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.

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#TBT: Looking back with Marc Parenteau

By: Santino Filoso

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In today’s Throwback Thursday Interview we sit down with offensive lineman Marc Parenteau. Drafted by the Renegades in 2003, Marc went on to play for Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Toronto during the course of his 9 year career, winning two Grey Cups (in 2007 and 2012) along the way.

RR: After being drafted by the Renegades with the 36th pick in 2003, you didn’t get to start a game until 2005, how frustrating was that experience?

MP: I actually decided not pursue any NFL or CFL options after my collegiate career at Boston College. I’d played a lot of football since I managed to avoid being redshirted and played every game for four years, going to four straight Bowl games and earning All-Star nods my final two years. I felt that my football career was full and I was content to leave it there, so after college I accepted a job with a private company. At the time I was also coaching at Bishop’s University and while there I got the “itch” to play back and decided to try and make a comeback in 2005. I was fortunate enough to make the Renegades after a two year hiatus.

When you think back to your time with Ottawa, what sticks with you the most?

The city and fans were so great, all they wanted was a well managed team that could compete in the league.  I never would have left if they hadn’t folded.

On the line of scrimmage pretty much anything goes if the ref doesn’t notice. What were some of your favourite tricks or techniques that you used to give yourself an edge that might not have always been legal?

Holding hahaha!  I didn’t cheapshot opponents but if I got my hands on you I was going to hold you until that whistle blew.

Who was the most ferocious defender you where ever matched up against?

Adriano Belli, I always knew it was going to be a tough game when I played him

Describe the feeling you got as an lineman when you pulled on a sweep and got to take a 15 yard run at a DB.

I felt scared! Mostly because as a lineman you know the DBs are quicker than you and that they would do anything to avoid contact. You always knew you might totally miss them and get ridiculed by fellow offensive lineman in meetings the next day.

Did you have any pre-game superstitious?

I did early in my career.  Ranging from what I would eat, to the order of how I got ready to the drills I did pre-game on the field.  I got away from those at the end of my career and took a bit of a more relaxed approach.

Offensive linemen pride themselves on ignoring the elements and always wearing short sleeves. Did you ever cave and cover up your arms?

Now and then in practice but never in games.

Mike Abou-Mechrek told me that you were the funniest guy he’s ever played with. What kind of things did you do to keep the mood light at practice or during games?

Oh Mike! I would hide people’s stuff in the locker room, make jokes pre-game or even sometimes in the huddle between plays. Sometimes when they’d put up the 50/50 draw on the scoreboard and I’d stop everyone in the huddle to show them.

What was the most memorable prank you ever involved in?

Too many to name and some of those are top secret since they still don’t know it was me.  Let’s just say some players were sent “seat belt extenders” on plane trips by flight attendants in front of everyone. Also if a rookie acted out he may have found his stuff frozen in a big ball in the ice machine the next day.

Which fan base has the best hecklers?

I’d say it’s a tie between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg.

On the field did you talk a lot of trash or were you more of the silent type?

Mostly silent but I had the occasional game where I was lippy.

In terms of style, what was your favourite jersey to wear?

Anything that fit properly hahaha.

Why #57?

I was #73 in high school and college but OL can’t wear numbers in 70s in the CFL. I settled on #57 because I liked the look of it.

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Which Grey Cup win was more satisfying, 2007 or 2012?

That’s an unfair question, that’s like picking a favourite son! They’re both very special to me for various reasons.

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CFL: 100th Grey Cup Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts

CFL: 100th Grey Cup Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts

You are the only lineman in CFL history to ever score a touchdown in a Grey Cup (2010), talk us through that play.

It was originally put into the game plan two weeks earlier and even though we didn’t use it we left it in the goal line package. When the call game in during the Grey Cup I couldn’t believe it and was even more in shock that it was actually thrown to me. It’s an awesome memory and still without a doubt the best celebration in CFL history. When the play started I knew I really had to make it look like a run and once I cleared the line I didn’t see anyone within 10 yards of me. Glory followed.

 

As a Sherbooke native, which CIS team do you cheer for?

I actually moved to Florida when I was 12 years old so I never followed any CIS team.

Why did you choose to settle in Ottawa after you finished your CFL career?

