Redblacks Training Camp battles – It’s Trev’s offence now

By Cranky Frank Clair

Hope you had a chance to read my defensive preview. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Redblacks offence.

QB Trevor Harris – photo Scott Grant Photography
Quarterback

Hank is gone, but the team’s QB corps is solid thanks to GM Marcel Desjardins’ timely acquisitions of Trevor Harris prior to the 2016 season and Drew Tate this past winter.  

Key Returning Players: Trevor Harris

Departed: Henry Burris (retired), Danny O’Brien

Notable Newcomers: Drew Tate (trade – CGY), Ryan Lindley (free agent – 3 seasons in NFL) 

After spending 2016 as the most loyal of soldiers alternately backing up and replacing Henry Burris, this is now Harris’ football team. The offence is being molded to his strengths and we’ll get a good sense this year if Harris is as good as good over 18 games as he’s been as a part-timer. 

Beneath the optimism about Harris, there is an undercurrent of chatter that he has never delivered for an entire season. I can’t comment on his 2015 experience with the Argos other than to know he dissected the very strong Redblacks defence twice later in the season. As for last year, he was injured at some point after he took over for the injured Henry Burris, and it is difficult to pin the team’s mid-season struggles on Harris. This having been said, this is his first opportunity to lead a pro team from the beginning – his performance one way or another will speak for itself. I expect Harris will deliver, particularly with Ottawa opening up deep threats (despite the departure of Chris Williams). 

I’m assuming that former Calgary back-up QB Tate is now the defacto #2 in Ottawa, although it may depend on how Ryan Lindley adapts to the Canadian game. Lindley’s NFL record isn’t stellar – he’s had 6 starts over three seasons and he is no longer in the NFL for a reason. This is a fresh chance for the San Diego State product and he’ll be able to compete. 

Brock Jensen, the incumbent #2/3 in Ottawa, is also back. It remains to be seen whether he gets a chance to prove his smattering of supporters correct that he is proving worthy of the #2 spot and is a future starter. Attentive readers will know I’m more than a little dubious. 

RB Shakir Bell – photo Scott Grant Photography

Running Back

There are two things the Redblacks have been able to count on through their short history – sellouts at TD Place and the need for lots of running backs. Fortunately, Desjardins has been able to keep the RB pipeline full despite a string of injuries. This year he has delivered the team’s deepest RB corps yet. 

Key returning players: Mossis Madu, William Powell, Patrick Lavoie (FB)

Departed: Kienan Lafrance, Travon Van

Notable Newcomers: Shakir Bell (free agent, previously EDM), Anthony Gosselin (2017 2nd round draft pick

With Mossis Madu returning after a solid championship season and William Powell returning following his early season injury, it would appear that the Redblacks were already loaded at RB prior to the signing of Shakir Bell. Now they are uber-loaded, but two things to remember: Injuries come fast, and both Madu and Powell are now 29 years old. We could be looking at a training camp battle between Madu and Powell to hang on to one spot alongside Bell, who is younger and has shown explosive ability to gain yardage. Bell was CFL Player of the Week in week 10 last season, and certainly turned heads, but with only four starts so far he’ll have to prove in camp that he isn’t a flash in the pan. He was a talented big time back in college, however, so all signs point to Bell being the real deal. 

A wild card this year is Anthony Gosselin, a physical specimen drafted in the second round by the Redblacks in March. Gosselin will certainly contribute almost immediately on special teams, but it must be wondered if the team thinks it might have another big Canadian back on its hands in the mold of Jerome Messam – Gosselin is almost 250lbs, has defensive lineman strength and running back speed. He’ll be a player to watch. 

Running back is the number one position to watch during training camp as the Madu-Powell-Bell hierarchy gets sorted out over the next month.

WR Kenny Shaw – photo Scott Grant Photography

Receiver

We simply have to get over the departed players. They’ve earned a lifetime of respect, love and glory, but they are Redblacks no more. Hail the new Redblacks. The 2017 version of the Redblacks offence should remain strong thanks to depth – just like the previous two seasons, opposition defences cannot shut down the Ottawa air game by focusing on one or two receivers. It is entirely possible the Redblacks will have another season with four 1000+ yard receivers. 

