Every GM worth his salt knows that you need two things to win in the CFL; good quarterbacks (or at the very least one great, healthy quarterback) and solid Canadian depth. While its easy for casual fans to notice the former, the latter often gets overlooked. But the reality is that without strong depth players to a) replace those valuable Nationals who wind up getting hurt over the course of an 18 game season and b) contribute on special teams, a team has no chance of being successful.
That’s why it’s so interesting to examine how in three short years, Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins has overhauled his team’s Canadian talent, going from expansion draft castoffs to players capable of stepping in and producing at a high level. In fact, it’s a testament to the entire Redblacks organization, from positional coaches to scouts, that they’ve already assembled/squeezed out enough production from their Canadian depth to finish atop the East Division.
Here’s a brief overview of how Ottawa’s Canadian talent has evolved over the past few seasons.
FB: John Delahunt, Patrick Lavoie, Jordan Verdone
WR: Scott MacDonell, Robin Medeiros, Matt Carter
OL: Matt Albright, Alexander Krausnick, Jon Gott, J’Michael Deane, Nolan MacMillan, Hugo Desmarais, Joe Eppele
DL: Nigel Romick, Keith Shologan, Andrew Marshall, Zack Evans, Justin Capicciotti, Kalonji Kashama, Connor Williams, Justin Phillips
LB: James Green, Jason Pottinger, Antoine Pruneau, Philippe Dubuisson-Lebon
DB: Eric Fraser, Hugo Lopez
LS: Kevin Scott
In the Redblacks’ inaugural season, the emergence of first round draft pick Antoine Pruneau as a highly productive starter at linebacker was easily the biggest story. Other Nationals who stood out for the right reasons were Gott, Deane, MacMillan, Shologan and Capicciotti, all of whom thrived in the trenches. Patrick Lavoie and Scott MacDonell showed flashes of potential though their snap count was limited in offensive coordinator Mike Gibson’s system.
RB: Kienan Lafrance
FB: Patrick Lavoie, Jordan Verdone
WR: Scott MacDonell, Jake Harty, Brad Sinopoli, Alex Pierzchalski, Matt Carter
OL: Matt Albright, Jon Gott, J’Michael Deane, Nolan MacMillan, Alex Mateas, Aaron Wheaton
DL: Nigel Romick, Keith Shologan , Andrew Marshall , Zack Evans, Justin Capicciotti, Kalonji Kashama, Connor Williams, Justin Phillips, Ettore Lattanzio, Vincent Desloges
LB: James Green, Antoine Pruneau, Jonathan Beaulieu-Richard
K/P: Chris Milo, Ronnie Pfeffer
LS: Kevin Malcolm
After watching his team struggle to a league worst 2-16 record, Desjardins wasted no time in addressing his team’s deficiencies during the off-season. Among the many moves he made, perhaps none was bigger than the addition of Brad Sinopoli, who went on to post his first 1000 yard season and be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian. Signing Chris Milo proved to be another stroke of genius, as his 91% accuracy played a large part in the Redblacks’ run to the Grey Cup. Ottawa’s Nationals continued their strong play in the trenches, with Gott, Deane and MacMillan starting every game of the season and playing extremely well, conceding (as a group) 1 sack in every 16 pass attempts. On the defensive side of the ball Shologan and Evans set career highs in sacks (with 7 apiece) while Capicciotti amassed a dozen sacks of his own. Pruneau build off a spectacular first season by again posting very respectable numbers in his sophomore season. Lavoie flourished in OC Jason Maas’ system, proving to be a reliable blocker and dangerous receiving threat and once healthy, rookie Jake Harty revealed himself as a special teams ace. Other rookies who contributed in a limited fashion were Alex Mateas and Kienan Lafrance.
2016 Nationals (Based on team roster as of March 27th)
RB Kienan Lafrance
FB Patrick Lavoie, Brendan Gillanders
WR: Scott MacDonell, Jake Harty, Brad Sinopoli, Alex Pierzchalski, Philip Enchill
OL: Matt Albright, Jon Gott, J’Michael Deane, Nolan MacMillan, Alex Mateas, Aaron Wheaton, Simon Legare
DL: Nigel Romick, Andrew Marshall, Zack Evans, Kalonji Kashama, Connor Williams, Ettore Lattanzio, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Donovan Dale
LB: James Green, Antoine Pruneau, Jonathan Beaulieu-Richard, Tanner Doll
DB: Ryan Hinds
K/P: Chris Milo, Ronnie Pfeffer
LS Kevin Malcolm
While the Redblacks lost some key starters in free-agency (such as Shologan and Capicciotti), the team’s Canadian depth shouldn’t be overly affected. With WR Maurice Price traded out of town, an opening has been created for Harty, MacDonell, Pierzchalski or Enchill. Considering Price’s low production, it shouldn’t be hard for one of the four young receivers to step up in training camp and allow Ottawa to start two National receivers. On the offensive line, Gott, Deane and MacMillan will all return and after a season of being rotated in for spot duty, Alex Mateas should be ready to start. Based on what the Redblacks do at the draft, QB Henry Burris may have an almost all Canadian offensive line protecting him. Though losing Shologan and Capicciotti stings, Evans seems primed to step into Shologan’s spot and shine. Furthermore, the signing of Gascon-Nadon and a now healthy Williams might be able to account for Capicciotti’s annual dozen sacks between themselves. Lastly, the signings of Gillanders and Hinds provide depth at important positions and both figure to contribute significantly on special teams.
Which Canadians are you most looking forward to watching this season?