I would have never left if it was up to me.  Even when they announced they were bringing a team back I patiently waited hoping to get a chance to play for it, but it kept getting delayed and then I was at the end of my career.  Ottawa is such a beautiful city and the perfect place for my real estate business. I wouldn`t want to be anywhere else

Finish the sentence. Every tourist coming to Ottawa should…..

Visit the Byward Market. It’s close to Parliament Hill and there’s tons of activities to do

Have you made it out to any Redblacks games? 

I made it to the opener and it was a great game! I have a bunch of friends who play on the team.

North Side or South Side?

No comment

Thanks so much for your time Marc and I look forward to seeing you at more Redblacks’ games in 2015!

@RedBlackGade

*All images via Marc’s collection

Redblacks Recap: Ottawa goes out with a whimper

By: Santino Filoso

If you look closely, you can count every Argo fan on one hand
If you look closely, you can count every Argo fan on one hand

On Friday night, the Redblacks inaugural season game to an end in the soulless stadium once known as Sky Dome. An Ottawa team playing for nothing but pride took on an Argos squad fighting for their playoff lives in front of the biggest home crowd of the year (roughly 19,000) and two dozen members of R-Nation who made the trek down the 401. Ultimately Toronto jumped out to a quick lead and the Redblacks never recovered. With the loss Ottawa finishes the year with a 2-16 record while the Argos playoff hopes now rest on the outcome of the Montreal/Hamilton game on Saturday.

Pre-game:

– Toronto media felt it fitting to publicly bash the Redblacks and their players, even going so far as to advise the Argos to rest key players and not try hard as they’d win anyways. Said media outlet barely deserves to hold the title of “News” and rhymes with run.

– Teams pay tribute to Canada’s fallen soldiers with poppy decals on each player’s helmet

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– The Redblacks come out for their warmups wearing their Signature Looks instead of their normal white road uniforms

– After three botched coin flip attempts, the Redblacks finally win the toss and chose to receive

1st Quarter:

– Ottawa opens with a trick play as Roy Finch (#19) laterals across the field to Antoine Pruneau (#6) who picks up 31 yards on the return

pruneaureturn

– Despite starting on their own 46, the Redblacks quickly go two and out after a short Jeremiah Johnson (#27) run, an offside penalty and an overthrow

– Brandyn Thompson (#25) blows up Toronto RB Steve Slaton as he reaches for an over throw, but the Argos made it look easy as back up QB Trevor Harris picks apart the Redblacks secondary. Soft coverage + weak tackling = an Argo touchdown

Ottawa Redblacks v Toronto Argonauts
BOOM!

-Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) wipes out his own first down catch by starting the play offside and on the next play Henry Burris (#1) panics in the pocket and tosses a pass right into Argo DL Tristan Okpalaugo’s hands who returns it to Ottawa’s 3 yard line. Burris 14th pick of the year might also be his worst pass of the season

– Chad Owens converts one play later with a 3 yard TD pass, Argos led 14-0 after 7 minutes of play

– Danny “Boy” O’Brien (#9) enters the game and hands off to Johnson for a 10 yard gain, but that’s quickly wiped out by a holding call on Jon “Dangerbeard” Gott (#63)

– Following an incompletion and Scott Macdonell (#83) 6 yard catch, Brett Maher (#3) punts for Ottawa

– The Argos drive down the field but Abdul Kanneh (#14) intercepts a deep ball in the end zone for a touchback

– Redblacks do nothing on offence going two and out for the 4th time in the quarter

2nd Quarter:

– Swayze Waters 39 yard FG makes it 17-0

– A promising drive that starts with a 19 yard romp from Johnson and a  6 yard catch from Macdonell ends when O’Brien is sacked on second down

Johnson was a threat, both times OC Mike Gibson decided to give him the ball
Johnson was a threat, both times OC Mike Gibson decided to give him the ball

– Chad Owens has an impressive 7 yard loss on the punt return

– The Redblacks’ defence flex their muscles and force a quick two and out

– A one yard loss on a run by Johnson and an O’Brien pass aimed at the top of the CN Tower Skypod leads to another two and out

