With the bye week officially in the books and the team back at practice today, now is the perfect time to look at how each position group of Ottawa Redblacks has performed to date.
Henry Burris is thriving under offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas. It’s amazing what a QB friendly system and a group of veteran receivers can do for a QB’s confidence. Last season many in R-Nation were ready to run Burris out of Ottawa, this season, more often than not he’s been the toast of the town. In five wins Burris has completed 67.7% of his passes for 1540 yards, 10 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. In four losses he’s completed 64.9% of his passes for 954 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It’s interesting to note that even in losing efforts Burris hasn’t been throwing a ton of interceptions and has still put up monster numbers, such as in Week 9 vs the Argos when he went 32/36 for 426 yards. If Burris can maintain or even slightly improve his level of play, the Redblacks will be in good shape at the most important position on a CFL team heading down the stretch.
Running backs: C
With Chevon Walker and his indecisiveness now long gone from the Nation’s Capital, Ottawa’s running game is trending upwards with Jeremiah Johnson atop the team’s depth chart. Walker failed to hit the holes with any authority in the eight games he played for the Redblacks in 2015 and struggled to convert in short yardage. The C rating is more of a reflection on Walker’s season than it is on Johnson’s.
Wide receivers: A-
The much heralded fab five added this off-season by GM Marcel Desjardins have (for the most part) more than lived up to expectations. Brad Sinopoli, Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson and Greg Ellingson are all in the top 20 in the CFL in receiving yards. Teams have been forced to pick their poison on defence, as focusing coverage on and blanketing one has allowed the others to thrive. Any one of them is more than capable of taking over a game and each has had at least one 100 yard receiving game. The only new receiver who has struggled has been Maurice Price, but even he has shown signs of improvement over the last few weeks. Despite Price’s struggles, Ottawa’s receiving corps is absolutely one of the best in the CFL.
Offensive line: B
The Redblacks offensive line is one of the few groups in the league to have started the same five guys every game. That familiarity (along with the massive addition of SirVicent Rogers) has helped Ottawa stabilize what was a position of weakness in 2014. Rogers, J’Micheal Deane, Jon Gott, Nolan MacMillan and Colin Kelly have given up only 2.3 sacks per game and provided Burris ample time to pick apart opposing defences. It’s worth noting that while 2015 1st overall pick Alex Mateas still hasn’t started a game, he has gotten significant reps as he gets reaccustomed to the Canadian game after 4 years in the NCAA. One area the offensive line needs to improve is on the ground. Ottawa currently ranks 8th in league in terms of rushing yards per game, generating only 72.2 yards per game but the promotion of Johnson to lead back should make a difference.
Defensive line: A
Ottawa’s stout defensive line has been the backbone of Mark Nelson’s unit. When not busy limiting teams to 84 yards per game on the ground, guys like Justin Capicciotti, Keith Shologan, Zack Evans, Moton Hopkins and Aston Whiteside have terrorized and sacked opposing QBs a CFL leading 34 times. Losing Whiteside for the season to a knee injury is a huge loss but the signing of Shawn Lemons should ensure the defensive line continues its imposing play.
Many were worried that trading Jasper Simmons away would leave a gaping whole in the Redblacks defence. Thankfully Damaso Munoz and Malik Jackson have put those concerns to bed, stepping in and easily filling Simmons shoes. Antoine Pruneau’s sophomore season has been respectable and he’s on pace for 58 tackles. A now healthy Travis Brown provides good depth for a group that will be leaned upon to be even better in the second half of the season.
#DBlock, as they’ve anointed themselves, have played very well over the first half of 2015, ranking 3rd in the league by only allowing 250 passing yards per game. Led by a feisty Jerrell Gavins, a ferocious Abdul Kanneh and a rejuvenated Jovon Johnson, Ottawa’s secondary has benefited from the defensive line’s great play and used that pressure to generate 11 interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. With the heavy hitting Jermaine Robinson nearly set to return from injury, his presence should provide depth in the wake of Brandon McDonald’s release and a spark down the stretch.
Calling Ottawa’s kicking game throughout the first half of the season putrid would be putting it politely. While things have seemingly stabilized with the additions of Chris Milo and Ronnie Pfeffer, this grade is a reflection of the carousel of kickers that suited up and shanked kicks for the Redblacks before their additions.
Would you rank these groups differently? Let me know by leaving a comment below.