Your 2017 Ottawa Redblacks

With training camp in the books and the 2017 Canadian Football League season on the horizon, general manager Marcel Desjardins, head coach Rick Campbell and the Ottawa Redblacks had the difficult task of paring down the roster to the league-mandated maximum of 46 (not including injuries, plus 10 practise roster spots) over the weekend. 

Here’s the team that will storm the field at TD Place on Friday, June 23rd:

DB – Defensive Back

A.J. Jefferson (photo Scott Grant Photography)

21 Berger, Adam πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
20 Bolduc, Jean-Philippe πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
46 Carrington, Lloyd
19 Claiborne, Imoan
4 Gavins, Jerrell
24 Jefferson, A.J.
15 Johnson, Keelan
6 Pruneau, Antoine πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
9 Rose, Jonathan
32 Taylor, Nicholas
33 West, Dan πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

Definitely the biggest question mark coming into the 2017 season. While there are a few returning vets (Gavins, Pruneau) and the addition of former Toronto Argonaut standout Jefferson, the fact is this is an inexperienced group. And while that may be a fairly regular occurrence in the CFL, it nonetheless means dealing with the uncertainty that comes with young players and CFL rookies. That said, D-Block 2017 looks to be a very talented and athletic group, led by coach (and DB guru) Ike Charlton.

DL – Defensive Line

41 Gascon-Nadon, Arnaud πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
99 Williams, Connor πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
96 Ankrah, Jason
93 Ceresna, Jake
92 Evans, Zack πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
49 Lattanzio, Ettore πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
90 Marshall, Andrew πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
97 Miller, Steven
47 Romick, Nigel πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

After defensive backs, the defensive line is probably the next biggest question mark for the Grey Cup champs. The group remains a strong one, with high-end Canadian talent in Gascon-Nadon, Williams and Evans, but the fact remains Ottawa had difficulty getting to the opposing quarterback for most of the 2016 season. It appears the plan is to rotate seven or eight of these big boys with regularity, at least for the first few weeks of the season.

K – Kicker

3 Maher, Brett
39 Medeiros, Zack πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

Maher returns to Ottawa following a strong 2016 season in Hamilton and a brief stint on the Cleveland Browns roster. Medeiros has had a strong camp by all accounts and has performed well in preseason games. Dare we say the kicking positions seem (knock on wood) somewhat solidified?

LB – Linebacker

22 Bass, Khalil
10 Bryant, Serderius
42 Omara, Ron πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
44 Reed, Taylor

The Redblacks had some challenges at LB in 2016, with a fair amount of turnover, including adding ‘Tank’ Reed at mid-season and having Gavins (admirably) jump into the position from his normal DB spot(s). Bass was one of the most sought-after free agents available this offseason. This group looks strong.

LS – Long Snapper

52 Doll, Tanner πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
50 Bourassa, Louis-Philippe πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

Doll was solid in 2016, and 2017 draft pick Bourassa looks to be a versatile back-up that can contribute on special teams.

OL – Offensive Line

SirVincent Rogers (photo Scott Grant Photography)

53 Albright, Matthew πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
68 Draheim, Tommie
63 Gott, Jon πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
64 Johnson, Evan πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
58 Lauzon-SΓ©guin, Jason πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
66 MacMillan, Nolan πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
56 Mateas, Alex πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
55 Rogers, SirVincent
59 Silas, Jake

With the return of Jake Silas this week, the Redblacks offensive line is essentially the same strong group from 2016. While J’Michael Deane is gone, 2017 first-round pick Evan Johnson will look to make his way into the rotation. Most importantly, guard SirVincent Rogers looks fully recovered from season-ending ankle injury. 

QB – Quarterback

Trevor Harris (photo Scott Grant Photography)

7 Harris, Trevor
14 Lindley, Ryan
5 Tate, Drew

For the first time in his pro career, Harris will be the undisputed starting QB. And while he has put up excellent numbers the last two seasons with extended time as fill-in starter, being “the guy” is a different kind of pressure. How Harris responds will be a – if not the – major storyline of the Redblacks season.

