Redblacks 2017 #CFLDraft preview

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): 

FRANK – Final Scouting Bureau Rank; DRANK – December Scouting Bureau Rank; SRANK – September Scouting Bureau Rank; GP – Games Played; GS – Games Started; TGP – Total Games Played (with other teams, if applicable); TGS – Total Games Started (with other teams, if applicable)
2017 Outlook

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:

Eric M of bomberbuzz.com – Mock Draft #1:

1:9 – Ottawa Redblacks: WR Nathaniel Behar, Carleton

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. 

Scott Mitchell of the Toronto Sun:

1:9 Ottawa RedBlacks — DT Eli Ankou, UCLA

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.

Note that Ankou was subsequently signed to a priority free agent contract by the Houston Texans immediately following the NFL Draft. This will likely make him a late round CFL selection, given the likelihood he wouldn’t come to the CFL for a minimum of 1-2 years, if at all.

John Hodge of Blue Bomber Talk & 3 Down Nation:

9. Ottawa Redblacks — OL Jean-Simon Roy, Laval

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.

Marshall Ferguson of TSN 1150 & CFL.ca:

9. OTTAWA | FAITH EKAKITIE | DL | IOWA

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.

Barry Britto of cflhorsemen.ca:

9. Ottawa – Nate Behar, WR, Carleton

There is a chance the Bombers make this pick at #6 but if they don’t, Ottawa will add the solid route runner who will add depth to the receiving corps.

TheRatioBreaker.com:

9. OTT: Mitch Picton, SB, Regina

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.

Like I said, pretty varied. 

For reference, here’s the CFL Scouting Bureau’s final ranking:

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.

Local flavour

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.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Offseason of change begins for Grey Cup champs

By Cranky Frank Clair

I really don’t have anything to offer that hasn’t already been said about the Redblacks Grey Cup win. So instead of rehashing/celebrating what happened, I’m going to look ahead a bit. The Redblacks have a pile of pending free agents as do most other teams in the CFL. There are quarterback and management questions in other cities, and a team or two will be using the next few weeks to begin their march on Ottawa and the 2017 Grey Cup.  I won’t get too deep into Redblacks 2017 roster projects – there are too many moving parts at this point. But here’s a look at the current situation as well as my view of some other situations in other cities.

Redblacks offseason

Ernest Jackson & Jerrell Gavins (photo Scott Grant)

The CFL’s Big List of Free Agents now out, we can certainly look at the team’s offseason challenges.

This means there is much work to be done, but it’s the best kind of work – keeping a champion together and making it better. Not everyone will get to stay, however.

Sadly, Chris Williams is likely in the “won’t be back” category. He’ll be rehabbing his knee well into next summer and may be back just before his 30th birthday. That isn’t a great combo, especially considering that his last contract was likely in the $200k+ neighbourhood. Williams has his detractors, but his world-class speed kept defenders on their heels and opened up the field for his teammates. Losing him for 2017 will be doubly unfortunate because Trevor Harris has the arm to take full advantage of Williams’ talents.

The list of must-sign players is fairly long. Ernest Jackson, Mitchell White, Abdul Kanneh and Nolan MacMillan would be hard to replace. Tank Reed is the LB the Redblacks need – his presence boosted Damaso Muñoz. And #RNation needs to be concerned about John Boyett’s return – we never really heard much about his knee injury and now he’s looking at free agency. There are rumblings that Abdul Kanneh will be looking south, and now we hear that the team has released Cleyon Laing so he can look south as well. If I could, I would bring them both back. Laing proved his worth, collapsing pockets from the inside and making lots of room. As I hoped, he even played some DE and it proved an experiment worth continuing.

I somehow doubt we’ll see Aston Whiteside back. He never really recovered from his knee injury. Its hard to see from here whether the Redblacks rushed him back or whether the knee didn’t respond to treatment or whether he actually got reinjured. The Redblacks so-far fruitless search for its next speed rushing DE continues. But…given the way the Redblacks DLine performed in the Grey Cup, I’m inclined to think the team should stop trying to slot in an unproven speed DE and go with muscle. I saw some devastating power rushes from Laing and Connor Williams from the DE position, showing that Clydesdales can get the same result as a racehorse.

Antoine Pruneau (photo Scott Grant)

Meanwhile, fan favourite Antoine Pruneau is also a pending free agent. Without knowing enough about Montreal’s FS situation, must think that he’s a guy they’d love to sign. Pruneau gave an interview following the Grey Cup parade that made me think he is thinking about options other than returning to Ottawa. I have no quote that signals this, its was just a feeling. Jeff Richards (rumoured to have several opportunities in the NFL) may be a more consistent FS, but it is hard to deny that even without his passport, Pruneau is a big contributor and the Redblacks would be well-served to try to get him back.

Lots of potential for moving parts on the offensive line. J’Michael Deane and Nolan MacMillan are each pending free agents. MacMillan is a very good veteran presence. Deane had a lot of penalty issues this season. Jason Lauzon-Séguin is a legit starter at G and showed he can play OT. Backup Matthew Albright absolutely seems ready to start at G. Jake Silas has proven to be a solid RT, SirV is locked in for another 2 seasons as one of the league’s premier LTs. Tommie Draheim got better into the playoffs and the Grey Cup but is not a strong starter. The long-range plan was for John Gott to switch to G and have Alex Mateas take his place at centre. I don’t see that happening, possibly ever. 

