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)

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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.

Redblacks Waste No Time In Improving

By: Santino Filoso

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

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

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

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

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Hmmm, a Canadian QB in Ottawa wearing 12 eh…

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

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

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

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SirVincent Rogers, I knight thee a defender of the R

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

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

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

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

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

@RedBlackGade

Redblacks Recap: Ottawa Implodes as Ticats Claw Out Win

By: Santino Filoso

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On a cold, windy, Halloween night, the Ticats rolled into town for the Redblacks final home game of the season. As has come to be expected, R-Nation packed TD Place, selling it out for the 9th straight time and proving once and for all that Ottawa IS a football town. Though the home fans were treated to a much more exciting game than the usual defensive struggle they normally see, ultimately the Redblacks lost once again.

Pre-game:

– In yet another classy move, OSEG continues to link Ottawa’s storied football history to the present by renaming and dedicating the press box to long time Rough Rider announcer Ernie Calcutt

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– R-Nation goes all out to get into the Halloween spirit

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Hamilton Tiger-Cats v Ottawa RedBlacks

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– Good to see that PA announcer Mike. Sutherland is recovering well from his recent plastic surgery

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– Players gather at centre field to salute the fans, who once again do their part, selling out TD Place for the 9th straight time

– Ottawa wins the coin toss to move their toss record to 5-14 on the year

1st Quarter:

– Roy Finch (#19) returns the opening kick off 38 yards to start the game

– Ottawa goes two and out after FB John “Boom” Delahunt (#49) makes a 4 yard catch and a deep pass for Matt “Matty Ice” Carter (#85) is broken up

– A beautiful punt by Brett Maher (#3) and great coverage pins the Ticats inside their own 10

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– Jovon “The Vet” Johnson (#2) comes roaring in on the corner blitz and brings down Collaros for his second sack of the year

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– Catches by Carter and Wallace “Boom or Bust” Miles (#84) help the Redblacks march into the red zone but the drive stalls when Burris is sacked and overthrows an open Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) in the end zone

– Maher pushes his 29 yard FG wide right but gets the single so Ottawa takes a 1-0 lead

– Heavy pressure forces Collaros to throw an incompletion on 2nd down and the Ticats go two and out

– Danny “Boy” O’Brien (#9) enters the game and immediately hits Henry² for a 20 yard gain

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– The Redblacks cover 86 yards in 7 plays for a touchdown on Jeremiah “Flow” Johnson’s (#27) back as he gets it done with hard running and a beautiful executed screen. O’Brien is shaken up on the drive after being levelled while completing a pass

Jeremiah Johnson, Colin Kelly

2nd Quarter:

– On 2nd down, Travis Brown (#43) and Jermaine Robinson (#32) meet at the QB and sack Collaros for a big loss, Ticats come away with nothing after a long drive

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– O’Brien is back in at QB and Johnson takes off for 21 yards. The drive is cut short when Finch catches a short pass and fumbles. Ticats knock it out of bounds, recover and take over at Ottawa’s 29

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– Hamilton makes the most of the turnover two plays later when back to back run plays lead to a touchdown

– The short kick off is fielded by 6 foot 6 inch DL Marlon Smith (#98) who actually looks surprisingly smooth as he scurries for a decent return

Defensive lineman? Or Dante Hall in disguise?
Defensive lineman? Or Dante Hall in disguise?

