. Here in Canada, we are by no means exempt from severe issues of violence against women.
In Canada, one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Of the 460,000 sexual assaults that occur in Canada each year, 3.3% are reported to police, 1.2% have charges laid, and 0.3% lead to a conviction. Of the 3.3% that are reported to police, 2-4% are deemed false reports (that’s roughly one per every 1,000 sexual assault cases). 99.7% of assailants walk free. To put that into perspective, if you were to take 5 CFL players who “allegedly” committed sexual assault, 4.985 out of those 5 would statistically not be convicted.
Faced with this challenge, the CFL, led by commissioner Ambrosie, has stepped up and taken an approach that other professional sports leagues can and should aspire to. The league has sent the message loud and clear that women’s bodies and autonomy will be respected, and that no player, coach, or financial bottomline is more important than this fundamental principle. Questions of guilt or innocence or of potential impacts on the livelihoods and reputations of individuals charged are not the issues at hand, and in fact, the CFL has shown on multiple occasions that players not convicted of a criminal offence are welcomed back, albeit cautiously. The CFL is making a change toward acknowledging a pervasive social problem in Canada, and Ambrosie is going a step further to put words and policies into action. He is doing the heavy lifting, the difficult dirty work, and certainly ruffling feathers and upsetting the status quo along the way. He may not be the first feminist commissioner, but I believe his recent actions make him a feminist commissioner, and a damn good one.
With nine games down in the 2017 Canadian Football League season, the Ottawa Redblacks have been less than spectacular, to put it nicely, sitting third in the East with a 2-6-1 record. Hopes were high for the Grey Cup champs coming into the season, with the return of stand-out running back William Powell (who missed all of 2016), heaps of talent coming in via free agency (including LB Khalil Bass, DB A.J. Jefferson and receivers Diontae Spencer & Kenny Shaw), and of course the chance to defend the Grey Cup at home. Yet, here we are, nine games in and only a measly pair of victories.
In spite of last week’s convincing win in Hamilton, there’s no doubt fans and players alike are frustrated with the team’s half-season performance. While these struggles may have something to do with the team’s coaching or play-calling, at the end of the day, the players are paid to execute and win games. I think former QB Henry Burris said it best:
You can’t take the leadership of a team away and expect the same results. This is not the same Redblacks team from the last two years!!!
Without a doubt, Burris’ leadership and experience are a massive loss. Even at 41 last season, he was effectively reading blitzes and able to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Burris was the face of the Redblacks for the first three years, put the team on his back when necessary and the rest of the team rallied around him.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Trevor Harris is a leader, and appears to be a damn good one. But Harris is only one of several players needed to fill the holes left following the Grey Cup victory. So far, it appears Ottawa just lost too many veterans in the off-season to be able to play like they did in 2015 and the first and last thirds of 2016. With half a season still to play, they need guys to step up, fast.
So, who will step up?
Right now, The Buds® look to be filling the void. At #1 and #3 in CFL receiving yards and huge fan favourites, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli lead by example. Still to be seen whether they develop into more vocal leaders. Could be a big factor in a Redblacks turnaround this year and beyond.
The loss of Moton Hopkins cannot be understated. Yes, he is still with the team as an assistant coach, but impact on the field and in the locker room matters. A fan favourite and team captain, Hopkins was there to get his team fired up. That attitude/swagger/confidence is not the easiest to replace, but a couple guys that look like naturals to step in are Zack Evans and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon. Both are veterans with championships under their belts.
No single group was hit harder this offseason than the secondary. #DBlock lost a lot of talent and valuable leadership in Abdul Kanneh (HAM), Forrest Hightower (NFL, now with EDM) and Mitchell White (NFL). All were all-star-calibre players who could get people fired up – both teammates and fans. With all three gone, someone in the secondary needs to step up and continue their legacy. I believe Sherrod Baltimore could be that guy. Since getting in the lineup, Baltimore hasn’t stopped playing hard, with both passion and heart! As veterans, Jerrell Gavins and Jonathan Rose are also being asked to do more in leading an inexperienced group. If these first three years have shown us anything it’s that when #DBlock plays well, the Redblacks play well.
The Redblacks are at the halfway point in the regular season, with nine games left. Not saying they’ll win them all, but taking a quick peek at the schedule you can see some favourable opponents, with Ottawa facing Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Montreal twice each. If the Redblacks can win at least five of their remaining nine games, that may well be enough to make the playoffs and get a chance to defend the title at home. This can only be achieved from within, however, and the Redblacks need to find ways to turn those last-second losses into victories. That will take more complete team efforts like last week in Hamilton, supported by confidence and execution from a young leadership group. Only then can we start to get serious about a third straight Grey Cup appearance.