Nolan MacMillan (photo Janet MacMillan)

The makeup of the 2017 OL hinges on whether MacMillan can be signed and whether management wants to keep Deane. I have my thoughts on how this should play out, but will save them for another column. I will say that Deane is possibly expendable which is unfortunate for a guy who may want to stay (he owns a house here).

It’s hard to say whether we’ll see FA RB William Powell back – if he’s willing to sign for not a ton of money upfront, then he’d certainly be worth bringing into camp and let him compete with Mossis Madu. Travon Van, who was a good insurance policy in 2016, likely isn’t a priority to re-sign.

Tanner Doll & Kienan Lafrance (photo Scott Grant)

Just a couple of special teams observations at this point. First, I spent a lot of Twitter characters questioning the removal of Kevin Malcolm from long snapper duties – he’s exceptionally good at delivering hard clean spirals to the punter. The team replaced him mid-season with Tanner Doll, who was immediately visible in ways that long snappers aren’t supposed to be. He improved as he went along, but most importantly, he showed why the team made the switch in the first place. Doll is a special teams coverage demon, not easy to do coming out of the snap.

Elsewhere across the CFL

Have to question what Chris Jones thinks he’s doing in Saskatchewan with the Darian Durant negotiations. Durant is a fan favourite, a very solid performer and there really isn’t a better QB on the market. Maybe Chris Jones is the genius he was supposed to be and he’s trying to save the team some needed cap space, or maybe he has a strong-armed rabbit to pull out of the proverbial hat. Or maybe he’s unnecessarily playing hardball with a QB who isn’t his guy. We’ll see.

Corey Watman (photo Scott Grant)

Then there’s Toronto. Word is that co-owner Larry Tanenbaum wants to appoint a football management layer between ownership and the team GM. It makes sense, and it’s an approach he sees working (I guess) with the Maple Leafs. Who will it be? A lot of the CFL’s grownups are either locked into great jobs or on the verge of taking on fewer responsibilities rather than more. I saw a suggestion that Eric Tillman could be the guy, and that makes sense. I’m not convinced of Tillman’s football genius, but I’m convinced that he’s the type of person who will be hired for that job.

In Winnipeg, a team that seems on the cusp of greatness just let its fans breathe a sigh of relief by re-signing Coach Michael O’Shea. Now, the team may be doing some serious soul-searching on whether they have a QB whose trajectory matches the rest of the team. If Saskatchewan loses Durant, he could be enough to propel Winnipeg to true contention in 2017.

Photo Scott Grant

The potential for stability on the Alouettes in 2017 should scare the rest of the East and help re-ignite fan interest in Montreal. Hamilton and Ottawa had it pretty easy in 2016 sharing a division with two teams in a bad downward spiral. A Montreal comeback will make the East much more of a horserace, although whether it would be enough to avoid a western crossover in 2017 remains to be seen. Look for Montreal’s new GM and the coaching staff to assemble and ready an offence that can take advantage of its young QBs. Either Rakeem Cato or Vernon Adams could emerge out of training camp as a legit dynamic playmaking QB and make the Als offence a nice complement to the team’s already good defence.

That’s it for now, I’ve tried to avoid talking about teams or situations where I don’t have information or a decent opinion, though I guess that’s really up to you to judge. I’ll check in again as teams sign more of their pending free agents. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.

All the best, and Merry Christmas.

Cranky Frank Clair

Most photos courtesy of Scott Grant Photography. Follow on Twitter at @CFLPhotoArchive

 

 

 

Redblacks recipe a little off in first half of 2016

By Cranky Frank Clair

Last night I was given some homemade guacamole. It looked great, I thanked the person profusely and then I tried it. There was nothing actually wrong with it, but it wasn’t guacamole. Some ingredients were missing, and there weren’t enough of others. With some tinkering, I later made it better, but it still wasn’t good guacamole.

Thanks for your patience. There was a point to that. Because so it goes with the 2016 Ottawa Redblacks. They basically look like the team we saw nearly win the Grey Cup last November, but something’s not right. During camp and through July, it looked like the team was in great shape. The offseason changes didn’t seem to hurt, everyone was rightly lauding the wisdom of adding Trevor Harris, and an early slew of injuries weren’t slowing down the team. And hey, we beat Edmonton! The Redblacks were looking like the team we thought they were, and then August arrived. A big homestand! A chance to lock up the East by Labour Day! 

And that’s when everything crashed. 

It’s now clear that the ingredients aren’t quite right on this team. But like fixing the guacamole that wasn’t quite right, the answer might be elusive and still not get us where we want. As fans, we look for answers. Many fingers have been pointed at offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo for lacklustre playcalling. Others have singled out the offensive line where only the LT and C positions have been stable this season and penalties have been frequent. The secondary has certainly come under fire for discipline and a lack of playmaking, while coach Rick Campbell has been stressing how much the team has been hurt by penalties. Kicking and punting have been inconsistent.

Photo: Scott Grant Photography

But here’s the thing – you can’t really pin the problems on any one element. Everything in football is connected. Poor offensive line play leads to shaky QB play leads to more conservative play selection. An offence that goes 2-and-out too often never gets into a rhythm, never gets a chance to find what might work, and the defence is forced onto the field for far too long. Meanwhile, whether it’s an offensive lineman or a cornerback, getting beat one-on-one tends to lead to penalties which can lead to cautious play which will then lead to getting beat. Poor special teams play leads to risky decisions on 3rd down and doesn’t give the defence the cushion of field position.

