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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The 2002 Renegades vs the 2014 Redblacks (A statistical look)

By: Santino Filoso

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Don’t think too hard Paopao!

The middle of the CFL’s off-seaosn is the perfect time to see how the 2002 Renegades season stacks up against the 2014 Redblacks inaugural year. Though the Renegades eked out two more wins, there’s an argument to be made that the Redblacks had the more entertaining first year.

Ottawa Renegades new uniforms. Photo F. Scott Grant

Game #1:

Renegades lose at home against Saskatchewan, falling 30-27 in OT

Redblacks lose in Winnipeg 36-28

Game #2:

Renegades lose in Edmonton 40-24

Redblacks lose in Edmonton 27-11

Game #3 

Renegades win at home vs Winnipeg 25-24

Redblacks win at home vs Toronto 18-17

Game #4 

Renegades lose in Winnipeg 55-7

Redblacks lose in Hamilton 33-23

Game #5 

Renegades win at home vs Hamilton 38-37

Redblacks lose at home to Saskatchewan 38-14

Game #6 

Renegades lose in Toronto 24-8

Redblacks lose in Calgary 38-17

Game #7 

Renegades lose at home to Montreal 29-6

Redblacks lose at home to Edmonton 10-8

Game #8

Renegades lose in BC 22-18

Redblacks lose at home to Calgary 32-7

Game #9 

Renegades lose in Hamilton 30-9

Redblacks lose in Montreal 20-10

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Game #10 

Renegades lose at home to BC 28-4

Redblacks lose at home to BC 7-5

Game #11 

Renegades lose at home to Toronto 30-25

Redblacks lose in Saskatchewan 35-32 in double OT

Game #12 

Renegades win in Calgary 26-12

Redblacks lose at home to Montreal 15-7

Game #13 

Renegades lose at home to Calgary 26-22 in OT

Redblacks win at home vs Bombers 42 – 20

Game #14 

Renegades lose in Saskatchewan 29-11

Redblacks lose in BC 41 – 3

Game #15 

Renegades lose at home to Edmonton 37-34

Redblacks lose in Hamilton 16-6

Game #16 

Renegades lose in Toronto 29-12

Redblacks lose at home to Montreal 23-17

Game #17 

Renegades lose at home to Montreal 43-34

Redblacks lose at home to Hamilton 34-25

Game #18 

Renegades win in Montreal 26-25

Redblacks lose in Toronto 23-5

Final records:

The Renegades went 4-14 with 356 Points For and 550 Points Against equaling a difference of -194 points

The Redblacks went 2-16 with 278 Points For and 465 Points Against equaling a difference of -187 points

Quick Takeaways:

The Renegades averaged 19.7 points a game, scoring more than 20 points in 10 games, and more than 30 in three

The Redblacks averaged 15.4 points a game, scoring more than 20 points in 5 games, more than 30 once, and more than 40 once

The Renegades gave up 30.5 points a game to the Redblacks 25.8 points per game and were *blown out seven times to the Redblacks five

*In this case I counted a blowout as losing by more than 14 points

Individual Stat Leaders:

QBs:

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Dan Crowley threw for 2697 yards with 16 TDs, 19 INTs and a 49.1% completion rate

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Henry Burris throwing for 3728 yards with 11 TDs, 14 INTs and a 60.9% completion rate

RBs:

Josh Ranek Ottawa Renegades 2005. Photo F. Scott Grant

Josh Ranek rushed for 689 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 5.4 yards per carry

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Chevon Walker rushing for 458 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 4.5 yards per carry

WRs:

Jimmy Oliver made 82 catches for 1004 yards and 6 TDs

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Marcus Henry making 67 catches for 824 yards and 2 TDs

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Defense (tackles):

Kelly Wiltshire made 86 tackles vs Jasper Simmons making 80

Picks:

Gerald Vaughn made 3 INTs vs Brandyn Thompson making 4

Sacks:

Jerome Haywood had 6 sacks vs Justin Capicciotti having 11

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Special Teams Tackles:

John Grace made 16 vs Jason Pottinger making 13

John Grace Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Awards:

Renegades: LB John Grace, CFL All-Star

Redblacks: None

Attendance:

Renegades: 0 sellouts with an average crowd of 23,773

Redblacks: 9 sellouts with an average crowd of 24,500

Have your say:

@RedBlackGade

– All stats via CFL.ca and images via Scott Grant Photography 

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

#TBT: Rough Riding Renegade; An Interview with Darren Joseph

By: Santino Filoso

Today we sit down with Ottawa native and former Rough Rider and Renegade RB Darren Joseph. Joseph’s distinguished career spanned six teams and thirteen seasons (1992-2004) and he still holds the CFL record for most special teams tackles in a game (7).