With training camp in the books and the 2017 Canadian Football League season on the horizon, general manager Marcel Desjardins, head coach Rick Campbell and the Ottawa Redblacks had the difficult task of paring down the roster to the league-mandated maximum of 46 (not including injuries, plus 10 practise roster spots) over the weekend.
Here’s the team that will storm the field at TD Place on Friday, June 23rd:
DB – Defensive Back
21 Berger, Adam 🇨🇦
20 Bolduc, Jean-Philippe 🇨🇦
46 Carrington, Lloyd
19 Claiborne, Imoan
4 Gavins, Jerrell
24 Jefferson, A.J.
15 Johnson, Keelan
6 Pruneau, Antoine 🇨🇦
9 Rose, Jonathan
32 Taylor, Nicholas
33 West, Dan 🇨🇦
Definitely the biggest question mark coming into the 2017 season. While there are a few returning vets (Gavins, Pruneau) and the addition of former Toronto Argonaut standout Jefferson, the fact is this is an inexperienced group. And while that may be a fairly regular occurrence in the CFL, it nonetheless means dealing with the uncertainty that comes with young players and CFL rookies. That said, D-Block 2017 looks to be a very talented and athletic group, led by coach (and DB guru) Ike Charlton.
After defensive backs, the defensive line is probably the next biggest question mark for the Grey Cup champs. The group remains a strong one, with high-end Canadian talent in Gascon-Nadon, Williams and Evans, but the fact remains Ottawa had difficulty getting to the opposing quarterback for most of the 2016 season. It appears the plan is to rotate seven or eight of these big boys with regularity, at least for the first few weeks of the season.
K – Kicker
3 Maher, Brett
39 Medeiros, Zack 🇨🇦
Maher returns to Ottawa following a strong 2016 season in Hamilton and a brief stint on the Cleveland Browns roster. Medeiros has had a strong camp by all accounts and has performed well in preseason games. Dare we say the kicking positions seem (knock on wood) somewhat solidified?
LB – Linebacker
22 Bass, Khalil
10 Bryant, Serderius
42 Omara, Ron 🇨🇦
44 Reed, Taylor
The Redblacks had some challenges at LB in 2016, with a fair amount of turnover, including adding ‘Tank’ Reed at mid-season and having Gavins (admirably) jump into the position from his normal DB spot(s). Bass was one of the most sought-after free agents available this offseason. This group looks strong.
LS – Long Snapper
52 Doll, Tanner 🇨🇦
50 Bourassa, Louis-Philippe 🇨🇦
Doll was solid in 2016, and 2017 draft pick Bourassa looks to be a versatile back-up that can contribute on special teams.
OL – Offensive Line
53 Albright, Matthew 🇨🇦
68 Draheim, Tommie
63 Gott, Jon 🇨🇦
64 Johnson, Evan 🇨🇦
58 Lauzon-Séguin, Jason 🇨🇦
66 MacMillan, Nolan 🇨🇦
56 Mateas, Alex 🇨🇦
55 Rogers, SirVincent
59 Silas, Jake
With the return of Jake Silas this week, the Redblacks offensive line is essentially the same strong group from 2016. While J’Michael Deane is gone, 2017 first-round pick Evan Johnson will look to make his way into the rotation. Most importantly, guard SirVincent Rogers looks fully recovered from season-ending ankle injury.
QB – Quarterback
7 Harris, Trevor
14 Lindley, Ryan
5 Tate, Drew
For the first time in his pro career, Harris will be the undisputed starting QB. And while he has put up excellent numbers the last two seasons with extended time as fill-in starter, being “the guy” is a different kind of pressure. How Harris responds will be a – if not the – major storyline of the Redblacks season.
RB/FB – Running Back/Fullback
25 Gillanders, Brendan 🇨🇦
45 Gosselin, Anthony 🇨🇦
81 Lavoie, Patrick 🇨🇦
23 Madu Jr., Mossis
29 Powell, William
Powell was a force for Ottawa in the back-half of 2015, including a team-best performance in the Grey Cup loss. After missing all of 2016 with an Achilles injury, WiPo is healthy and looked strong in his limited preseason reps. Lavoie is the incumbent FB and should continue to be that 6th/7th receiving option for Harris.