Those are the general issues.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty much never given access to the video equipment downstairs, so it’s hard for me to break down the problems as much as I’d like, but there are some questions that are standing out for me:

1. Possible lack of leadership?

Two veteran players left and it seems possible now that no one really stepped in to replace their leadership. Jovon Johnson and Keith Shologan are grownups whose presence in the locker room and on the field may be missed more than we realize. No matter how much Henry Burris remains Henry Burris, he cannot be the leader he was last year while injured or playing backup. It’s the way of the jungle.

2. Where are the playmakers on D?

Playing football is about making something happen, not just filling a spot on the field. While Zack Evans has had a great year at DT and others have contributed here and there, no person on defence has been imposing their will on the offence, affecting gameplans and execution in a meaningful way. Injuries in the secondary have been a factor, and the mouchoir blizzards are more than likely playing with the heads of DBs across the league.

3. Injuries taking a bigger-than-anticipated toll?

And other than the Trevor Harris injury that thrust Brock Jensen onto the field, no single injury has caused panic because there was always someone ready to step up and be “good enough”. The thing is, once there is a “good enough” player at several different spots at the same time, you aren’t dominating and making plays, you’re just treading water. The effect is cumulative and it cascades across the field.

4. Continuity on offence an issue?

For a variety of reasons, the offensive line has needed several shuffles due to injury or individual play. Our running backs keep getting hurt; none have stood out as a ball carrier or receiver who could be a difference maker. QB play has been up and down, and will have to be stabilized by Trevor Harris if the team is going to make a stretch run. He is a very good QB, but he will need better support in the stretch drive.

5. 1,000-yard club feeling the heat?

Except for Ernest Jackson who has been Mr. Reliable, Ottawa’s receivers haven’t delivered like they did in 2015. There have been some notable dropped balls, there have been a lot of throws that looked catchable but weren’t nearly optimal in terms of being catchable or allowing those precious YACs (yards after catch) to happen. No doubt defenses are playing the Redblacks receiving corps tighter than last year, but the fact remains Ottawa needs their big guns to make big plays at big times.

All of this is really context; it’s hard to point at any one area because, as I said, every problem on every side of the ball is interconnected. So I don’t really have specific fixes for this recipe other than the requirement that everyone play better. Easier said than done.

Now, here’s where I get to name some names, both good and bad. I’ll start with my favourite player on the team so far this year and go from there:

Ernest Jackson – The single brightest spot on offence through this season, he’s fought hard for every reception and has been the most reliable target on an offence full of flashy targets. Currently has a 5 game TD scoring streak, Jackson deserves to see that continue.

Ernest Jackson & Greg Ellingson celebrate a TD (Photo: Scott Grant Photography)

Chris Milo – We love it when you kick 55-yarders to save the day, but do you have to take the day off the rest of the time?

D-Block – I suspect the officials have gotten inside your heads. Go back to what you do. At various times Mitchell White and Johnathan Rose have shown how closely a guy can be covered without risking a flag. Go do that.

Antoine Pruneau – You won our hearts with your enthusiasm and your reliability to make a tackle. Your enthusiasm is still there, but it may need to be tempered. Go back to basics, you being on the field helps this team, and not just because of your passport.

John Boyett – Starting LB because David Hinds had turned into a guy not really making things happen. Boyett makes things happen. Please keep doing that. Hopefully we can keep him for a full season next year; I’d love to see him get back to the NFL where he really belongs at strong safety.

John Boyett (Photo: Scott Grant Photography)

SirVincent Rogers – Glad he’s bounced back; those were some shaky games in July. He won’t win the CFL best offensive lineman award this year, but at least he’s back to being proficiently invisible.

Tristan Jackson – I love watching him as a return guy. It feels like he could break one open several times a game. And I hope he feels free to concentrate on that because I don’t want to see T-Jack covering receivers unless every other player on the roster under 220 lbs is on crutches.

Khalil Paden – Class act who waited patiently and has been rewarded. Brings an additional deep threat to the receiving corps which has been necessary. Needs to stay consistent to last.

Arnaud Gascon-Nadon – Before he got hurt, he was showing us why Marcel Desjardins felt ok letting Justin Capicciotti go. Gotta get him back and in form. Can’t rush him back, though. See Whiteside, Aston.

Anonymous rotating cast of American DEs – Too many to name. Many flashes in the pan, the team seems to have given up on finding the prototypical 240-250lb CFL speedster. Hopefully one of them will stick. I’m not feeling a lot of hope about Aston Whiteside at this point.

Jaime Elizondo – I haven’t shared in the finger pointing, but one thing that’s  bothering me is play inside the opposition 40-yard line (I refuse to use TSN’s “score zone” or whatever dumbed-down term they are using). If the team has packages for moving forward and getting touchdowns as the field shortens, they aren’t working. Too many TDs have turned into FGs or worse, and I think this is one area, at least, where play selection is a factor.

Greg Ellingson – The hero whose catch propelled Ottawa to the Grey Cup gets a bit of benefit of the doubt, but my patience is starting to wear thin. Ellingson ranks 4th in all stats among the Redblacks quartet of bigtime receivers. He has the least number of catches, yards, TDs and he is targeted least often as well. Balls that were catches last year are incompletions this season. Ottawa likely won’t be able to keep all of its receivers this coming offseason, and if I had my pick…

John Gott – Consistency is key. A few too many penalties and a few too many not-great shotgun snaps aren’t helping his case to repeat as an all-star.

And I’ll end this rundown on a positive note…

Zack Evans (Photo: Scott Grant Photography)

Zack Evans – Explosiveness, power and great technique have given him better stats than DTs are supposed to have. Needs to keep being rotated out on occasion, there have been stretches mid-game where he obviously needs a break. Fortunately, Ettore Lattanzio seems on track to break some sort of record for most sacks/tackles per minute on the field. He’s simply too small at 250 lbs to get starters’ time inside, but he’s a great rotation guy and one of the pleasant surprises on the team.