Key returning players: Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, Juron Criner

Departed: Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams

Notable Newcomers: Diontae Spencer (free agent – TOR), Kenny Shaw (free agent – TOR), Tori Gurley (free agent – WPG)

As hard as it may be to accept, this is a time of out with the old, in with the new. Expect 2016 late season standout Juron Criner to ably step into the role previously occupied by Ernest Jackson. The big converted TE has proven to have good hands and the ability to get open. He will never be EJack, but the Redblacks will be well served by Criner. 

With Chris Williams leaving just as Harris’ ability to throw deep with accuracy comes to the fore, I was concerned about the Redblacks not having legit deep threats. I worry no more. Diontae Spencer and Kenny Shaw provide that deep threat. As long as the Redblacks receiving corps continues to take downfield blocking as seriously as catching and running, the team’s air game will remain very strong. YAC has been a big plus for the Redblacks offence over the past two seasons, and that needs to continue. 

The one concern is lack of Canadian depth behind Brad Sinopoli. We’ll see if Scott McDonnell can step up when asked in his third year with the club. Greg Ellingson is now making big time money and should continue delivering big time results. And snow angels. Lots more snow angels.

Alex Mateas & the Offensive Line – photo Scott Grant Photography

Offensive Line

The continuity largely continues

Key returning players: SirVincent Rogers, Jason Lauzon-Séguin, John Gott, Nolan MacMillan, Jake Silas

Departed: J’Michael Deane

Notable newcomer: Evan Johnson (9th pick overall, 2017 CFL draft)

With everyone returning except starting LG J’Michael Deane, the Redblacks OL is basically set. Deane’s departure was virtually inevitable given the team’s depth inside. Here is how I expect the 2017 line to shake out:

LT – SirVincent Rogers

LG – Jason Lauzon-Seguin

C – John Gott

RG – Nolan MacMillan

RT – Jake Silas

The real training camp battle will be for the depth roles – ie, who will be the “first man up”. Matt Albright and Alex Mateas will be fighting to be that guy, with Mateas having a lot to prove. The 2015 first overall draft pick is proving to be an expensive backup. This is a make or break year for the Ottawa native, and indeed, anything could happen if a camp prospect such as Lene Maiava proves to be a beast worth keeping, despite his International status. Look for Albright to be the go-to depth guy, and remember that versatile standout MacMillan only signed for one season. The team will have to be thinking about next year as well. 

Tommie Draheim filled in last season when RT Jake Silas was injured. Tackles need very strong first contact and the mobility/balance to stay with the defender. The Redblacks will be taking a long look at camp invitees at tackle to see who might deliver those qualities and be the depth player at OT. 

Don’t look for first round draft pick Evan Johnson to make an impact this season. He has lauded athleticism and coach Bryan Chiu will be able to coach him up, but there likely won’t be a regular season role for him until 2018, at least.

Looking forward to Saturday’s mock game and Thursday’s preseason opener. Come say hi – and don’t forget to rub my shoe for good luck!

Follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.

Thanks for reading! @DefendTheR

Photos courtesy Scott Grant Photography. Follow Scott on Twitter at @CFLPhotoArchive

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Redblacks Training Camp battles – De-fence!

By Cranky Frank Clair

I hope #RNation has enjoyed its post-championship glow, because life moves fast and the win-loss columns are all about to be set to zero. While some familiar Redblacks have left (or not been asked back), the team is looking strong. Starting with the defence, today is the first of two position-by-position breakdowns of who is gone, notable newcomers and what to watch for through the balance of training camp and the pre-season. 

DE Avery Ellis (Temple) – photo Scott Grant Photography

Defensive line

Key returning players: Zack Evans, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Connor Williams

Departed: Moton Hopkins (retired), Cleyon Laing (was here for the end of regular season + playoffs)

Notable newcomers: Jason Ankrah (free agent)

I’m not happy to see Moton Hopkins gone, partly because I had to re-write this section. The Redblacks depth inside is blown up – for now, and DL becomes a bigger question mark than it was just a couple of days ago. Expect the Redblacks to do some shuffling to figure out where people are going to settle. Landon Cohen likely has an inside track on the 0 tech NT slot with Hopkins gone. Jake Ceresna who was at Redblacks camp in 2016 until breaking his leg is back. He has impressive size, we’ll see how he does in his second shot at the pro game after coming out of a very small school/division where play appears on par with CJFL. Ettore Lattanzio should continue making more than his share of plays as depth DT.