– The QB rotation continues and Burris finds Carter three times on the drive for gains of 19, 11 and finally 34 yards for a TD as Carter carves up the Ticats secondary like a pumpkin

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– All the energy and momentum is sucked out of TD Place when Brandon Banks takes the ensuing kick off for 103 yards for a touchdown

– After a 7 yard run by Johnson, Burris scrambles for his life, barely avoids the sack and throws the ball away

– Newcomer David Hinds (#20) is flagged for roughing the passer when he slightly nudges Collaros

– With no one open and under heavy pressure, Collaros forced to throw the ball away on 2nd down

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– O’Brien takes the reigns of the offence and after hiting Delahunt for a 15 yard gain and  Johnson for anther 10,  an overthrow is picked off and returned 46 yards

– Justin Capicciotti’s (#93) ninth sack of the year is an 18 yard loss and on 3rd and 33 the Ticats punt

– Jamill Smith’s 28 yard punt return is wiped out by an objectionable conduct call on Ottawa’s bench

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– Johnson runs for 6 before O’Brien takes a knee to end the half

Jeremiah Johnson

– Redblacks lead 15-14 after 30 min

Half-time:

– Big Joe’s anthem plays

– This guy wins best costume and $1000

3rd Quarter:

– Ticats get the ball and march down the field thanks to sloppy arm tackles and flags. Capicciotti gets his 2nd sack of the night but Hamilton takes the lead with a 22 yard FG

– With Burris in at QB the offence puts together one of it’s best drives of the night; Johnson picks up 28 yards on two runs, Delahunt hauls in an 11 yard pass, Smith gains 9 yards on sweep, Burris gives the Redblacks a fresh set of downs after a QB sneak and Johnson caps the drive off in style, juking 25 yards into the end zone, making Ticat defenders look silly

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– The defence flexes it’s muscles quickly forcing another Ticat two and out

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– O’Brien has a series to forget as he fumbles the handoff on first down before throwing a pick six on the next play. Ticats lead 24-22

– With Burris in at QB, the Redblacks go two and out following two incompletions as OC Mike Gibson decides that running the ball isn’t a good idea in a tight, one score game

– Brown gets the ball back for Ottawa when he absolutely blows up Terrell Sinkfield and forces a fumble that is scooped up by DL Moton “The Motivator” Hopkins (#95)

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– Johnson runs for a short gain and Burris is sacked on 2nd down. A bonehead after the whistle flag on OL Colin Kelly (#67) pushes the Redblacks back an extra 15 yards

4th Quarter:

– Hamilton RB Mossis Madu wobbles off the field after getting walloped by a trio of Ottawa defenders

– Ticats increase their lead with a 28 yard FG

– Miles season is summed up in a nutshell as he drops an easy pass before making two tough catches over the middle for gains of 19 and 12 yards respectively. Maher’s 42 yard FG makes it 27-25

– Smith blows up a run for a loss and Collaros throws an incompletion as the Ticats go two and out

– Inside the shadow of his own goal posts, Burris is sacked and then proceeds to show that anything O’Brien can do he can do better by throwing his own pick six

Henry Burris

– HC Rick Campbell decides to keep O’Brien on the bench and Burris trots back out (after the game we learn that O’Brien was hurt)

– Ottawa is saved by the flag when a sack is wiped out by a roughing the passer call

– Carter gets way behind the defence but a sure fire touchdown falls incomplete, rolling off his fingertips

– Khalil Paden (#13), Patrick Lavoie (#81), Miles and Carter all make catches to get the Redblacks into the red zone but OC Mike Gibson decides to run the ball on 2nd down which results in a 4 yard loss

On 3rd and 7, down by 9 with 1:47 left and on the Ticat’s 19 yard line, Campbell chooses NOT to kick the FG to cut the lead to 6 and instead Burris’ pass is picked off in the end zone

– Hamilton strings together a few first downs to run out the clock

Final score: 34-25

Key stats:

Burris went 15 of 22 for 222 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs

O’Brien went 6 of 10 for 83 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs

Johnson had 17 carries for 131 yards and 2 TDs

Carter made 5 catches 81 yards and 1 TD

Capicciotti made 4 tackles and 2 sacks

Maher punted 4 times for 180 yards

Closing Thoughts:

Once again the Redblacks take two steps forward and two steps back. It’s hard to win CFL games and it’s damn near impossible to win when you have 5 turnovers (with 21 points off them), give up a 103 yard kick off TD return and throw two pick sixes.