Ettore Lattanzio with the tackle (Photo: Scott Grant Photography)

So where does all this leave us? 

Again, there doesn’t seem to be a single point of failure on this team, although I will again stress that the effect of injuries is cumulative and RNation (including myself) overlooked the effect during those good times back in July.

Coach Campbell likes to talk about both the team and individual players always having either an “up” arrow or a “down” arrow. Too many players have had the down arrow beside their name this season, and the team itself is not headed in the right direction. There is hope, however. This isn’t a Saskatchewan or Montreal situation where the problems are widespread or where personnel simply aren’t good enough. A home playoff date isn’t out of the question, and then anything can happen. 

I don’t want to be fatalistic, but the Calgary game next week has all the makings of a loss that will knock the Redblacks firmly into second or even third place. The Argos game at home on September 23rd is when the season starts for real, and that will be the real measuring stick of whether Ottawa will be able to turn this season around.

And besides all that, it will be good to have the guests back at my stadium – its been too long. I’ll be in the southwest corner on my perch, hoping for better guacamole.

You can follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

(Header photo courtesy Scott Grant Photography)

Redblacks at the 6-game mark

by Cranky Frank Clair

The CFL’s East division race has become a tight one following a 4-game stretch that has seen the Redblacks pick up just one win, and now sit with a record of 3-2-1. This makes it time for reflection and a quick review of our personnel, but first, let’s get right to the point regarding the Toronto game (a 23-20 loss this past Sunday evening). The Redblacks defence was good enough for Ottawa to win. The offence was not. Some have been quick to jump on the playcalling. Others have praised Toronto’s defence. I think Argos defensive coordinator Rich Stubler deserves a lot of credit – he seems to have found the secret sauce for containing Ottawa’s receiving corps. Ottawa’s talent should have still been enough, but it wasn’t.

And I’ll say this with no reservations – Henry Burris wasn’t good enough either. My impression is that he was a guy trying to prove the doubters wrong. Whether Burris was forcing balls into coverage, overthrowing or putting too much zip when a bit of touch was required, he had a bad night. Burris definitely wasn’t making good decisions, and its possible that his mechanics were off due to his finger. We’ll see.

The good news is that Hank is a leader and wore his performance in post-game interviews. I also recall that in 2014, “Bad Hank” didn’t usually appear two games in a row. I think his decision-making will be much better vs. Edmonton. The question is how much of his performance was due to this injury and whether that will be resolved before Saturday.

Ok, now let’s take a quick tour through the field to see how things are going and where they are headed.

Quarterback

Henry Burris (Photo: Scott Grant)

This remains Henry’s team, and like I said, history says that Bad Hank isn’t likely to appear two games in a row. Trevor Harris won’t be available till after the bye week at the earliest. Burris played about as well as Brock Jensen a week ago. The difference being, that was Hank at his worst. I believe that level of play is Brock Jensen’s normal. This team needs wins, it is already hovering barely over the danger zone for hosting a home playoff game. Burris has to step up and find a way to beat an Edmonton defence that is in disarray and then stomp Saskatchewan.

We can worry about Harris and the starting job when the time comes.

Running back

Nic Grigsby (Photo: Scott Grant)

Considering how deep into the big pile of RB resumes GM Marcel Desjardins has had to dig, the running game has been pretty good. I’ve liked Nic Grigsby’s play. Travon Van has a lot of fans and is set to return fairly soon, but I’d like to see the team stick with Grigsby. I much prefer his game. He’s built lower to the ground, hits the hole with far more determination and purpose, and can create a play where there doesn’t seem to be an opening. I was starting to come around on Van before he got injured, but I think Grigsby is better. Van is good enough as a depth back and I like him as a receiver. Van’s trajectory was good before the injury; if he can return to that form, he’ll improve the offence.

Receiver
It’s disconcerting that Stubler seemed able to throw a blanket over them so consistently in Week 6. You have to believe DCs around the league are figuring out the formula, as Toronto’s personnel aren’t so overpowering that their success against Ottawa can be attributed to talent alone. QB performance aside, against Toronto, our offensive performance in the 2nd half came down to the fact that Ottawa’s receivers could not get open.

There has been a lot of criticism of offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo’s playcalling as of late, but I suspect the runs, hitch passes and screens were all that was available. This was compounded by Burris’ limitations. The offence could not stretch out the field, the coverage was good and so the offence was simplified down to runs and short gimmick passes.

Ernest Jackson (Photo: Scott Grant)

Make no mistake though, Ottawa’s receivers are still the class of the league. I’m going to single out Ernest Jackson first. Whenever this team has asked him to deliver, he has done it. Short to mid-range passes when the team really needs a first down seem to be his specialty, and his commitment to blocking makes him a role model for every receiver in the league. Greg Ellingson has had a couple of softer games, but no need to sound the alarm bells yet. Brad Sinopoli continues to defy all logic in how a gangly Canadian SB can outrun and outfight so many defenders to both get receptions and big yards after he makes the catch.

Jake Harty started strong and earned the starting spot, but has not been sharp the past while and had an outright poor game vs. the Argos. If the ratio continues to allow it, it is time to bring Khalil Paden back onto the field.

I have no doubt that Chris Williams will be crushing the souls of opposing defenders and their fans again soon. He was scary-fast on the sole deep pass attempt he saw vs. the Argos.

