After three days of practice in cool spring temperatures, the Ottawa Redblacks wrapped up their mini-camp and took the first steps towards returning to the Grey Cup. While it’s never wise to put too much stock into non-contact scrimmages a full month before training camp starts, here are some takeaways from an initial look at the 2016 Redblacks.
1) An abundance of talent at QB:
Undoubtably the biggest move GM Marcel Desjardins made this past off-season was signing Trevor Harris to shore up crucial depth at the QB position. Though one shouldn’t read much into such a small sample, it’s safe to say Harris comes as advertised. Throughout mini-camp, his passes were delivered on time and accurately, consistently hitting receivers in stride. As for the man he’ll be backing up, another intense off-season training regiment has Henry Burris still looking like an MOP. Burris’ signature zip and arm strength were on full display and anyone who thinks Father Time has caught up to him is simply wrong. With Burris and Harris, the Redblacks boast something they sorely lacked their first couple of seasons; two starting QBs. Outside of the two big name gunslingers, after being hidden on the one game injured list all last season, 2nd year QB Brock Jensen looks to be making a beeline for the 3rd string job. His passes were crisp and displayed a touch that Danny O’Brien’s passes lacked.
2) Musical Numbers
You know the off-season is coming to an end as you scratch your head and try to figure out who the new guys are on the field. Often, it turns out they aren’t new at all, just that their numbers are. QB Brock Jensen has gone from #4 to #16 and before his old number had a chance to get cold, Jamill Smith swapped his #15 for it. DB Jovon Johnson’s departure to Montreal set off a twitter frenzy for the rights to #2, which wound up being taken by Jermaine Robinson (who shed last season’s #32). Finally, Canadian RB Kienan LaFrance traded #37 for 27.
3) Adidas Sneak Peak
Though the official unveiling for the Redblacks’ new jerseys takes place on May 12th in Montreal, R-Nation got a sneak peak at what the future holds. Throughout mini-camp, players wore new Adidas practice jerseys and aside from a few obvious changes (such as using the new CFL logo), the main takeaway for fans is that Ottawa’s numbers are now easier to read. The change is extremely subtle but the effect is striking and as there’s no longer any confusion between 6s and 8s. And for those worried that Ottawa’s unique saw blade notch would disappear, don’t worry, it’s still around.
4) Sure hands
With four returning 1000 yard receivers in Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli and Chris Williams, the only spot really up for grabs is the 5th WR slot. And if mini-camp is any indication, there’ll be an absolute dogfight for it. Vets Jamill Smith and Khalil Paden along with sophomore Jake Harty looked fantastic, running crisp routes and snagging every pass intended for them. Additionally, newcomers Juron Criner (#86) and Tyler Shoemaker (#89) boast impressive frames and caught everything that came their way.
5) A Renegade Returns:
A familiar (though now heavily bearded) face was on the sidelines throughout mini-camp, as former Ottawa Renegade Pat Woodcock is now the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Woodcock replaces Kyle Thorne, who held the position last season. The job should come naturally to Woodcock, as various members of the Redblacks organization already train at his Elite Performance Academy complex during the off-season.
6) SirV’s Twin?
When I first saw OL Evan Washington (#65), my initial reaction was that SirVincent Rogers, the large man in charge of protection the QB’s blindside, had changed numbers. Unfortunately for opposing defensive lineman, not so much. Washington already looks the part and if his play can even come close to SirVincent Rogers’ level, the Redblacks’ offensive line will feature two massive pillars at tackle.
7) Let the Good Times Roll
If mini-camp is any indication, Ottawa’s backs are set to make hay off of wheel routes. The sneaky route claimed many a LB victim over the course of mini-camp.
8) The O-Line Shuffle
2015 1st overall pick Alex Mateas and 3rd year Redblack Matthew Albright (#53) got a ton of reps with the starting offensive line unit. Mateas and Albright lined up at right and left guard respectively. On a related note, Nolan Macmillan seems to have shifted out to RT.
9) Defensive Musings
Matthew Goldsmith (#38) has a nose for the ball. He tipped a number of passes and flashed good closing speed. Also, #73, a defensive hulking defensive lineman, certainly didn’t look out of place.