The dual QB attack was effective early but seemed to hinder both QBs as the game worn on, as neither one seemed to be able to settle into a rhythm, both overthrowing receivers and tossing interceptions. A case could be made for either QB having the better game but in the end neither did enough to protect the ball. The run game was extremely effective as Jeremiah Johnson tore through the Ticats like a knife through hot butter. Inexplicably, in spite of the run game rolling on all cylinders, OC Mike Gibson sometimes got away from the run which lead to two and outs. The WRs were led by Miles and Carter and once again though Carter had a strong game, ultimately he will be remembered for the late drop when he was wide open. Disappointingly, promising rookie Scott Macdonell (#83) never saw the field, despite proving his value in recent weeks. The shuffled offensive line looked very good when run blocking, opening up huge running lanes for Johnson to exploit but failed to pick up the blitz in pass protection several times, giving up sacks in crucial situations. Mike Gibson chose not to take advantage of Hamilton’s aggressiveness with bland play calling, calling only one screen and no draws or misdirection plays. Still, it was one of the team’s better offensive performances on the year, though much of the good work they did was undone with interceptions and fumbles.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Redblacks made the Ticats grind out every drive. Collaros was under duress for the whole game but often hung in the pocket just long enough to take a hit and deliver the pass for a first down gain. The Redblacks routinely blew up plays in the backfield for losses, setting up 2nd and long and allowing them to blitz and tee off on Collaros. Though they didn’t score, the unit generated another turnover and bailed out the offence after O’Brien’s first pick, sacking Collaros to push the Ticats out of FG range. Technically the defence only gave up 13 points with 14 of the Ticats 34 coming off interceptions taken to the house and 7 from a kick return.

Special teams again winded up costing Ottawa big time. As has been the case all season long, Maher punted extremely well but shanked a short FG, points that would’ve come in handy late in the game. The most glaring error was the team surrendering yet another long kick return touchdown, the 6th return touchdown given up by the Redblacks this year.

Head Coach Rick Campbell will take some flak this week for another puzzling decision. Late in the game on 3rd and 7 when down by 9, he chose to forgo the FG and instead go for the end zone. If the Redblacks kick a field goal at that point they extend the game, keep hope alive and give their offence another shot. Instead, by choosing to go for it, the game was effectively over the second the Redblacks didn’t convert that play. As has happened the past few weeks, Campbell looked like a rookie coach simply blowing an important decision late in the game. Clearly he’s still learning how to properly manage a game but as a fan it’s much more frustrating to see a coach make a mistake than a player.

Looking back, this year will be a disappointment but it’s important to remember that this was Ottawa’s 10th loss by 10 points or less this season. The Redblacks may have lost 15 games but they were almost never blown out. Thankfully their two wins came at home and it was fantastic to see the community of Ottawa embracing their new team, selling out every home game. Many of the players on the team played their last game in front of R-Nation tonight and they’ll look back on their time in the Nation’s Capital with fond memories. Next up for the Redblacks is a date with the Argos in the soulless stadium once known as the Sky Dome. Ottawa will potentially have the opportunity to knock the Argos out of playoffs and with jobs on the line you can be sure the team will bring their A game.

@RedBlackGade

P.S. Hats off to the team for rewarding loyal fans by having players literally give the shirts off their backs to fans after the game

– All images via CFL.ca, Ottawaredblacks.com and the Ottawa Citizen

A TD Place/Lansdowne review ahead of home game #2

Though it feels like it took forever to get here, on Saturday the Ottawa Redblacks will play Home Game #2 against Saskatchewan in front of a second-consecutive sold out crowd at TD Place.

While there was so much to like about the inaugural game experience (winning certainly didn’t hurt), there were also more than a few issues for fans to deal with. OSEG can be excused for many of them, what with the inaugural game being the first real event staged at the new stadium, but there is no doubt they are looking to make a great second impression on Saturday. It was great to see just how seriously they are taking the fan experience, including an email to season ticket holders seeking feedback. Very nicely done.