RB/FB – Running Back/Fullback

William Powell (photo Scott Grant Photography)

25 Gillanders, Brendan πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
45 Gosselin, Anthony πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
81 Lavoie, Patrick πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
23 Madu Jr., Mossis
29 Powell, William

Powell was a force for Ottawa in the back-half of 2015, including a team-best performance in the Grey Cup loss. After missing all of 2016 with an Achilles injury, WiPo is healthy and looked strong in his limited preseason reps. Lavoie is the incumbent FB and should continue to be that 6th/7th receiving option for Harris.

WR – Wide Receiver

Diontae Spencer (photo Scott Grant Photography)

86 Criner, Juron
82 Ellingson, Greg
8 Harty, Jake πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
2 Shaw, Kenny
88 Sinopoli, Brad πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
85 Spencer, Diontae
87 Stangby, Joshua

The Redblacks got a lot younger at receiver this offseason, and many believe they have a chance to be even better than the 2016 crew. Lofty, considering they are coming off a second straight year where four receivers topped 1,000 yards. Shaw (1,004 yards for Toronto last year) & Spencer (706 yards in just 12 games with the Argos) are the big free agent additions, while Criner put up 446 yards in the final eight games of the year, including playoffs, once Chris Williams was lost for the year. Add these three to what we’ve come to expect from The Buds (Ellingson & Sinopoli), and the 2017 Redblacks receiving corps is setting up to challenge the league’s best. Is FIVE 1,000-yard receivers a possibility?

While there are always question marks, there’s little question the Redblacks have improved depth at most positions. Barring significant injury, a healthy Redblacks squad should contend for first in the East Division.

By the way, here’s the Redblacks practise roster for Week 1:

27 Baltimore, Sherrod (DB)
31 Brown, Kevin (LB)
17 Collins, Danny (QB)
98 Ellis, Avery (DL)
80 Hartley, Austen (WR) πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
35 Jackson, Kevin (LB) πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
57 Lofton, Eric (OL)
89 Rhymes, Dominique (WR)
69 Schmidt, Ryan (OL)
28 Tindal, Corey (DB)

PR UPDATE (6/22): Preseason standout WR Daje Johnson has been added to the practise roster, replacing OL Ryan Schmidt. Johnson will wear number 13.

It all starts Friday. Can’t wait.

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

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

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Redblacks acquire WR Maurice Price in offseason’s first big move

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Maurice Price (photo courtesy The Calgary Sun)

The Ottawa Redblacks got their 2014-15 offseason started in earnest with the acquisition of 29-year-old International WR Maurice Price from the Calgary Stampeders, wasting no time in addressing the team’s #1 need going into 2015. Ottawa sent International LB Jasper Simmons and rookie International WR Dan Buckner to Calgary in exchange for Price. Not a small price to pay, but certainly an indication of the talent the Redblacks believe they have added to their roster.

In his three CFL seasons, Price has been nearly equal parts game-breaker and injured reserve resident. When on the field, he has been impressive – 109 receptions for 1,737 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and 12 TDs, not to mention his 5 receptions for 64 yards in a 2014 Grey Cup victory this past November. And at 6’1″, 200 lbs, Price is one of the fastest receivers in the CFL. But the 29-year-old has averaged fewer than 10 regular season games a year (29 total) over that period, with a variety of ailments including a broken foot, a concussion and most recently a broken hand.

LISTEN
> Maurice Price looks forward to coming to Ottawa (TSN 1200)
> GM Marcel Desjardins discusses the Maurice Price acquisition (TSN 1200)
> QB Henry Burris excited to have Maurice Price join the Redblacks offense (TSN 1200)

So, Price comes to Ottawa with a certain degree of risk. He signed a three-year contract with Calgary prior to last season, reportedly paying him in the neighbourhood of $150,000 annually — a salary reserved for top-end talent in the CFL. Expectations will be high for Price to be a real difference-maker for 2014’s league-worst Redblacks offense.

