Redblacks continue to make waves

By: Santino Filoso

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Seems like the Ottawa Redblacks aren’t quite done making off-season moves. Early Tuesday morning the team leaked news via their twitter account that they had a major announcement to make and members of #RNation began speculating immediately as to what it could be.

In a very neat move, the team first broke the news of their latest free agent splash through a personal email to season ticket holders.

By signing the diminutive 5’ 8″ and 175 pound all-star Chris Williams to a one year deal, the Redblacks have added one of the most dynamic CFL players in recent memory. Williams, a dual threat WR and KR was named the CFL’s most outstanding rookie in 2011 when he broke into the league with 70 receptions for 1064 receiving yards and 6 TDs. 

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Williams’ sophomore season was just as impressive, as he was named the CFL’s most outstanding special teams player, making 83 catches for 1298 yards with receiving 11 TDs to go along with 5 punt return touchdowns. Who was throwing Williams the ball in 2012? None other than current Redblacks’ QB Henry Burris. If they can quickly re-establish that kind of rapport, TD Place might finally start living up to it’s name.

After the 2012 season, Williams left the CFL following a contract dispute with the Hamilton Ticats and wound up signing with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints in 2013. Following a short stint with the Chicago Bears last season, Williams was thought to be a long shot to return to the CFL, as he’s someone who still garners NFL interest, as evidenced by his workout earlier this month with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though he hasn’t played a ton of snaps over the last two seasons, his 101 yard kick return touchdown last year vs the Green Bay Packers shows that his agility and speed haven’t diminished.

GM Marcel Desjardins deserves major props for a) making this deal happen and b) keeping it under wraps until this morning’s email to season ticket holders. At Williams’ introductory press conference Desjardins explained how things fell into place to get the deal done.

“Chris’ versatility and return ability is something we couldn’t pass up. Going back to last October, we had money budgeted to land this player. If it came to fruition, we were in a great place and if it didn’t, we could do other things. For me it was just a function of reaching out and letting Chris and his agent know we were interested. I respected their process. I didn’t badger them for answers. Once they came to ‘we need to look at the CFL now,’ it went well.”

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Image via Scott Grant

Though Williams will have to re-adjust to the CFL, the wider field and recent rule changes should enable him to pick up right where he left off. Plus at only 27 years of age, Williams theoretically should still have his best years in front of him.

With the signing, the revamped and already deep Ottawa WR core becomes that much more crowded. As things stands now the Redblacks have newcomers Brad Sinopoli, Maurice Price, Ernest Jackson and Greg Ellingson plus holdovers from last season such as Kierrie Johnson, Khalil Paden, Eddie Poole, Jamill Smith, Marcus Henry, Scott Macdonell and Matt Carter.

From that group, the only WR who returned kicks last season was Jamill Smith. Smith had decent numbers, averaging 20.9 yards on kick returns and 8.6 yards on punts but Smith’s longest return was only 38 yards and he failed to score a touchdown. Though he seems like a great guy and has been very involved in the community, living in Ottawa this off-season and visiting schools with Big Joe and other Redblacks’ players, the Williams signing probably signals the end of Smith’s time with the team.

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Is there space on the roster for both Smith and Williams?

Chris Williams is yet another game breaker for Jason Maas to scheme with and it seems safe to say that the drops and lack of explosive plays that plagued the Redblacks last season won’t be repeated in 2015. With the Redblacks’ mini-camp set to start next week, it’ll be interesting to see how the battle for roster spots shakes out in Ottawa’s competitive and now very talented WR group.

@RedBlackGade

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Things we learned at Redblacks mini-camp

By: Santino Filoso

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The Redblacks took an important step in their development this week as the team came together for mini-camp in Richmond, VA. The historic gathering gave coaches and management their first look at their players on the field (albeit without any equipment, due to league rules) and allowed the team to begin developing some chemistry. Here are a few takeaways from the three-day camp:

Marcel Desjardins is the anti-Burris, in that he seemingly never cracks a smile. After all the tough legwork he’s done to get the franchise to this point, the guy has to be giddy inside to finally see his players on an actual field, doing football things. Not that you’d ever be able to tell from his body language though. I think Desjardins will only smile when the Redblacks win back-to-back Grey Cups, and even then only if they’re blowouts.

Henry Burris could make a hell of a weatherman. Smooth clear voice, check. Million dollar smile, check. Ability to concentrate in averse conditions (Fred Rouse), check. Strokes his audience’s ego with subtle comments, check. Interesting random prop (banana peels), check.

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– You heard it here first: there’s no chance Kevin Glenn shows up to training camp. This was the Redblacks first organized event in team history. You can’t overstate how important it was for all the guys to get together and to start building some chemistry. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for Glenn to silence his critics and play the good solider until another team’s pivot went down, paving the way for him to be traded. By failing to show up at this mini-camp, he’s alienated himself from the guys on the roster and missed out on a crucial bonding experience. One thing’s for certain: with Burris, Thomas DeMarco, Matt Faulkner and the newly signed Corey Leonard, the Redblacks have a bevy of strong arms. The only person Glenn’s hurting right now is himself.

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Keith Shologan is happy to be out of Regina, even if it’s only for a few days. Who can blame him, considering the seasons in Regina are Winter (October to mid-May) and Spring/Summer (July to early September).

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– The numbers on the Redblacks jerseys are going to be unique in the CFL, as they’ll feature a small notch, just like the R on the buzz saw in the logo. Personally I love this touch and can’t wait to see what the finished product will look like when the uniforms are finally and officially revealed on May 10th.