– Ottawa’s defence bends but doesn’t break, eventually forcing a punt

– Showing off a lack of arm strength, O’Brien’s slow toss across the length of the field is picked off

obrien
Not exactly what the coaches were hoping for

– After a Keith “I Like Hittin’ People” Shologan’s (#74) 2nd down sack, the Argos settle for a 22 yard FG

– Teams trade two and outs as both offences forgo the run and toss incompletions

– With 55 seconds left, O’Brien strings together his longest drive of the day, hitting Wallce “Boom or Bust” Miles (84), Macdonell and Finch for gains of 6, 10 and 10 yards. The half ends with a flag for unnecessary roughness on the Argos

Half-time:

R-Nation decides drinking socially won’t do and breaks out the heavy stuff because stats don’t lie

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U, G, L, Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you UGLY!

3rd Quarter:

– The Redblacks break the shutout when Maher’s 63 yard kick off is downed in the end zone for a single

– The Argos move the chains once before being forced to punt

– Different QB = same result as Burris re-enters the game but goes nowhere fast with an incompletion and sack

– Harris picks apart the secondary for a few easy first downs though the Argos are eventually forced to punt

– Burris puts together a few completions hitting Miles on back to back plays for gains of 11 and 12 yards, and newcomer Eddie Poole (#8) for a 9 yard gain. Burris also uses his legs to scramble for a 10 yard gain as the pocket collapses but the drive stalls when an open Matt Carter (#85) drops a deep pass. Maher’s punt sails 54 yards through the end zone for a rouge

burris

– The Redblacks defense continues to do it’s part with yet another two and out

4th Quarter:

– Ottawa finally enters Toronto’s red zone when Poole makes a great adjustment to haul in a  to a 42 yard bomb. A few plays later the refs miss a blatant face mask and following two straight incomplete end zone passes the Redblacks settle for a 22 yard FG

– The Argos answer with a 45 yard FG of their own to take a 23-5 lead

After an incredible first half, Harris cooled off
After an incredible first half, Harris cooled off

– On second down Burris is sacked for 10 yard loss so once again Ottawa punts

– Giving the Argos nothing, the defence forces another Argo two and out

The defence was much improved in the 2nd half
The defence was much improved in the 2nd half

– With 4:23 left in the game and O’Brien comes in at QB for the Redblacks

– Khalil Paden (#13) makes a great adjustment (and a few Argos miss) on a 77 yard catch and run, the longest play of Ottawa’s season. The great field position is wasted when O’Brien’s pass on 3rd down falls incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs

Ottawa Redblacks v Toronto Argonauts

– Argos go two and out

– Jamill Smith (#15)  fields the punt and decides to run backwards which predictably leads to a huge loss

– O’Brien’s 3rd down pass skips off the turf causing another turnover on downs

– The players on the defensive side of the ball look angry as they continue to punish Argonaut players with big hits and force a two and out

– Time expires as O’Brien alternates between throwing to nobody and hitting Patrick Lavoie (#81) for short gains

Final score: 23-5 for the team named after a band of mythic Greek heros

Key Stats:

O’Brien went 13 of 25 for 161 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT

Burris went 7 of 13 for 94 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT

Johnson had 2 carries for 19 yards

Paden made 2 catches for 89 yards

Justin Capicciotti (#93) made 5 tackles and 1 sack

Maher punted 9 times for 395 yards

Closing Thoughts:

The Redblacks season came to an end with a game that epitomized all of the things that have plagued the team this season; poor QB play, unoriginal play calling, untimely flags and a defence that bent but didn’t break. Leading up to the game, Head Coach Rick Campbell had talked of wanting to give O’Brien a good number of reps to see how he’d react and I think it’s safe to say he was at best, disappointing. O’Brien struggled all night, making a number of bad throws and tossing an ugly interception that seemed to show a lack of arm strength. Worse, he appeared to crumble in the face of pressure, often running backwards as he threw the ball out of bounds. That being  said, Burris wasn’t much better as he also threw an ugly interception but the only time the Redblacks strung together any kind of drive was with him under centre. Johnson and Finch ran hard, all FOUR times they were called up to run the ball. Yet again, OC Mike Gibson completely abandoned the run game, proving that without a doubt he should be the first person out the door when the team starts handing out pink slips. The offensive line had a terrible game, failing to protect either of the QBs, getting manhandled by Toronto’s front 7 and failing to pick up the blitz. In terms of WRs Paden had one beautiful catch and run and Poole looked very fast, though his QBs rarely had time to get him the ball. Macdonell showed some flashes early but after the first quarter never got any more playing time. Henry², Ottawa’s leading WR, was invisible, completly disappearing and rarely getting a look. I think it’s safe to safe that the position with the highest turnover in the off-season will be the WR group, as too many guys simply didn’t get it done. I know I’ve harped it him a lot, but it’s because he’s deserved it, once again Gibson’s play calling set the team up for failure. When your offensive line is struggling you need to adapt your calls and help them out, by calling quick passes with shorter drops and by pounding the rock. Calling 4 runs in a game is criminal, especially when guys like Johnson and Finch had proven to be highly effective downhill runners. Gibson’s vanilla offence was on fully display in the red zone, as he called the exact same corner fade route three times, and every time it was either over thrown or broken up. Why not a screen, or a draw, or a quick slant?

If there’s anything to take solace in after this frustrating season, it’s the Redblacks’ defence. On another night that the offence was a no show, the players on the defensive side of the ball recovered from a weak opening half to limit the Argos to a single FG in the final 30 minutes of play. Damaso Munoz (#45), Thompson and Capicciotti lead the way with 5 tackles each though guys like Jasper Simmons (#31) and Pruneau also looked strong. The biggest issue for the defence in the first half was that they simply couldn’t get any kind of pressure on Harris, allowing him to sit back and torch a secondary who had one of it’s weaker games. From a fans perspective is was nice to see the defence throwing some crushing hits and playing angry, it really stood out in contrast to an offence that never showed any sense of urgency. Going forward there’s a number of strong pieces for the team to build around and if defences do win championships then the Redblacks are headed in the right direction.

Ottawa’s special teams tonight were spectacular. Maher made the field goals he was supposed to and punted well. Great special teams coverage on the league’s most dangerous returner, ChadOwens, meant that for the majority of the night Ottawa won the field position battle. The opening play lateral to Pruneau was well executed and a throwback to the successful tricks plays used so effectively earlier this season. Smith really struggled on punt return, too often going backwards and giving up a ton of yards in a vain attempt to look for an opening, by this point in the year he should know better.

The Redblacks closed out their season with a whimper, barely putting up a fight against a desperate Argo team. Apparently numerous players read the reports from the Toronto media bashing them yet that emotion clearly didn’t carry over into the game as this one was out of reach early in the first quarter. Though the Redblacks season can be described as nothing but a disappointment, the future seems bright with many building blocks already in place. Guys like Scott Macdonell, Antoine Pruneau, Jasper Simmons, and Justin Capicciotti are poised to have big roles going forward. The real MOP this season was Ottawa’s fans, who sold out 9 straight home games, packing TD Place with 24,000+ despite their team’s record. The support will carry over to next season but expectations will be raised, the team cannot hide behind the expansion label going forwards. GM Marcel Desjardins figures to be busy this off-season addressing weaknesses such as the offensive line and the WR corps and perhaps adding a few QBs to the mix. Who do you think the Redblacks should target in FA and in the draft?

@RedBlackGade

#TBT: An Interview with Mike Abou-Mechrek

By: Santino Filoso

Mike Abou-Mechrek Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Today we sit down with former Ottawa Renegades offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek. Drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1999 and quickly going on to establish himself as a reliable starter throughout his 10 year career, Mike played in Ottawa from 2002-2004 before winning a Grey Cup with Saskatchewan in 2007.

RR: You played for the Renegades from 2002-2004, what are some of your favourite memories of that time?

MBM: Ask any of the players, coaches, GMs, or front office staff, anybody at all who was a part of that Renegade family, and they’ll tell you that their favourite memory of Ottawa was the people. We came together as a family like no other team that I was on in my 20 years playing the game. I’m still good friends with some of those guys and even our children are best friends . We forged a bond that couldn’t have been built anywhere except on an expansion team in a foreign city, lead by Coach Pao Pao, Kani Kuahi and their beautiful wives Dottie and Gay who brought all of us “Renegades” together.