Offensive line

From left: Jake Silas, Alex Mateas & Jon Gott (Photo: Scott Grant)

This group managed to give 6-7 seconds of great protection on some snaps vs. a Toronto blitz, and be a complete train wreck on other plays. J’Michael Deane needs to stop getting holding penalties or the coaching staff will have an easy decision to sit him once Nolan MacMillan returns (which should be fairly soon). I think SirVincent Rogers has recovered after a couple of outright bad games, so that’s a comfort. Jake Silas is settling into LT very well, and John Gott remains John Gott. Meanwhile, both Mateas and Lauzon-Seguin have been coming along nicely. I was concerned about Mateas after his first couple of starts but he is improving and is part of the reason why Deane really needs to step up his play. Hopefully the treatment Mateas was receiving on the sideline towards the end of the game Sunday isn’t due to anything serious.

Defensive line

Connor Williams (Photo: Scott Grant)

Just when the d-line seemed settled, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon had to go and get injured. He wasn’t exactly making us forget Justin Capicciotti, but he was proving an able replacement and coming into his own. Zack Evans has proven the team was right in letting Keith Shologan go. Connor Williams has been starting due to Moton Hopkins injury, but Williams has played well and it may be hard to sit him once Hopkins returns. They will be see lots of snaps and make a lot of plays regardless of where they sit on the depth chart.

Filling in due to Moton’s injury, UofO grad Ettore Lattanzio has been a very pleasant surprise in the DT rotation. He defies the odds as an undersized Canadian, but he has made some plays and has not been a liability when he’s been rotated in. Aston Whiteside is returning to form after a few weak starts and has shown world-class ability to disrupt throwing lanes and knock down pass attempts.

Linebacker

David Hinds (Photo: Scott Grant)

This was the one position largely unchanged since last season until Malik Jackson was released this week. This may be a salary cap move necessitated by bringing players off the six-game injury list early (Burris, for starters) or it may be because there are other options. David Hinds has been the starter at weakside LB, and keeping an American CFL vet in a back-up role has been a luxury. Burton De Koning in limited action has shown worthy of being bumped up and getting some snaps. Damaso Muñoz remains one of the underrated players in the league, though I’d like to see him make a few more plays from MLB. Antoine Pruneau has been a force, and his maturity is showing. He has expressed interest in pursuing something in the NFL next year. That is a stretch – his coverage skills aren’t great and there are 500 players like him coming out of US colleges and showing up at combines. Hopefully Ottawa will be able to keep him. It seems that when players fall short in an NFL dream they end up changing CFL teams rather than returning and re-signing. Time will tell.

Secondary

Jermaine Robinson (Photo: Scott Grant)

Something no one saw coming is the number of injuries and changes in DBlock. Jerrell Gavins, Forrest Hightower and Abdul Kanneh have all had to come out. Brandon Sermons, who started for the RedBlacks in the Grey Cup, first lost the starting job in training camp to Jonathan Rose, and now he’s off the team entirely. Meanwhile, Desjardins managed to sign former Montreal CB Mitchell White, who was released by the Als due to salary cap issues. This move by Desjardins could rank up there with his acquisition of Harris in the offseason. White arrived during an injury crunch and will provide the grown-up leadership the exuberant DBlock has lacked since Jovon Johnson left. He’s also an outstanding cover guy – his interception vs. the Argos is only part of the story of how well he played in his RedBlacks debut.

The injuries are troubling, however, and here’s hoping that Rose returns to the form that earned him the starting job out of camp. Meanwhile, Tristan Jackson is a good returner and I hope he devotes his energies there. I’ll leave it at that. Jermaine Robinson was forced to play corner vs. Toronto due to injuries, and he showed why he’s used in a “hammer” role rather than as a cover FS. So much for thoughts of him moving to DB. However, John Boyett came in – something I’ve wanted to see for several weeks now – and was exactly as advertised. He’s fast, reads well and arrives at the ball with attitude and purpose. We can expect JRob to soon have NFL options, so Boyett is a good player to have around.

In general, I haven’t been impressed with this group when it plays zone, though their man coverage remains exceptional.

Special teams
I won’t go too deeply into it but let’s say that we needed Chris Milo to return to form. He hadn’t shown anything since hitting a 55-yard FG vs. Calgary to send that game into overtime. Milo performed as required vs. Toronto which is good news for a team that has had trouble scoring touchdowns lately. Chris Williams took over returning duties vs. the Argos and was no more enthusiastic or effective than he was last season. I have a hard time blaming him, the team needs someone dedicated to the job and that’s been hard to find with Jamill Smith injured.

I’m long overdue to recognize long-snapper Kevin Malcolm. He’s exceptionally good and I don’t think he’s ever gotten the team in trouble, and that’s high praise for an underappreciated and difficult position.

Outlook

Aston Whiteside (Photo: Scott Grant)

Ottawa’s next game, against Edmonton, isn’t quite must-win for the standings, but it could come to define the Redblacks season. A loss will mean a four game winless streak and a lot of question marks about what this group is really made of. A win against Edmonton instantly reverses the slide. It will also be the foundation for a short winning streak heading into their bye week and then the second half of the season. The fact that another Edmonton loss will throw that team into utter disarray is just a bonus.

As always, see you in the southwest corner at TD Place. Follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

All photos courtesy of Scott Grant Photography. Follow Scott on Twitter at @cflphotoarchive.