Here’s our look back:

Lansdowne development

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Though still very much a work in progress, it is not hard to see just how great this place is going to be, especially on game days. Once those restaurants & patios are open for business, lighting the way to the Aberdeen Pavilion, Lansdowne will be a sight.

Pre-Game Party

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Entrances at both the east and west of the Aberdeen Pavilion are used as a smart point of entry to the pre-game not-quite-tailgating-but-the-next-best-thing party area. Once inside the Pavilion (which was more or less a holding area and will probably be used more effectively in the future), alcohol could be purchased inside or outside on the “patio”.

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Food trucks on the patio are a great idea – just need more of them! And The Trews concert was a great surprise. Ottawa’s Sarah McClurg will perform on Saturday.

I was really impressed with this concept OSEG have come up with. I can see the pre-game party becoming a great aspect of game day and draw fans to the park nice & early.

Entering the stadium (North Side)

Entered at Gate 3 to get to our North side (doesn’t suck) seats. Gate 3 was previously only a Civic Centre entrance, so neat that the concourse will now be shared with the football stadium. Will provide for more concessions, bathrooms, etc. – all needed amenities on the North side. However, none of it was really in use for the inaugural game. A bit of a disappointing first impression, but with a little vision, it is easy to see how good the experience will be.

Our seats

As advertised and pretty comfortable. Massive upgrade from the South Side upper deck benches, no doubt. Decent leg room too.

Once in our seats, it was odd not to see a single person selling concessions in the stands. Guessing that will change.

The field

The turf itself looks great, and cool that it stretches all the way across from the North to South stands. I recall the field ‘dropping off’ behind the team benches on the South side at the old stadium. Looks very sharp and clean.

Surprised not to see a Redblacks logo present anywhere on the field – expected something at centre field (TD Place logo instead), as well as in the end zones. Also, the on-field advertisements – their presence an unfortunate reality to begin with, looked somewhat incomplete. Perhaps an issue with the removable paint not adhering as expected? Again, it was the first kick of the can. I’m sure field ops (not to mention the sponsors themselves) will make sure the ads look better this time.

The scoreboard

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Highlight of the night. The thing is a monster. And we had a great view from our northwest seat location.

Did see a tweet or two from east-end North Siders complaining that they couldn’t see it too well. Not sure how OSEG overcome that. Second scoreboard???

Sound system

Shaky at the start, which caused some confusion with the marching band, player introductions & a start to the national anthem that had players running to their sidelines as it began.

Sound got better and clearer in the second half.

Had a good chuckle throughout the game at the first down sound effect, sponsored by Otto’s. We weren’t sure if that was a chainsaw or a revving dirt bike sound effect. Redblacks Twitter was nice enough to confirm.

Concessions

Overall, probably the biggest problem of the night. Simply not enough of them open, and those that were w’re not adequately stocked or prepared for the volume of customers.

The lines on the North side were so long, we abandoned the idea right quick. Instead, we went down to the west side promenade (i.e. the stadium main entrance, behind the west end zone) and walked the South Side to find a little more reasonable beer line ups.

A friend of mine decided to forgo the lineups altogether, deciding instead to leave the stadium, cross Bank St., grabbed a few tall cans from The Beer Store and a few slices from Pizza Pizza, re-enter the stadium and bring it all back to his seats. Not a strategy I’d recommend, but it worked quite nicely for him this night.

By the way, once it’s finished, the main entrance area on Bank is going to be a fantastic place to hang out – before, during or after the game. With benches in place on top of the ‘grassy knoll’ on the west side, some fans spent the entire night hanging out there. Hard to blame them – incredible view.

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Halftime

A nice ceremony to celebrate the re-re-retiring of the numbers of ten former Rough Riders players, as well as honouring Grey Cup victories of the past with signage along the walkway in the east end zone. Having a live camera on the field so that we could actually see the players & families would have added quite a bit to it, but nice nonetheless.