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RR: During your career you had two stints in Ottawa, one with the Rough Riders and one with the Renegades, was one more enjoyable than the other?

DJ: Absolutely, though both were memorable. I was 22 years old during my rookie season in ’92 and I was playing in my hometown for my dream team the Ottawa Rough Riders. That was HUGE for me and especially for my mom who had been a Rider fan since the early 60’s when she first came to Canada from St. Lucia. Because of that I’d have to say my first tour of duty was the best!

While you were an Ottawa Rough Rider the team changed it’s uniforms a few times, which one did you prefer?

My favourite uniform was the first one I ever wore for the Rough Riders, with the flaming double R’s on the helmet. The complete opposite of that was the gold red and blue uniform of ’94-95, easily the WORST uniform I ever wore in any sport, at any level. Don’t even get me started on that ridiculous Captain Crunch logo….

What advice would you give to the Redblacks players who have never been to Ottawa before?

My advice to new players would be to try to stay focused here during the season. Ottawa is a beautiful city with lots if distractions for a young football player. I’ve seen several careers disintegrate, especially in the “Hull” days. Have fun and enjoy your time here but stay focused.

What was the hardest hit you ever took?

Hardest hit HANDS DOWN was by Alondra Johnson in Calgary in ’98. I’d been having some success a few games in a row on a search play where I would cut back on the defence for long gains. AJ was watching film and decided that wasn’t going to happen to him. He hit me so hard my chinstrap unbuckled and flew 5 yards in the opposite direction, my body went through a complete change in momentum. He was a the hammer that day.

Did you have a favourite (or least favourite) stadium to play in?

I didn’t like playing at Ivor Wynne. The visitors locker room was old and beat up, the turf was like concrete and the tiger at centre field was hard dried paint. If you got tackled on it you left several layers of skin behind when you got up. The fans were relentless, the stands were almost field level and they were right on top of you in that “dugout” of a sideline and they chirped you from kickoff to the last whistle without let up. Also you had to pray that it didn’t snow late in the season because if it did you could expect a few snowballs in the face. They were great fans, just not when you played for the opposition!

Tell me about your favourite Lansdowne memory

Favourite Lansdowne memory has to be a 2003 game against the Argos when I had 7 special teams tackles and we won the game. I tied a CFL record and I was 36 yrs old at the time so for me that was a big deal.

Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?

I would have to say I’m most proud of the fact that I survived 13 yrs as a RB/FB. I was able to attend 14 training camps and no matter how many guys they brought in to compete with me for a spot on the roster, I always made the team. I’m also proud that 2 of my 3 kids got to see me play. Lastly the biggest thing I’m proud of is that I made my mom proud. She was my biggest fan and she taped EVERY game I played during my 13-year career, seriously, she didn’t miss one!

What was your initial reaction when you heard the name of the new team?

Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about the name at first. Keep in mind I played for the other two Ottawa franchises so this is a 3rd name change but it works for me now. I’m just happy that we have CFL football back in Ottawa, the wait is finally OVER!!!!

Will you be going to any Redblacks games this season?

Yes I plan to get to as many games as I can and I’m excited for my kids who haven’t been able to experience having a team of their own like I did growing up.

Why do you think the Redblacks will be successful where the Rough Riders and Renegades have failed?

For me, it’s simple, it comes down to ownership. Jeff Hunt and the OSEG group have shown a commitment to the city, not just football fans. They have committed to ALL OF US and we haven’t had that since the Russ Jackson days. No more fair-weather owners, hit and run people with no proven track record, these guys understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. They have also started by building around not one but THREE quality QB’s, which is a great start. I also like how they understand that bringing local talent home like John Delahunt will bond the team with the community, like they do in Regina, that’s huge.