Before Hopkins’ retirement, the big question was at DE. The Redblacks have brought a lot of guys in since Aston Whiteside’s injury, and none have really stuck. Jason Ankrah has caught my eye, we’ll see how he does over the next few days. Another possibility at speed rush DE is Avery Ellis out of Temple. Both will need to be evaluated closely in contact drills and live action.

One wild card inside is Eli Ankou. The UCLA DT was snapped up by the Redblacks in the 4th round. He would have been an early first round CFL pick, but was signed to a priority free agent contract by the Houston Texans following the NFL draft. However, we now know his rather low signing bonus/guaranteed money ($20k) means the Texans perhaps aren’t that high on him. We might see him in Ottawa by September.

NOTE: I’m going to follow up on the DL situation once I get a longer look at practice, Saturday’s scrimmage and the first pre-season game.

LB Khalil Bass – photo Scott Grant Photography

Linebackers

Key returning players: Tank Reed

Departed: Damaso Muñoz (released, since retired)

Notable newcomers: Khalil Bass (free agent – WPG)

There was a fair bit of shuffling of the LB corps in 2016, and each step was an improvement. The Grey Cup starting trio of Muñoz, Reed and Jerrell Gavins have been split up, with Muñoz released and Gavins now shuffled back to his more natural DB position. Joining Reed is Bass, who made an impact in two seasons with the Blue Bombers. He is a legit CFL rising star and gives the Redblacks one of the strongest 1-2 LB punches in the league. The question is at the hybrid LB/DB position of SAM or strongside LB. Largely a pass coverage role, it was Antoine Pruneau’s job until he was moved back to his more natural FS position. Gavins slid into the role where he was a big contributor through the team’s Grey Cup run. Departures in the secondary during the offseason have pushed Gavins back, however, and the SAM spot is open – it will be an interesting competition that may not be settled until later in camp. I’ll report more on this later.

DB Jerrell Gavins- photo Scott Grant Photography

Secondary

Key returning players: Jerrell Gavins, Jonathan Rose, Antoine Pruneau

Departed: Forrest Hightower, Abdul Kanneh, Jeff Richards, Mitchell White

Notable newcomers: AJ Jefferson (free agent – TOR), Javier Arenas (free agent – 2010 NFL 2nd Round draft pick, multiple NFL stints)

I’m not as concerned about this group as I was a few weeks ago. The outlook was grim over the winter, however. Since its first season, the Redblacks have fielded a very strong secondary. And every season, the team has had to face the loss of key players. To its credit, the team has been able to keep the shelves stocked. The secondary was looking pretty bare after Hightower and Kanneh left, but its quite possible that Marcel Desjardins and team have successfully managed to re-load the secondary.

The leader this year is Gavins (wearing #4 this year, by the way), now a team veteran who has grown in his time with the Redblacks. He played SAM LB last year and did it well, but this season there are too many gaping holes in the secondary to keep him in that role. Rose is one of the players who came in to replace the original group of departees, and he has been a strong CB for the past 1.5 seasons. Pruneau is back at his natural Free Safety slot, which he took on last season. Pruneau should continue to thrive there. Jefferson, who was signed as a free agent from the Argos, will start and it sounds like returning depth player Imoan Claiborne has an inside shot at starting, while it may be hard to keep NFL veteran Arenas from the open cornerback position. This is assuming he can adapt to the motion and “hands off” CFL rules. A depth player or two with upside will also emerge at camp – they always do. 

Look for an offensive preview tomorrow and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Photos courtesy Scott Grant Photography. Follow Scott on Twitter at @CFLPhotoArchive

A look at the Redblacks training camp roster

By: Santino Filoso

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With the Ottawa Redblacks inaugural training camp currently underway at Carleton University, now is a perfect time to take a look at some of the 80+ roster of hopefuls general manager Marcel Desjardins has assembled over the past seven months. While certain starters are already set in stone, there are still numerous jobs up for grabs.

Quarterbacks

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The QB crew

Even with the loss of a disgruntled Kevin Glenn, the Redblacks are deeper than most CFL teams at QB. Barring injury, Henry Burris will be the starter with Thomas DeMarco backing him up, leaving Corey Leonard and Danny O’Brien to grow as development projects and fight for the third-string job. At 39, Burris still has a lot left in the tank and his arm is as strong as ever. DeMarco got significant playing time last year as he filled in for the injured Travis Lulay (and more then held his own), which bodes well for the Redblacks should Burris go down.