The fans

The excitement in the stands and atmosphere in the stadium really made up for all the other shortcomings on a memorable night. While the inaugural game was no masterpiece, it had the drama, intensity and great finish that sent Redblacks fans home happy.

The cheering and enthusiasm was really something special; unlike anything I have experienced at an Ottawa CFL game. #RNation made an amazing first impression.

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Chills. It was great.

I won’t be there on Saturday, but will be watching & listening closely for your feedback on the game day improvements. Follow along on Twitter for the latest.

@OTTRoughRiders

Game #3; TD Place Comes to Life as the Redblacks Edge the Argos

By: Santino Filoso

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On Friday night, after 3177 days (but who’s counting), CFL football returned to Ottawa with a roar. R-Nation unleashed nine years of pent up energy as the Redblacks survived a tight 18-17 defensive battle to get their 1st win of the season and 1st win at home in dramatic fashion.

Pre-Game:

– Ottawa was buzzing all week but the vibe around the city really started to peak Friday morning with the CFL, City Hall, Senators, former players and even bus drivers getting in on the action

– Fans arrive at TD Place via bus, boat, bike and car with varying degrees of traffic

– The Trews serenade “tailgating” Redblacks fans hanging out beside the Aberdeen Pavilion

– Legendary Rough Rider Tony Gabriel runs around the field to amp up the crowd

From the way he ran around on the field, Tony looks like he could still lace them up and play
It was awesome to see Gabriel back on a CFL field

– PA announcer Mike Sutherland introduces the Redblacks but nobody feels the need to tell the players milling about inside the helmet to come out, leading to an awkward few minutes of expectation, like that feeling you get when you go to hug someone and they turn their head to the same side

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Eventually the defense came out but the offense was missing until late in the game

 

– A military jet flys over the stadium twice, because doing it just once is how the Argos score TDs

1st Quarter:

– Argos receiving the opening kick off and proceed to march down the field with a variety of short passes. DB Jerell Gavins (#24) makes a great defensive play to break up an end zone pass intended for Argos WR John Childs.

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– The first points in TD Place history come off the right foot of Swayze “Point Blank” Waters as he nails a 36 yard FG

– Aided by a roughing the passer flag and a few strong runs from Chevon Walker (#29), the Redblacks get into field goal range and kicker Brett Maher hits a 26 yard FG

– WR Kierrie Johnson (#10) gets behind the Argos secondary, Burris spots him and delivers a perfect deep ball that hits him in the hands, unfortunately the pass is dropped and the Redblacks miss out on a sure touchdown

– Redblacks are forced to punt following a Burris sack

– Argos RB Steve Slaton rumbles for 14 yards to end the quarter, TD Place announcer calls him Steve Sultan for the first but definitely not last time of the evening

2nd Quarter:

– Swayze “Road House” Waters punts 65 yards for a rouge

– Carlton Mitchell (#88) goes over the middle and gets absolutely blasted by Dwight Anderson who is flagged for unnecessary roughness. The hit looks clean in the sense that Anderson never makes contact with Mitchell’s head but the zebra man has spoken, +15 yards to the Redblacks

– Brett “I Can Do It All” Maher fakes the punt on 3rd and 10, scrambling 15 yards for a 1st down

– Long catches by Johnson and Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) bring the Redblacks to the Argos 23; Maher makes a 30 yard FG

– Ray completes a 45 yard pass but is sacked on the next play by new Dad (make sure you say congrats!) Justin Capicciotti (#93)

– Swayze “Dirty Dancing” Waters makes a 40 yard FG

– The Redblacks offensive line plays dodgeball with the Argos’ defensive one which results in Burris getting sacked

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– With 2:38 left the Redblacks string together a series of 1st downs thanks to runs by Burris and Walker and catches by Henry² and Johnson

– Maher’s 22 yard FG closes out the half and gives the Redblacks a half-time lead for the third consecutive game

Half-time:

– The Redblacks pay tribute to their past by retiring and honouring former Rough Rider greats Tony Golab, Jim Coode, Bobby Simpson, Gerry Organ, Whit Tucker, Moe “The Toe” Racine, Ronnie Stewart and Russ Jackson. It was a special moment for the guys who were on hand and for the families represnting those who coudn’t be.