As excited as Redblacks fans should be about adding “Mo” to the offense, Simmons will be missed on the defensive side. 2014 was a coming-out party for the 25-year-old, who quickly emerged as a leader and fan favourite. His 80 tackles led the way for Ottawa’s D, along with five interceptions – including the most memorable one in team history. Simmons, who actually started the year on the Redblacks practise roster, ended it as the team’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player awards nominee. Storybook stuff, to be sure.

With all of that said, LB is one of the few positions of strength for the Redblacks, with the likes of Travis Brown, James Green (Canadian), David Hinds, Antoine Pruneau (Canadian) and late season addition Damaso Munoz already in the fold, and the expected return of Anton “The McKenzie Report” McKenzie, after missing 2014 due to injury.

We really didn’t see anything from 25-year-old Buckner, who dressed for two games late in the year, but didn’t get on the scoresheet. A throw-in at this point, though his Arizona Cardinals coach and QB spoke highly of him.

All things considered, this was a deal the Redblacks had to make. There are only so many opportunities a team gets to acquire elite talent. And while there is some risk in the trade, the potential payoff is too good to pass up.

A great start to the build of OC Jason Maas’ new offense. Let’s see if Desjardins has anything else up his sleeve prior to the opening of free agency on February 10th!

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(Photo courtesy Ottawa Redblacks)

NEWS & NOTES

β€’ Interesting note from this Jan 7 LeDroit piece concerning Ottawa’s pending free agents. It appears offers were made to & rejected by Alex Krausnick & Wallace Miles. Krausnick is apparently looking to move back to the west (drafted by SSK, played for EDM in 2013), while Miles may still have NFL aspirations. Neither is considered a huge loss for Ottawa, although Krausnick gave us one of our more memorable moments last season.

β€’ The Jan 8 LeDroit piece (and Tim Baines’ Jan 17 article) also notes that RB Jonathan Williams hasn’t been offered a contract and isn’t likely to be brought back. J Woo suffered a serious knee injury late in the year that could keep him out for a significant portion of the 2015 season. Disappointing news, although perhaps not totally surprising. Pro football is a cutthroat business. Hopefully Williams comes back healthy and Ottawa looks at bringing him back into the fold at that time.

β€’ On Jan 8, the Redblacks announced the signing of their four remaining 2014 Canadian draft picks. They include OT Aaron Wheaton (Toronto), DE Stephon Miller (Windsor), LS Kevin Malcolm (McMaster) and DE Vincent Desloges (Laval). All but Malcolm attended training camp last year, and all four will be looking to earn a roster spot.

β€’ Also on Jan 8th, the Redblacks announced they’d released International RBs D.J. Harper and Michael Hayes. Neither got to show much in 2014 due to injury, but with a fair amount of uncertainty in the backfield, keeping either or both backs around for training camp may have made some sense. With Jonathan Williams not being offered a contract, the Redblacks RB depth chart includes Chevon Walker, Jeremiah Johnson and Roy Finch. Perhaps it was no surprise to hear Desjardins add running back to his list of target positions in free agency in this TSN 1200 interview.

β€’ The two free agents whose names have been consistently linked to the Redblacks this offseason are International SB S.J. Green (Montreal) and Canadian OL Tyler Holmes (Toronto). Green makes sense, given Ottawa’s focus on improving the receiving corps and Desjardins’ history with the Alouettes. Holmes is not only an Ottawa boy, but the son of former Rough Rider RB Richard Holmes. Works for me!

β€’ The Redblacks Twitter account has eclipsed 30,000 followers. Pretty good for their first season. For those wondering, here are the followers for each team’s Twitter account:

Saskatchewan – 105,500
BC – 68,300
Winnipeg – 67,300
Montreal – 64,300
Toronto – 60,400
Calgary – 57,100
Hamilton – 51,400
Edmonton – 51,200
Ottawa – 30,600

Comin’ for ya, Edmonton!

β€’ OSEG is pushing hard to host the 2017 Grey Cup at TD Place. Makes perfect sense, as it would be in conjunction with Canada’s 150th celebrations that will be going on all year long in the capital. How amazing would it be to have both the Grey Cup and an outdoor hockey game in Ottawa that fall/winter?

Thanks for reading!

@OTTRoughRiders

#RNation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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