Maybe the most important question of them all, North Side or South Side?

South Side, I’m old school.

What are you doing for work nowadays?

I have been an Ottawa Police Officer for 10 years now.

Have you ever given any thought to coaching?

I started coaching in 2002 with the Ottawa Sooners and still coach today with the GS Raiders as a position coach. I also still do football camps with the Elite Performance Academy founded by former CFL players Pat Woodcock and Donnie Ruiz. Any young aspiring athletes looking for a place to train with former pros who can help them get to the next level should give EPA a look.

In terms of coaching in the CFL, I am so busy as a police officer doing shift work that it would be tough to be 100% committed to coaching at that level. CFL coaches work hard and put in very long days and unfortunately at this stage in my career, I just couldn’t make that kind of commitment.

Do you still keep in touch with any of your old teammates? 

I do keep in touch with several of my former teammates and ironically, many players from opposing teams, the CFL is like a fraternity and we’re all family. It’s nice to see guys that played for $30k a year prosper after their careers and see their families grow. The list is too many to name but I still talk to Reggie Barnes, Patrick Wayne, Brian Bonner, Daved Bennefield, Glen Kulka and Ken Evraire, I also work with DeWayne Knight, Brad Tierney, Jason Mallett and Sammie Brennan….I guess that is kind of a list isn’t it? I’ve also got a special place for Kelly Wiltshire, Andre Kirwan and Andrew Henry, who were the first ones to attend my mother’s funeral in December. When Kirwan heard that my mom passed and he was on a plane from Tampa 30 min later, that’s a true friend.

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Thank you very much for sharing such a fantastic view into your career and hope to see you soon…..at a Redblacks game, of course, and not while you’re on duty 😉

@RedBlackGade

#RNation

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In spite of what people think about ‘Redblacks’ as the name for our new CFL team (I’m personally not a huge fan, although it has definitely grown on me), the marketing folks at Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group have done a nice job in creating a meaningful moniker for the fan base – R Nation (check out #RNation discussion right now on Twitter)

At first glance, it seems too simple, even lazy. (“Yeah, yeah, Redblacks starts with an ‘R’ and you added ‘Nation’. Great…”) But here’s why I think it might just be a little bit of genius:

A link to the past
There is nothing more emblematic of the proud football history in Ottawa than the white ‘R’ that has adorned the helmets of those great Rough Rider teams of the 1960s & 70s, teams that created some of the greatest sporting memories in this city’s history. Not to mention hats & other gear worn by legendary coaches like Frank Clair (below) and Jack Gotta.

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Yes, we’re not the Rough Riders (two words) anymore. And there are a lot of good reasons, frankly, to let that name die. The last couple decades of that franchise’s existence are better forgotten (perhaps it’s no coincidence that the ‘R’ logo was missing in those last few agonizing years of the Rough Riders existence, not to mention the entire 4 years the Renegades were around). But we’re still Ottawa football and the ‘R’ logo is held in very high regard by those who remember the heydays. This is tradition worth maintaining and honouring.

The ‘R’ is also a great way to create a linkage between the players and the fans of the Rough Riders, Renegades and now the Redblacks.

The Nation’s Capital
Besides team history, R Nation is a clever double-entendre, i.e. “Our Nation”. A great slogan for the team in the capital of Canada’s only true professional sports league. Fits very nicely with the CFL’s “This is our league” slogan, too. And isn’t it a pretty neat thing to be able to say “Welcome to R Nation” to CFL rookies from the US? Oozing with pride & nationalism.

In just a few short weeks, the #RNation name has really been embraced by the budding Redblacks fan base. I must admit it is also part of the inspiration for the name of this humble blog. Again, credit to OSEG and the Redblacks for recognizing these linkages to the past and how important it is to incorporate this rich history into the identity of the new team. They get it.

The R Nation nickname has also been met with some surprising bitterness/anger from Saskatchewan fans who believe it to be too similar to their #ridernation fan base nickname. A little misguided, however, as this is not about them. The Rider name is their’s. But the ‘R’ belongs to Ottawa.