The Redblacks got a lot younger at receiver this offseason, and many believe they have a chance to be even better than the 2016 crew. Lofty, considering they are coming off a second straight year where four receivers topped 1,000 yards. Shaw (1,004 yards for Toronto last year) & Spencer (706 yards in just 12 games with the Argos) are the big free agent additions, while Criner put up 446 yards in the final eight games of the year, including playoffs, once Chris Williams was lost for the year. Add these three to what we’ve come to expect from The Buds (Ellingson & Sinopoli), and the 2017 Redblacks receiving corps is setting up to challenge the league’s best. Is FIVE 1,000-yard receivers a possibility?
While there are always question marks, there’s little question the Redblacks have improved depth at most positions. Barring significant injury, a healthy Redblacks squad should contend for first in the East Division.
By the way, here’s the Redblacks practise roster for Week 1:
27 Baltimore, Sherrod (DB)
31 Brown, Kevin (LB)
17 Collins, Danny (QB)
98 Ellis, Avery (DL)
80 Hartley, Austen (WR) 🇨🇦
35 Jackson, Kevin (LB) 🇨🇦
57 Lofton, Eric (OL) 89 Rhymes, Dominique (WR)
69 Schmidt, Ryan (OL) 28 Tindal, Corey (DB)
PR UPDATE (6/22): Preseason standout WR Daje Johnson has been added to the practise roster, replacing OL Ryan Schmidt. Johnson will wear number 13.
I hope #RNation has enjoyed its post-championship glow, because life moves fast and the win-loss columns are all about to be set to zero. While some familiar Redblacks have left (or not been asked back), the team is looking strong. Starting with the defence, today is the first of two position-by-position breakdowns of who is gone, notable newcomers and what to watch for through the balance of training camp and the pre-season.
Key returning players: Zack Evans, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Connor Williams
Departed: Moton Hopkins (retired), Cleyon Laing (was here for the end of regular season + playoffs)
Notable newcomers: Jason Ankrah (free agent)
I’m not happy to see Moton Hopkins gone, partly because I had to re-write this section. The Redblacks depth inside is blown up – for now, and DL becomes a bigger question mark than it was just a couple of days ago. Expect the Redblacks to do some shuffling to figure out where people are going to settle. Landon Cohen likely has an inside track on the 0 tech NT slot with Hopkins gone. Jake Ceresna who was at Redblacks camp in 2016 until breaking his leg is back. He has impressive size, we’ll see how he does in his second shot at the pro game after coming out of a very small school/division where play appears on par with CJFL. Ettore Lattanzio should continue making more than his share of plays as depth DT.
Before Hopkins’ retirement, the big question was at DE. The Redblacks have brought a lot of guys in since Aston Whiteside’s injury, and none have really stuck. Jason Ankrah has caught my eye, we’ll see how he does over the next few days. Another possibility at speed rush DE is Avery Ellis out of Temple. Both will need to be evaluated closely in contact drills and live action.
One wild card inside is Eli Ankou. The UCLA DT was snapped up by the Redblacks in the 4th round. He would have been an early first round CFL pick, but was signed to a priority free agent contract by the Houston Texans following the NFL draft. However, we now know his rather low signing bonus/guaranteed money ($20k) means the Texans perhaps aren’t that high on him. We might see him in Ottawa by September.
NOTE: I’m going to follow up on the DL situation once I get a longer look at practice, Saturday’s scrimmage and the first pre-season game.
Key returning players: Tank Reed
Departed: Damaso Muñoz (released, since retired)
Notable newcomers: Khalil Bass (free agent – WPG)
There was a fair bit of shuffling of the LB corps in 2016, and each step was an improvement. The Grey Cup starting trio of Muñoz, Reed and Jerrell Gavins have been split up, with Muñoz released and Gavins now shuffled back to his more natural DB position. Joining Reed is Bass, who made an impact in two seasons with the Blue Bombers. He is a legit CFL rising star and gives the Redblacks one of the strongest 1-2 LB punches in the league. The question is at the hybrid LB/DB position of SAM or strongside LB. Largely a pass coverage role, it was Antoine Pruneau’s job until he was moved back to his more natural FS position. Gavins slid into the role where he was a big contributor through the team’s Grey Cup run. Departures in the secondary during the offseason have pushed Gavins back, however, and the SAM spot is open – it will be an interesting competition that may not be settled until later in camp. I’ll report more on this later.
