Defensive back Antoine Pruneau knows the Ottawa Redblacks have high expectations for him and he has every intention of fulfilling them.
The fourth overall pick from the 2014 draft struggled at times last season but he was still rewarded with a two-year contract extension last December. Defensive backs coach Ike Charlton would like to see Pruneau take his game to a higher level in 2017.
“It’s time for him to take the next step,” Charlton said Tuesday. “He made strides towards that last year and there (were) some guys in this league that got recognition that I thought he should have got. He made way more impact plays, but it wasn’t the sexy plays.
“I think this year is the time for him to take that step and try to separate himself as one of the better DBs in the league and not just a Canadian DB.”
Pruneau, 27, is entering his fourth year with the Redblacks. He was bumped from the starting position at strong-side linebacker in mid-season, but worked himself back into a starting role at safety and stayed there through Ottawa’s playoff run.
Pruneau, who played 17 of 18 regular-season games last year, posted 58 defensive tackles, 11 special-team tackles, one interception and one sack. He had six tackles in the East Division final against the Edmonton Eskimos and two in the Grey Cup game, which Ottawa won 39-33.
Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell believes some of Pruneau’s struggles were a result of trying to do too much in too many different areas.
“Sometimes guys that are able to play multiple spots is a strength,” Campbell said. “But it’s also that you get caught up (in things and) you don’t get to focus on a single task. So we want to make sure we do him the favour that he can focus on a certain position and get really comfortable with it.
“I never have questioned his effort or ability or want to, and I fully anticipate him being a huge contributor this year.”
Campbell added that Pruneau will be the Redblacks’ free safety, but will expand his role from the traditional position.
“We’re going to take his skill set and we’re going to ask him to cover, we’re going to ask him to blitz,” said Campbell. “He’ll be playing one position that does multiple things.”
Pruneau struggled with the demotion at the time. He admits he may not have dealt with the adversity as well as he could have, but realizes it may have helped him grow as a player.
“It’s a cliche, but there’s no denying you learn from the tougher times,” Pruneau said. “I need to learn to be more patient. I’m a person who reacts and I want to play aggressively, but sometimes in football you need to play with more patience.”
Charlton said he’s been hard on Pruneau, but only because he sees all-star potential from the young player. He believes part of last season’s struggles were partly due to Pruneau being a little stubborn when bumped from his original position.
“We spoke to him and said, ‘Look you’re still our guy, but you have to understand that if you listen you’re going to get back in,”’ said Charlton. “Once he embraced the move he took off and became one of the more impact players for us.”