Putting the Carter incident to bed (hopefully)

A lot has been said in mainstream and social media about the Duron Carter incident over the last week. Some of it reasonable, far too much of it not. I’m not interested in re-hashing each element of the incident or perform a Zapruder film-like dissection of the various TSN broadcast angles. In my estimation, it is all pretty meaningless and does little else than deflect from the only issue of any import or relevance: An opposing player aggressively approached the Ottawa Redblacks sideline and recklessly knocked over head coach Rick Campbell. 

The rest: details.


Was Jermaine Robinson’s hit on Carter after the TD catch dangerous and worthy of a fine? Yes. Should Jerrell Gavins have been fined for punching the back of Carter’s head after he knocked Campbell down? Probably. Was Campbell on the field of play? Of course. Was Carter concussed? Maybe. But all of that is nothing but window-dressing. Missing the forest for the trees. Footnotes to the real story. 

A player went after an opposing coach.

It’s pretty simple: Coaches have to be protected from acts like this. Leagues protect their officials – like the NHL did in the Dennis Wideman case – because they are vulnerable to the much larger, stronger, amped-up athletes they’re paid to look after. Football coaches are very similar in this respect.

(Side note: How anyone in their right mind could believe the 5’10”, not-very-athletic Campbell would initiate contact with a 6’5″ fully-equipped and partially-enraged football player is mind-boggling.)

The end result from the CFL was a single-game suspension for Carter and fines for other members of the Redblacks, including Campbell, which didn’t sit very well him. It’s a real shame the CFL didn’t take the opportunity and send a message to Carter with a suspension in the 2-to-4 game range, especially now that the player has apparently decided to appeal. Imagining a scenario where everyone directly involved in the Carter incident EXCEPT CARTER gets reprimanded by the league is pretty sickening. The league should have seen that coming, too. We’ll see how it plays out.

Everyone will have their point of view, and I get that (we can’t all be right ;)). Here are a couple places (from outside of Ottawa) that I believe describe the incident appropriately.

Arash Madani – CFL failed with Carter’s light punishment

Davis Sanchez – Intro to Episode 3 of The Waggle Podcast

Looking forward to putting this whole incident in the rear view mirror. Also eagerly anticipating August 19th, when the Alouettes visit Ottawa.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Training Camp update – A few answers, but still many questions

By Cranky Frank Clair 

So we’re almost two weeks into camp. Thus far there’s been a weak attempt by the media to stir up a QB controversy, a sidelined DE and a soggy mock game.

The RedBlacks had a lot of question marks coming into camp and if they haven’t been answered, at least we have a glimpse at what GM Marcel Desjardins thinks the answers might be.


It looks like an American will take the RT spot. Jake Silas has been with the starting o-line, and while he isn’t dominating, he doesn’t look out of place, either. Tommie Draheim is the other American the RedBlacks are looking at for the position. I’ve seen him take some very difficult reps in o-line vs d-line drills, but it’s a long camp.

This means that it appears Nolan MacMillan will remain at guard, and 2015 first overall pick Alex Mateas remains backup. Mateas looks in great shape, but he hasn’t dominated in camp. This having been said, o-line can take longer to get it together during pre-season, so time will tell. 2016 first rounder Lauzon-Seguin is coming along nicely, but certainly isn’t pushing for a starting job yet. 

Photo: Moton Hopkins

On the other side of the ball, Zack Evans and Moton Hopkins are the clear leaders of the d-line. They are in great shape and have dominated in drills. I thought last season that Evans had surpassed Keith Shologan, and I don’t think the team will really miss the free agent departee. 
Those who follow me on Twitter know I’d been looking for a DT to step up for the depth position inside, and I was hoping Connor Williams would do it. He has delivered. Quick and very strong, he looks like a DT/DE tweener but he has been explosive inside and will allow a very good rotation at DT. Unfortunately, Amobi Okoye still hasn’t been medically cleared to join the team, so the former NFLer must be assumed to be out of the picture for 2016 until we hear otherwise. It remains to be seen who will be a 4th DT. 

DE is another story. Aston Whiteside continues to sit out drills. The team says it is easing him in, we’ll see over the next two weeks whether his activity level ramps up. It doesn’t seem to have changed in the ten days of camp so far. Filling Whiteside’s first team spot in drills has been 6′ 6″ Marlon Smith, who seems to be the best of the American pass rushers brought into camp. [UPDATE: Smith was released on 6/10]. At the other DE position, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon has been the starter. None of the Americans remaining at DE seem to be making it a tough decision to keep a Canadian at the position. 


A Canadian passport may be enough to tip the balance in competition for the open WR position. Kalil Paden and Jamill Smith have proven reliable and they both have great hands. Former Texas Longhorn John Harris is showing his potential; all three seem to be having a very good camp. Canadian content requirements being what they are, it might not be enough to get that open spot. Jake Harty is playing with the first unit and seems to fit in well.


Paden, Smith and Harris will be hard to keep off the field, however. It will be interesting to see over the next two weeks how much they push 1,000-yard club members Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson and Chris Williams. 

Overall, the offence is looking sharp. DBlock is flying around doing its thing and hasn’t missed a beat despite the offseason departures. The LBs from last season look like they’ll be the LBs this season, other than perhaps a newcomer or two to shore up special teams. This remains very firmly Henry Burris’ team – it’s a joy to watch him run the offence. 

We remember Trevor Harris’ performances against the RedBlacks last season and how sobering they were for RNation. Harris is showing that same deftness in camp and he’s doing it with a nice R on his helmet instead of that ugly A. 