Key returning players: Jerrell Gavins, Jonathan Rose, Antoine Pruneau
Departed: Forrest Hightower, Abdul Kanneh, Jeff Richards, Mitchell White
Notable newcomers: AJ Jefferson (free agent – TOR), Javier Arenas (free agent – 2010 NFL 2nd Round draft pick, multiple NFL stints)
I’m not as concerned about this group as I was a few weeks ago. The outlook was grim over the winter, however. Since its first season, the Redblacks have fielded a very strong secondary. And every season, the team has had to face the loss of key players. To its credit, the team has been able to keep the shelves stocked. The secondary was looking pretty bare after Hightower and Kanneh left, but its quite possible that Marcel Desjardins and team have successfully managed to re-load the secondary.
The leader this year is Gavins (wearing #4 this year, by the way), now a team veteran who has grown in his time with the Redblacks. He played SAM LB last year and did it well, but this season there are too many gaping holes in the secondary to keep him in that role. Rose is one of the players who came in to replace the original group of departees, and he has been a strong CB for the past 1.5 seasons. Pruneau is back at his natural Free Safety slot, which he took on last season. Pruneau should continue to thrive there. Jefferson, who was signed as a free agent from the Argos, will start and it sounds like returning depth player Imoan Claiborne has an inside shot at starting, while it may be hard to keep NFL veteran Arenas from the open cornerback position. This is assuming he can adapt to the motion and “hands off” CFL rules. A depth player or two with upside will also emerge at camp – they always do.
Look for an offensive preview tomorrow and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.
With mini-camps wrapping up across the continent, the next big event in the 2017 CFL calendar is the Draft. On May 7th, (most of) the best and brightest Canadian football talent will be snapped up by the league’s nine teams over eight rounds.
As Grey Cup champions (woo hoo!!!), the Ottawa Redblacks are set to draft last in each round, barring any trades in the lead-up to Sunday night. 2017 will mark the Redblacks fifth CFL Draft, as the team participated on a limited basis (four picks) in the 2013 Draft – a full year prior to their inaugural season in 2014. General manager Marcel Desjardins and his staff have done a commendable job at the Draft through the first four years, adding a number of significant contributors to the Redblacks roster. First round picks each year include:
2013: OL Nolan MacMillan (9th overall); 43 games played, 42 starts
2014: DB Antoine Pruneau (4th overall); 53 games played, 45 starts
2015: OL Alex Mateas (1st overall); 35 games played, 10 starts
2016: OL Jason Lauzon-Séguin (7th overall); 14 games played, 12 starts
Here’s a summary of each Redblacks draft pick’s impact on the Ottawa lineup to date (courtesy @jonathanwhudson):
Opinions are pretty varied as far as the position or player the Redblacks should be targeting in the first round. Common sense says the first round should be reserved for key Canadian positions on the offensive and defensive lines, but there are always exceptions. Here’s how some in the CFL media see things shaking out for the Redblacks at #9:
Although the Redblacks could go many different routes with the last pick in the first round, selecting Behar makes a lot of sense. It fills a need – Ottawa has suspect depth behind Brad Sinopoli – and adds another local product to the team’s receiving corps. Behar is a London, Ontario native but, of course, played college ball in Ottawa. The Redblacks could use another offensive lineman – McGill’s Qadr Spooner will be considered – as well as a defensive tackle, however a DT such as Idaho’s Faith Ekakitie or Montreal’s Junior Luke would be a reach in the first round. Behar’s local ties edge out Spooner.
Mock Draft #2:
1:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: LB Jordan Herdman, Simon Fraser
Herdman’s fall to the bottom of the first round has much to do with both his NFL interest and his testing results. Although NFL teams will be grossly turned off by his 5.16 40-yard dash, the combination of his Senior Bowl performance and his game tape – that of which suggests no issues with his testing numbers – should result in Herdman getting an opportunity down south as an undrafted free agent.
For Ottawa, while a plethora of defensive tackles and offensive linemen remain available, they saw strong seasons from Connor Williams and Ettore Lattanzio in 2016, while Zack Evans has became a menace in the middle. Based on the players still available versus Ottawa’s team needs, they’re in a position to invest in a player like Herdman. Regardless of his testing numbers, Herdman will one day be a starting inside linebacker in this league.
Herdman has subsequently been invited to Kansas City Chiefs rookie mini-camp.
NFL interest isn’t the only thing muddying Ankou’s stock. At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, the worry is he’s a bit oversized for a typical CFL interior lineman, but on the plus side, he’s not viewed as strictly a one-dimensional run-stuffer.
The RedBlacks would likely love an offensive lineman, but this Ottawa native might be the best talent on the board.