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The Redblacks’ retired numbers reflect Ottawa’s storied CFL history

3rd Quarter:

– Redblacks receive the ball to start the 2nd half but quickly go two and out following another Burris sack

– Jovon Johnson (#2) recovers a fumble giving the Redblacks the ball, unfortunately they can’t get any points off the turnover

– Tristan Okpalaugo gets a hat-trick of sacks on Burris, getting to him for the 3rd time

– Brandyn Thompson (#25) picks off Ricky Ray

– Burris hits Dobson Collins (#80) on back to back plays for gains of 15 and 16 yards

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– Following a Matt Carter (#85) catch, Maher makes another FG, this time from 32 yards out

– T.J. Hill (#21) blows by the Argos offensive line to sack Ray

4th Quarter:

– Ray throws a 20 yard pass to Darvin Adams, hitting him in stride in the back of the end zone

– Walker sweeps through the Argos defense, weaving 28 yards between would be tacklers

– Thomas DeMarco (#17) punts 20 yards (yes you read that right) when the drive stalls at the Argos 51

– Brandon Lang (#91) bull rushes his way to Ray, sacking him for a 7 yard loss

– Maher makes a 48 yard FG with 5:08 left in the game giving the Redblacks a slim 15-14 lead

– Swayze “Red Dawn” Waters makes a 47 yard FG with 1:33 left in the game giving the Argos a slim 17-15 lead

– After scrambling for a short gain, Burris hits Johnson for a 43 yard completion on 2nd and 10, moving the ball all the way down to the Argos 21 yard line, also known as field goal range

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Kierrie Johnson moves the Redblacks into field goal range and atones for his drop earlier in the game

– Maher is money from 23 yards out, giving the Redblacks a 18-17 lead with 28 seconds left in the game

– Jasper Simmons (#31) seals the deal by picking off a visibly frustrated Ray to end the game

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– Eardrums rupture from the frenzied wall of noise being produced by R-Nation, REDBLACKS WIN, REDBLACKS WIN, REDBLACKS WIN!

 Final score: 18-17 for the Redblacks

Key Stats: 

– Burris went 17 of 30 for 216 yards, 0 TDs or INTs

– Walker had 12 carries for 60 yards

– Johnson had 6 catches for 91 yards

– Maher went 6/6 and averaged over 50 yards a punt

– 5 sacks for the Redblacks defense

Closing Thoughts:

On a historic night in Ottawa, the Redblacks won in dramatic fashion, sending the sellout crowd home happy and breaking in TD Place the right way. There were some bumps along the way, but in the end a win’s a win and this one was a long time coming. Offensively the Redblacks woes continued; Burris was under heavy pressure all night and it’s unrealistic to expect him to thrive and be accurate when he’s constantly throwing off his back foot, the offensive line must be better. Additionally receivers continue to have drops in key moments and struggle to create separation. It was good to see Kierrie Johnson redeem himself with the late catch.

“God gave me another opportunity,” said Johnson. “I messed up on the first one, I was wide open. I think everybody and their  momma saw that one.So my teammates told me I was going to have another opportunity. I kept faith. I saw that ball coming to me, and I said I’ve got to make that play, no matter what. It wasn’t an easy catch. I saw the ball, I knew I had to catch it.. I don’t care what’s the situation, I had to catch it.”

Running back Chevon Walker continues to be a home run threat and seemingly every time the ball is in his hands he has a chance to take it to the house. One area that the offensive isn’t struggling in is with turnovers. as the Redblacks have done a marvelous job protecting the football so far this season.