Next stop – the first pre-season game on June 13th. Someone will step up and be noticed, someone will get noticed for the wrong reasons, and someone will scare RNation with an apparent injury. And immediately after the game, the team will have to cut its training camp roster down to 65. We’ll be back next week to review the game and see how things are shaking out with the reduced roster. 

And on Monday, I’ll be thrilled to welcome everyone back to my house to watch football on my lawn. Come say hi, but please don’t spill beer on my foot. 

Follow Cranky Frank Clair on Twitter – @crankyclair

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Photos from OttawaRedblacks.com, unless noted.

Redblacks 2016 training camp battles

By Cranky Frank Clair

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

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

Offensive line

Photo Ottawa Citizen

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

Defensive Line


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

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

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

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

Receiver

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

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

Defensive Backs


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

Linebacker

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

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

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

QB, RB and Special Teams


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

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

Follow Cranky Frank Clair on Twitter – @crankyclair

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Photos from OttawaRedblacks.com, unless noted.

A couple opinions on the Redblacks new jerseys

On Thursday (or Jersday, as it turns out), the CFL and its nine teams revealed their new Adidas-designed uniforms to the world. In Ottawa, we heard tidbits of information over the last month about some of the new features, but today was the day for fans to finally see what their team will be wearing in 2016.

Before we look at the new uniforms, let’s take a last look at the teasers, shall we?

(someone played with the greyscale to reveal this:)

And now, the Redblacks new uniforms, with thoughts from @DefendTheR and fellow jersey geek @NevillCarney.

HOME (black)


Changes:

  1. Red added to collar, shoulders and ‘flashes’ down the side of the jersey
  2. Larger ‘REDBLACKS’ wordmark below the collar
  3. Number colours swapped, now white with red outline, and no longer italicized
  4. Shoulder numbers removed
  5. (Appears to be) smaller font used for namebar on the back
  6. ‘#RNation’ added to pant leg
  7. Red trim behind the knee of pants
  8. Red socks

AWAY (white)

(Sorry, not too many pictures around just yet)



Again, here’s how they’ve changed:

  1. Red accents added to collar
  2. Red ‘OTTAWA’ wordmark below the collar
  3. Number colours swapped, now red with black outline, and no longer italicized 
  4. Shoulder numbers removed
  5. (Appears to be) smaller font used for namebar on the back
  6. ‘#RNation’ added to pant leg

Alright, now for our impressions of the changes:

@DefendTheR: The addition of red to the home uniform was a must and nicely executed. Was hoping to see some striping on the shoulders, but not to be.

@NevillCarney: RED! If there was one single complaint I had when Ottawa unveiled their uniforms in their inaugural season in 2014, it was that a team named the REDblacks hardly had any red! I love the red compression stockings and the way they seemingly connect with the pants.

@DefendTheR: The larger REDBLACKS wordmark on the home jersey is sharp, filling up a non-personalized jersey a tiny bit better.

The move to white numbers was a no-brainer. The old ones were simply too dark. That being said, I still think white numbers with no outline would look just a bit better.

@NevillCarney: Numbers improve legibility as they are no longer italicized and are now white on the black jersey, answering broadcasters’ prayers for better contrast. They also keep the axe notch in the font, so bonus points there.

As for REDBLACKS on the front of the black home jersey, given the large francophone population in the city, it seems to give preferential treatment to the English version of the name rather than the “Rouge et Noir” translation. The best way to please both sides is to have it read “Ottawa”, similar to the new white road jersey.

@DefendTheR: It’s great to see the OTTAWA wordmark on the road uniform (especially since it won’t be on the pants). Also, the use of red numbers provide quite a different look, one somewhat resembling the glory days, in fact.

Again, a single-colour number probably makes this look just a touch better, but it’s a good look.

@NevillCarney: I wasn’t overwhelmed with the new CFL logo when it was first revealed during Grey Cup week last season, but on the jerseys, on the red collar, it looks really sharp.

@DefendTheR: I’m not a huge fan of #RNation on the pants, frankly. And not for any of the silly reasons being spewed on social media, but because there isn’t enough ‘Ottawa’ on the uniform. In fact, on the home set, there’s none. That being said, how can you not like the fact the team is giving a shoutout to the fanbase? Pretty cool gesture.

@NevillCarney: I’m on the fence with #RNation on the pants, but I like how it was captured on the inside collar. I also like that the team recognizes its incredibly strong fanbase and social media supporters.

@DefendTheR: The Redblacks confirmed the team will continue to use their white helmets on the road, which I am happy about. However, I wonder if adding a red stripe down the middle might help balance out the entire look? (UPDATE: they won’t be).

@NevillCarney: Still no red on the helmets. Essentially, if you remove the logos from the black helmet, we have the exact same one as our nemesis in Hamilton! A red facemask and/or stripe down the helmet like the old Rough Riders would fix that.

Also, no plaid! After building a strong brand with the plaid alternate jersey for the past 2 seasons, there is no sign of this on the new look. I would have bet $$$ on there being some form of plaid in the new design. Glad I’m not a betting man. 🙂

Overall Thoughts

@DefendTheR: Solid uniform upgrades. No question both sets needed more red and the home uniforms needed to be brightened up. The uniforms are definitely a more modern look, which is fine, although I would eventually like to see more traditional elements incorporated.

@NevillCarney: Ottawa’s new look is very similar to Calgary’s and Saskatchewan’s in the sense that it is a paint-by-numbers/cookie-cutter look. What do I mean by that? Look at each of the aforementioned teams and take note: do they have shoulder numbers? No. (This is a staple for football jerseys! Bring those back!) Do they have coloured patches along the sides and arms in the exact same spots? Yes.