Why did you choose to sign in Ottawa as a free agent?

Playing with Winnipeg was great and I had just finished my 3rd season in the CFL and 2nd as a starter, but I felt that being on an expansion team would give me more job security so that I could grow and get better as a football player. That, combined with the fact that I’m from Toronto and wanted to be closer to home without being too close, made it an easy choice. Ottawa is a beautiful city that I may still retire in and live there again one day.

What kind of challenges does an expansion team face that a normal team wouldn’t?

Football is the ultimate team sport and expansion teams are just a bunch of “Renegades” thrown together on a roster – they aren’t a team. The X’s and O’s are the same as everyone else but the guys don’t know each other yet.

Many people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?

I went back to Winnipeg in 2005 so I didn’t see the entire circus but I will say that the first act was enough for me.

Who was the toughest defensive player you were lined up against?

I’d say there were three: Joe Fleming, Johnny Scott and Cameron Wake

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

Yeah, the Rogers Centre. I’ve won a high school city championship, a Vanier Cup, and a Grey Cup in the it, plus it’s in my home town, so you’d think I’d love the place but I don’t. It feels like you are playing in someone’s back yard: no fans, no atmosphere, no passion.

What was your typical pre-game meal?

Half a chicken with two cups of pasta and a big salad….which I would throw up before every game.

Run blocking > pass blocking?

Of course, you shouldn’t even need to ask

Mike Abou-Mechrek Ottawa Renegades. Photo F. Scott Grant

Describe your perfect day off while living in Ottawa.

Bike ride from Barrhaven down to the Byward Market, stopping at the Canal Ritz for a rest and refreshment. That’s the best drive/ride there is in Ottawa in my opinion.

Once I was feeling refreshed I’d continue down to the market , maybe hit up a used book store, eat some delicious Lebanese cuisine and find another patio. Later on someone would have to come pick me up and take me home because all that bike riding and refreshing makes one tired.

Who was the funniest guy you ever played with?

Marc Parenteau

Is the a special reason why you wore #67?

Many reasons. First off it’s the last year the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Cup. Secondly it’s slimming; the 6 gives the number the girth that a big man like me needs but the 7 brings the eyes in to the waist line, the number really accentuates my V shaped body haha. The worst and final reason is that it’s two away from 69 (me and you baby).

Now that you’ve retired, what are you doing for work?

I’m a Certified Financial Planner, which is what I originally wanted to be when I grew up, football just got in the way. In fact, I started my career in finance while playing in Ottawa, I was sure they would cut me and wanted to be ready to move on once they did. Thankfully I’ve never been cut.

Every player has a nickname or two, what was yours?

Abou

Do you still keep in touch with any former teammates, and if so, who?

Alex Gauthier, Marc Parenteau, George Hudson and Val St’Germain are some of my best friends, our wives all get along and our kids are the same age. It was such a blessing to come to Ottawa and meet such good people. I also keep in touch with Greg Bearman too, but he doesn’t have a wife and kids. I chat with Gay Kuahi on Facebook at least once a week.

What piece of advice would you offer any high school or university lineman looking to go pro?

Don’t look to go pro, just work hard at whatever you are going to do, or else it isn’t worth doing. If you focus on something you love to do the “pros” will find you. I was quite a fat, shy kid with low self esteem and football gave me a vehicle where my size finally was an advantage – as I WAS athletic. All the faster smaller kids who used to call me names and then run away in the school yard had nowhere to run to on the gridiron.

O-line coaches in junior ball have their work cut out for them because quite simply the kids aren’t strong enough to do things ‘right’. Trusting a coach is the best thing any athlete can do, especially when you are learning to play o-line. Everyone knows what the QB or RB has to do but no one knows what the O-line does or why they do it until they play the position. It’s quite humbling learning a game you thought you knew all over again.

For those looking to get better at football, or anything else: trust your coach/mentor, come up with a plan, and then do what you said you were going to do. The single best piece of advice I ever got (and it didn’t pertain to football at the time) was SHUT UP AND WORK.

Thank you very much Mike for a hell of an interview! Take care and we hope to see you in Ottawa again soon!

@RedBlackGade

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.

gavins

– 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

collins

– 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