Defensively the Redblacks continued their trend of bending but not breaking. They piled up another 5 sacks and harassed Ray all night long, generating two interceptions and a fumble. Players swarmed to the ball and made good strong tackles. Specials team coverage tightened up and prevented the Argos getting any long gains.

Without a doubt the player of the game was kicker Brett Maher, who was perfect kicking and who thumped punts deep into Argos territory throughout the game.

“It’s a great night,” said Maher. “If you’re a kicker and you don’t want to be in that situation, you’re probably not going to thrive. My whole career, I’ve kicked a bunch of field goals and never hit a game-winner, never even tried one.” 

 

The Big Three tonight
The Big Three tonight

The Redblacks next game will be on Saturday night in Hamilton where they’ll look to build off this win before returning back to TD Place to host Saskatchewan on August 2nd. See you at the game!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via CFL.ca, Roman Romanovich, Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun

TD Place scoreboard will be a sight to see

By: Santino Filoso

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It’s often said that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. A while back I started wondering why we hadn’t heard anything yet about the new scoreboard for TD Place stadium at Lansdowne, so I tweeted at the Redblacks asking for some information. The Redblacks social media team has been lights-out so far and I wasn’t disappointed as my query was quickly answered.

Coming in at 60 feet by 40 feet means that R-Nation will have a glorious 2,400 square-foot screen overlooking the western end zone. Oh, and did I mention that it’s HD? Nothing like seeing the Redblacks run up the score in high-definition and watching the tears streak down opposing fans faces as they cower beneath the Redblack attack!

Comparing it to the old scoreboard that we had at Lansdowne during the Rough Rider/Renegade eras isn’t even fair. Kinda like:

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The big thing is the new scoreboard. The little blue thing is the old one.

For those of you who are more visual, our scoreboard will be exactly the same size as the one used by Georgia Tech at their stadium. Now I realize that in this picture their scoreboard doesn’t look incredibly imposing, but you have to remember that their stadium seats 55,000, more than double the capacity of TD Place.

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Having a quality scoreboard is something that really enhances the game-day experience. Nobody wants to be squinting to see a pixelated replay. Just ask Sens fans about the new scoreboard they got in 2011.

To sum up, TD Place’s scoreboard is going to be big, in HD and create even more excitement going into this inaugural Redblacks season. Yet another reason July 18th can’t get here soon enough!

@RedBlackGade

Interview with “Redblacks Theme Song” creator Nevill Carney (@NevillCarney)

By: Santino Filoso

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Today I’m interviewing Nevill Carney, one of the guys behind the “Redblacks Theme Song”, a fast paced anthem that’s been rocking R Nation. Though conceived and edited by Carney, the song itself was written and performed by Lucas Haneman, a close friend. Make sure you give both Lucas and Nevill a follow on Twitter to stay up to date on all of their latest projects:

@NevillCarney
@LucasHaneman

RR: How long have you and Lucas Haneman known each other and been making music together?

NC: I have known Lucas since Grade 7. We both grew up in Kanata (west end of Ottawa) and have been friends ever since. He is the musician while I am the videographer, essentially, I am the eyes and he is the ears. Believe it or not, all of the music that you hear in the RedBlacks theme music is Lucas! I guided him along what I was hoping to achieve but his talent carried it through to where it is now. He never ceases to amaze me!

From start to finish how long did it take you guys to put the whole thing together?

From start to finish, it took about a day and a half to come up with the musical aspect – Lucas is that talented! Once we established that we wanted to keep it simple enough for anyone to hum along to (and have a hint of 80s rock in there for good measure! – think Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart”) we made quick work with the video. The visual aspect took half a day to shoot but two or three solid days to get the edit where I felt it was appealing enough to release on Youtube. So, all in, I would say five days of total time to complete it.

Were you surprised at how quickly the Redblacks and R Nation embraced your song?