@DefendTheR: The ‘ROUGEetNOIR’ wordmark is once again relegated to essentially an afterthought, used only on the front of the helmet. If the team is serious about this name as part of the overall brand, they need to start using it! And if not, might as well just abandon it altogether.

@NevillCarney: Overall, it’s an improvement over what Ottawa wore for the past 2 seasons, but still misses the mark in my opinion: 7/10.

Much like how superfan Jacob Barrette worked with the NHL’s Senators to design a heritage uniform that quickly became a top seller, I would suggest a similar interaction for the RedBlacks and their fans to really nail it for the inevitable next set of jerseys in the near future. We are so close to being the best-dressed team in the CFL, we just need a few tweaks to get there.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

(All photos from OttawaRedblacks.com)

Retro Preview: How they’d look today – 1958

As we await the launch of the Redblacks’ new Adidas-designed uniforms, we thought this would be a great opportunity to “look ahead” to what Ottawa’s first throwback uniforms might look like. With 120 years of Rough Rider football to draw from, there are definitely some great options to consider. In this short series, we’ll look at which year (or timeframe) we’d like to see remembered and why. Huge thanks to artist and CFL fan Nelson Hackewich for the concepts.

This week: Before the Legend was the Legend – 1958

A Little History

1959 Topps Russ Jackson Rookie Card

Back in the 1958, the Ottawa Rough Riders selected a smart and talented defensive halfback from McMaster University with the sixth overall pick. A Rhodes scholarship nominee and mathematics graduate, Russell Stanley Jackson made the decision to instead pursue football and went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in CFL history. In a 12-year career, Jackson brought three Grey Cups, three Most Outstanding Player and four Most Outstanding Canadian Awards to Ottawa. Jackson was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

Amazing that this legendary career almost never happened.

As mentioned, Jackson was drafted as a DB. If not for injuries to incumbent American QBs (like today, CFL teams were disincentivized from starting Canadians at the position), Jackson may never have had a legitimate opportunity under centre.

Ronnie Stewart
Gerry Nesbitt
Milt Graham

Getting back to the uniform specifically, seems the Rough Riders wore them from roughly 1958 through 1960 (haven’t been able to confirm — any help appreciated!). They fared pretty well in them, too:

1958 – 3rd place – 6 wins 8 losses (Lost in IRFU final)

1959 – 2nd place – 8-6 (Lost in East Final)

1960 – 2nd place – 9-5 (Won Grey Cup!)

Ottawa would see greater success in the back-half of the 1960s, but let’s talk about that some other time 😉

The Uniform

Home uniform circa 1958
Away uniform circa 1958

The helmets from this era were also fantastic in their simplicity, featuring just the player number.

A look at the Rough Riders helmets, circa 1960 (Scott Grant Photography)

Nothing beats the R, but the old-school look with player numbers on the helmet is a close second.

Becoming a bit of a broken record here, but this is yet another sharp, simple uniform that would work today just as it did in the 50s & 60s. The fact it also represents the beginning of the Russ Jackson era is a huge bonus.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

References

1. Forgotten Heroes: The Ottawa Rough Riders 1969-1996 by John Joseph Kelly http://www.blurb.ca/b/4027277-forgotten-heroes

2. Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Ottawa_Rough_Riders_season)

Retro Preview: How they’d look today – 1976

As we await the launch of the Redblacks’ new Adidas-designed uniforms for 2016, we thought this would be a great opportunity to “look ahead” to what Ottawa’s first throwback uniforms might look like. With 120 years of Rough Rider football to draw from, there are some great options to consider. In this short series, we’ll look at which year (or timeframe) we’d like to see remembered and why. Huge thanks to artist and CFL fan Nelson Hackewich for the concepts.

This week, we look at Ottawa’s last taste of Grey Cup glory, 1976.

History

The Rough Riders won the East in 1976, putting together a 9-6-1 season. The team was led by All-Stars TE Tony Gabriel (who would also be named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian), RB Art green and LB Mark Kosmos, as well as All-Eastern QB Tom Clements.

  
Ottawa faced Hamilton (8-8) in the East Final, winning a tightly-contested game 17-15 at Lansdowne Park to earn a berth into 64th Grey Cup. Held at Toronto’s Exhibition Place, the Canadian championship pitted Ottawa against their sort-of nickname counterparts from Regina (11-5). A back-and-forth affair, Saskatchewan held a 20-16 lead late in the 4th quarter. With just 31 seconds remaining, Clements called for “Rob I, fake 34, tight end flag” in the huddle (not the call he received from the bench, by the way) and hit a streaking Gabriel in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. One of the iconic plays in CFL history, it is commonly referred to as “Clements to Gabriel” or simply “The Catch”.

  

Watch it here. Goosebumps every time.

  

The Uniform

And with that, here’s Hackewich’s take on the 1976 Rough Riders uniforms:

1976-style home uniform
1976-style road (away) uniform

One of the things we like best about (most of) the old Rough Riders uniforms is the simplicity. Nothing flashy, but a look that is timeless. The white jersey/red pant road uniform is a bold look with a very ’70s feel to it.

1976 was the first year the Rough Riders wore this jersey/pant combo, which they stuck with through the 1979 season.

As it is the uniform worn by the last Ottawa team to win the Grey Cup, have to think it is a front-runner for the first retro uniform to be worn by the Redblacks. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer to find out. The 40th anniversary would be a great time to do it, wouldn’t it?

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

References

1. Forgotten Heroes: The Ottawa Rough Riders 1960-1996 by John Joseph Kelly 
2. Wikipedia