Running Backs

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Chevon Walker

With a stable of capable RBs, it will be very interesting to see who emerges as the guy to go for the Redblacks, or if Head Coach Rick Campbell decides to take a running by committee approach. Chevon Walker has the most distinguished career and has to be considered the early favourite, especially when you consider his familiarity with Burris from their time in Hamilton. Jordan Roberts is a dark horse to be a serious impact player. He dominated in college and with his speed and catching ability seemingly has the skill set to thrive in the CFL. (UPDATE: Looks like Roberts has been released) John Delahunt and Patrick Lavoie will be charged with lead blocking when the Redblacks run out of formations that include a fullback. Eric O’Neal and Michael Hayes round out the group and will also fight for carries.

Wide Recievers

To say that the Redblacks have a logjam at receiver would be an understatement. With so many players competing for a job, nobody can afford to have a bad practice. Veteran WR Paris Jackson is the elder statesman of this group and should have a breakout year after being under-utilized the past few seasons in BC. The WR group consists of imports like DJ Woods, Carlton Mitchell, Tim Maypray, and Travon Patterson, all of whom boast serious speed, while the non-imports consist of guys like Simon Le Marquand,  Aaron Hargreaves and Garrett Burgess. Fred Rouse and 2014 2nd round pick Scott MacDonnell could see a lot of redzone reps due to favourable height match-ups.

(UPDATE: Redblacks have reportedly signed import WR Marcus Henry, days after he was released by the Edmonton Eskimos; Redblacks have also reportedly released former Ottawa U Gee Gee WR Delroy Clarke)

Offensive Linemen

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Jon Gott

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that much of the Redblacks season will go as all-star lineman Jon Gott goes. He was the centre of attention on draft day and he’ll be the Redblacks starting centre, in charge of making all the protections calls to keep Burris upright. Gott could be flanked by guys like Joe Eppele, Nate Menkin, James Lee and J’Micheal Deane. No matter who winds up starting, you can be sure that they’ll be big, as every OL at the Redblacks camp is at least 6’3″ and pushing 300 pounds.

Defensive Linemen

The defensive line will be led by expansion draft steal Keith Shologan, a heavy hitter with a knack for stuffing the run.  Guys like Justin Phillips, Moton Hopkins, Dimetrio Tyson, Zack Evans, Jonathan Williams and Justin Capicciotti will provide depth to a DL rotation that should keep opposing QBs on their toes all game long.

Linebackers

A group of experienced veterans will lead Ottawa’s linebacking core. Jason Pottinger, James Green, T.J. Hill, Malik Jackson and Anton McKenzie are all proven CFL vets with big game experience. Travis Brown, Jeremiah Green, Jasper Simmons, Jordan Verdone and Will Heyward round out this athletic and savvy group of thumpers.

Secondary

Amateur pilot and former Stamps safety Eric Fraser will be the focal enforcer of a “No Fly Zone” along with a revitalized Jovon Johnson. Former Saints DB Reggie Jones could wind up playing a significant role in the secondary and look for 1st round pick and jack of all trades Antoine Pruneau to frequently be on the field, despite being a rookie.

Special Teams

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Paulo Henriques

Ottawa native Kevin Scott is living out his dream of playing for his hometown as the Redblacks long snapper, while non-import Justin Palardy is locked in a fierce battle with import Paulo Henriques for kicking duties. Kick returning duties could all to either Tim Maypray, Antoine Pruneau or one of the RBs or WRs who distinguish themselves throughout the pre-season.

Desjardins has put together a nice blend of veterans and rookies, and nearly every positional group boasts a few players with significant CFL experience. One thing that already stands out, even after only a few days of camp, is that the Redblacks look like a very fast team. It’ll be interesting to see who distinguishes themselves during the two pre-season games and ultimately makes the team; hopefully Coach Campbell has some tough decisions to make.

Click here for the complete Redblacks training camp roster and here for the Redblacks training camp schedule, which is open to the public.

@RedBlackGade

(Photos courtesy of Ottawa Redblacks Facebook page)