Roy put up an outstanding 39 bench press reps at the combine at just 287 pounds — an outstanding feat for a guy who could afford to add weight to his 6’3 frame. Roy’s also bilingual, an added bonus for a bilingual market.
Of all my picks in the first round, this is the one I’m most hesitant about. Last year, Marcel Desjardins and his REDBLACKS staff took an NCAA defensive lineman in Boston College alum and Montreal native Mehdi Abdesmad in hopes he would come to the CFL sooner rather than later.
Abdesmad has not yet come back north which could interest Ottawa in stretching for another big name quarterback hunter in Iowa Hawkeyes Faith Ekakitie — OR could push the REDBLACKS towards taking a USPORTS player ready to commit himself to the organization immediately. Maybe even a Kwaku Boateng or Kay Okafor if they last to the end of the first round.
Mitch Picton isn’t ready to start yet but the Redblacks don’t need him to. Picton is a tremendous receiving talent who can learn behind Brad Sinopoli and eventually replace him, providing currently absent depth in the slot.
Note that Justin Senior (1) was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the 6th round of the NFL Draft, while Ankou (Houston), Geoff Gray (Green Bay) and Antony Auclair (Tampa Bay) were all signed to priority free agent deals immediately after the draft. All four will likely drop to mid-round picks, given the risk of them ever playing in the CFL.
Also worth noting that LB Cameron Judge (UCLA) and DL Randy Colling (Gannon University) have been ruled eligible for the 2017 CFL Draft. Both could very well be selected in the first 2-3 rounds.
2017 is a big year for the Carleton Ravens football program, as it will be the first time a Raven is selected in the CFL Draft since 1999 and could see a handful of players chosen. In fact, there are a number of Ottawa connections in the crop of players available this year, including:
DB Tunde Adeleke (Carleton)
#2-ranked DL Eli Ankou (UCLA) – born in Ottawa
OL Kwabena Asare (Carleton)
#9-ranked WR Nathaniel Behar (Carleton)
WR Malcolm Carter (Ottawa Sooners)
DB Nathaniel Hamlin (Carleton)
The 2017 CFL Draft is Sunday, May 7th @ 7:00PM ET. The first two hours will be broadcast live on TSN.
When I heard the 2017 CFL schedule was coming out on Tuesday, I vowed not to be yet another fan griping about a schedule that is less than perfect. There is no perfect schedule (except maybe the one on your PVR). Yes, there will be mid-week games that make road trips difficult. Yes, there will be tight clusters of games with frankly not enough rest for the players. Yes, there are aspects of the schedule that will not appeal to every Redblacks fan. For better or worse, these things are more or less par for the course.
That being said, there is one concern for me that warrants more attention and outrage than it appears to be receiving and that is the Redblacks having to wait until week 18 for their first bye week. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve heard complaints. Mostly from the fan’s perspective of potentially having only one game in 37 days should the Redblacks clinch the East, motivated in part by having no football to watch, and by the concern that long breaks are momentum busters. However, my issue is less about the lack of football around the end of the season, and more about the risks that 17 straight weeks of football pose to the health and safety of the players.
Putting aside the concussion debate, football is a grueling, physically demanding, full contact (on every play) sport. We already know some unlucky players will have season-ending (even career-ending) injuries each year, and very few players will make it through an entire season without a significant injury (requiring surgery, therapy, etc). Yes, they sign on to put their bodies and health at risk and they know and accept that any given play could be their last. But no athlete is a robot, no matter how much they’re paid. Bye weeks are essential for the physical and mental health recovery they provide, and denying the players that dearly needed rest while requiring more and more physical output is a recipe for serious injury.
I recognize there are some weeks with long stretches between games, and that is fair enough. But would you consider working from home the equivalent to having a day off? Of course you wouldn’t, because even if you’re home wearing your PJs instead of your pumps (or suit and tie, as the case may be), you’re still doing your job. You’re not watching Netflix or running errands or spending quality time with your family and children (And let’s remember for most players their families are not with them in Ottawa). Likewise, having a couple extra days between practice does not a bye week make.
As many have noted, the Redblacks are not the first CFL club to have to deal with such a schedule quirk. Calgary went 15 weeks between byes last season, for example. So it may be an unfortunate standard practise of a nine-team league. And not being a player myself, maybe I grossly overestimate the importance of bye weeks for the health and recovery of these athletes. However, if this is a valid concern I’d encourage CFL players and the CFL Players Association to do what it can to address player safety in future collective bargaining agreements, if not this current one. The league and TSN aren’t going to do it for you.
Or we can just ignore it and go back to worrying about who has the most inconvenient mid-week games.