In the age of social media, it didn’t surprise me that we would get a few responses for the theme. But the amount of POSITIVE feedback that we have received is ludicrous, especially at this time of year when football is an afterthought for most people focused on hockey. We couldn’t have gotten far without support; R Nation rocks!

Has there been any talk of your song being used at home games next season, and if so what would it mean to you guys?

When I initially thought of the idea for creating the tune, my end goal was to have it used by the team for when the players come out onto the field during home games. If it were to become the ‘official’ theme of the Redblacks, that would be amazing! It would mean a lot to both Lucas and myself as we have wanted to contribute in some small way to the Ottawa community. If it gets people jacked, excited and/or pumped, we have done our job! Hopefully people continue to support it so that it is heard over the sound system at TD Place at Lansdowne.

Are you guys big CFL fans, or was this just a case of being in the right place at the right time?

I wouldn’t say that I am a big CFL fan…yet! Reason being that I don’t like hopping on any other team’s bandwagon and cheering for anyone but Ottawa. I was pretty young when the Rough Riders left in ’96, and the year the Renegades left was when I was hoping to attend my first live football game at Lansdowne. With the announcement that the Redblacks were coming in 2014, I jumped at the chance and got season tickets on the new south side.

Lucas, on the other hand, due to his being visually impaired (many people have expressed shock when we tell them this detail!) is not able to observe sports the same way you or I do. Regardless, he does enjoy supporting his home town teams and maintains a high spirit each and everyday that I have known him.

What’s your favourite Lansdowne memory?

Having missed out on CFL games growing up, my favourite Lansdowne memory would have to be with the 67’s. There was one season (2000-2001 season) where the team went on a tear and won the OHL championship trophy (the J. Ross Robertson Cup). I always enjoyed, at the end of each game, having a chance to meet the players and collect signatures. I still have my signed pennant on the wall from guys such as Jon Zion, Joey Talbot, Zenon Konopka and Brendan Bell.

Which Redblacks player are you most excited to see take the field next year and why?

The Redblacks player that I am most excited to take to the field this coming season would be either Henry Burris or John Delahunt. It will be interesting to see if Burris can shake off both last year’s Grey Cup loss and the expansion woes of a new team. Plus, he seems like such an awesome, likeable guy! John Delahunt was with Hamilton last year and is a local guy who played with the Kanata Knights/Ottawa Sooners – it’s hard to not cheer on a guy from your home town!

How will you follow this song up? Are you guys planning on making any more Redblacks related music?

I would love to follow this theme song up with something else. Some of the comments we have received have been ‘negative’ in that we didn’t make the video funny enough or have ‘creative lyrics.’ That was never the point of this particular theme. It was always about being a predominantly instrumental piece that incorporates the team name in a chant to get both players and fans alike pumped before a game. Maybe eventually we can make a funny chant or something. I would love to make use of the saw blade sound effects for something else! That was a good time incorporating that with the music theme.

Any chance of a parody video in the works?

Chances of a parody video? It might be something fun to do down the line. I would be open to suggestions!

Would you recommend watermelon smashing as a good stress reliever for other Redblacks fans?

Haha, watermelon smashing is definitely a good (yet, costly!) stress reliever for Redblacks fans. Seeing as Saskatchewan is only in town once/twice a season, something else may need to fill in. Stomping on stuffed tiger kitties, perhaps?

Where can people go to check out more of your music?

People can check out more music by going to YouTube and searching “Lucas Haneman” (whom I have helped produce many of his music compilation videos). Here is a link to his channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/LucasHaneman/videos
and here is one of my favourite videos:

I am mostly a video guy but some of my work can be found on YouTube as well under “Nevill Carney”. I split my time in Ottawa/Toronto and work for Discovery on the show “Mighty Ships” while in the Big Smoke.

Thank you very much for your time and I hope to see more Redblacks related songs in the future!

@RedBlackGade