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According to the Ottawa Citizen, Eric Fraser is the Redblacks CFLPA rep. Between mini-camp drills he took some time to meet with the Redblacks veterans and updated them on the latest CBA situation. From his tweets you can see that Fraser is a very intelligent and reasonable guy, and hopefully this translates in a positive manner during the CBA negotiations. Also he got sore feet:

– R-Nation cannot be contained and we are already everywhere. We’re going to have strong showings at every stadium this season so that our boys know they’ll never be alone in enemy territory. Zack and Erika Wood got an early start on the road tripping by heading down to Richmond to watch the Redblacks practice.

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– Remember the name Jordan Roberts (RB). He was an absolute monster in college putting up 50 TDs in just three seasons at the University of Charleston and sounds like he really had a strong camp. I think he’ll be an impact player and quickly turn into a fan favourite.

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– The mistakes the doomed the Renegades will not be repeated by the Redblacks. The team had a ton of French content in their camp coverage, with tweets in both English and French, interviews with players like WR Simon Le Marquand and FB Patrick Lavoie and used both languages in their daily video updates. Smart move by management to keep everyone happy.

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– The Redblacks team Desjardins has put together looks very fast. Bodies have been flying around and everyone from reporters to coaches to the players themselves have been commenting on it. That being said, take it with a grain of salt as it’s easy to look fast without helmets and pads and when you’re not being fully jammed at the line.

– Lastly, there’s something different about this team, it isn’t your normal expansion group. The feeling of optimism surrounding the players and the quality of their resumes gives the Redblacks more than a fighting chance out of the gate and you could even make the argument that they’re already better than some teams (hint: Winnipeg). GM Desjardins hammered this message home at the team’s first meeting when he told the players that “from this point forward, we are the Ottawa Redblacks, not the expansion Ottawa Redblacks”. That’s exactly the mentality the team needs to adopt to be successful and it’s good to see it expressed from management.

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“From this point forward, we are the Ottawa Redblacks, not the expansion Ottawa Redblacks”.

With our first look at the team in the books, what position do you think is the Redblacks strongest?

@RedBlackGade

Redblacks QB NON-troversy

By: Santino Filoso

Talk about the kind of press the Redblacks didn’t need. On Feb. 11th, just hours into CFL Free Agency, a couple of angry messages came from Ottawa QB Kevin Glenn’s Twitter account:

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Shortly after the tweets went out, Glenn claimed his account was hacked. The offending tweets were also eventually deleted.

Believe what you like, but it appears Glenn simply committed a social media faux pas and accidentally tweeted something that was meant to be a direct message (DM).

Not exactly the kind of news Ottawa wanted to make on opening day of free agency. The Redblacks subsequently took a lot of (unwarranted) heat for how they have treated Glenn to date, warranted or not. There is definitely more than one school of thought, but let’s take a look at the facts (as I see them, anyway):

1. In Glenn, the Redblacks took the best QB available in the expansion draft.

2. Had Henry Burris been released before the expansion draft things would’ve played out much differently.

3. You cannot fault Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins for trying to improve the team in adding a QB like Burris, a sure-fire Hall of Famer coming off a Grey Cup appearance. That’s his job.

4. Desjardins probably shouldn’t have anointed Burris the starter at his introductory presser. Some things are best left implied.

5. Glenn woke up the morning the Redblacks signed Burris to find out he’d gone from being a starter to a backup and trade bait.

6. With that said, Glenn was not told he wouldn’t be challenged, ever. Glenn has been around the block long enough to know better.

7. You can’t blame Glenn for being sour; Pro football is a cut-throat business, but these guys are human beings too.

8. While it’s easy to understand why Glenn is upset, for him to let it slip in public is unacceptable, especially on the opening day of Free Agency.

As mentioned, Glenn quickly denied any wrong-doing with the “I’ve been hacked” defense, as below.

On an unrelated note, Glenn’s dog also ate his homework… and playbook.

Some local reporters gave Glenn the benefit of the doubt, but Twitter wasn’t buying it.

I suppose the biggest unknown in all of this is what Glenn may or may not have been promised by Redblacks brass. Seems really unlikely that assurances of a starting job were given. The following comes from the Globe and Mail report on the Expansion Draft:

Although he now has Glenn and DeMarco in tow, Desjardins said he’ll be active in free agency to land other quarterbacks. Toronto’s Zach Collaros, Saskatchewan’s Drew Willy, Hamilton’s Henry Burris and Edmonton’s Matt Nichols are all slated to become free agents in February.

“There’s a couple of good options out there and we’re certainly going to pursue those,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t be aggressive in that area.

“We’ve got a veteran, (that) doesn’t mean we can’t add another one. We have a young guy, (that) doesn’t mean we can’t add another. There’s three or four obvious guys out there and we’ll certainly reach out to all of them when the time comes.”

Not sure how much clearer that could be…

Though he might still be upset, Glenn’s best bet is to bide his time. If he ends up staying with Ottawa at some point he’ll get playing time. It’s almost unheard of for a single QB to play an entire season. Or maybe another team loses their starter to a significant injury and the Redblacks feel comfortable enough with DeMarco’s growth to trade Glenn.

As it currently stands, the Redblacks are blessed to have two great QBs in their inaugural season, a luxury the Renegades were denied. They’ve arguably got the strongest depth at QB of any team in the CFL with Burris, Glenn and DeMarco. Good QBs in the CFL are what good goalies are to NHL teams; you can never have too many of them.

In my opinion, this whole episode is a whole lot of fuss about nothing. It’s not as if a player never mis-used social media before. And it certainly isn’t the first time a starter was supplanted by a free agent signing. Glenn should be enough of a pro not to let this kind of thing happen again, and besides, he’s only a play away from being “the guy”.

@RedBlackGade