On the eve of Ottawa’s season opener in Edmonton, now is a perfect time to dream a little. Last season, I made a number of bold predictions, many of which came true. Much like the Redblacks looking to pick up where they left off last year, here are some of my predictions for Ottawa’s upcoming season.
1) Burris Will Continue to Elude Father Time
The big nontroversy drummed up by national media this off-season never comes to fruition. While Trevor Harris will see significant playing time in games that are out of reach, I fully expect Burris to start for Redblacks all season long. He isn’t the reigning MOP by mistake and though Jason Maas is in Edmonton, his offensive system remains firmly entrenched in the Nation’s Capital and still plays to Burris’ strengths. Furthermore, while the defence lost starters in free agency, nearly all of Ottawa’s 2015 starting offensive unit is back. Losing RB William Powell for the season hurts, but if anything it means more opportunities for Burris to sling it. That’s why he’ll have another 5000+ yards and a 30 TD season.
2) The Big Four Repeat
How will Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson follow up last year’s 1000 yard seasons? By doing it again. Along the way Sinopoli will haul in the most passes, Williams will finish the most yards, Ellingson the most TDs and Jackson will average the most yards per reception. Their efforts will let Ottawa match Montreal’s feat of back to back seasons with four 1000 yard receivers (Montreal did it in 2004 & 2005).
3) Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Aston Whiteside finish the year with more sacks than Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti
Well much continues to be made of the loss of Lemon and Capicciotti to the GREENWHITES, the reality is that overall, Ottawa’s defence consists of a much deeper and stronger supporting cast than Saskatchewan. DTs Zack Evans, Moton Hopkins and Connor Williams will consistently collapse the pocket, flushing opposing QBs right into the arms of Nadon and Whiteside. While you may scoff, this prediction really isn’t as crazy as it sounds when you factor in the stability of DC Mark Nelson’s third year at the helm vs Chris Jones installing a new defensive scheme from scratch.
4) D-Block will lead the CFL in interceptions…again
While proven ballhawks Abdul Kanneh and Jerrell Gavins headline a secondary that is still very young, the thing that separates D-Block from the rest of the league is its depth. Forrest Hightower, now in his second season, is poised for a breakout year. Heading into camp, Brandon Sermons, (he who started his first game in the Grey Cup and who is a talented corner in his own right) was expected to step into a starting role. Surprisingly he was beaten out by newcomer Jonathan Rose. Safeties Jermaine Robinson and John Boyett are better known for their punishing hits as opposed to their hands, yet both will still finish the year with a couple of picks. Familiarity breeds success in football and this is a group that is comfortable and confident.
5) Jamill Smith finishes the year with more return yards than Chris Williams
After a heck of a training camp performance, Smith carries that energy over into the regular season and becomes the Redblacks’ main return man. To put it bluntly, Williams doesn’t show the same explosiveness and fearlessness that he had in the past when returning kicks with the Ticats. Call it hunger, call it desire, call it whatever you want, but Smith has it in spades, along with more than enough elusiveness and speed to get the job done. Aside from his quickness, the other thing Smith has going for him is that the guys around him will actually be throwing blocks, Bob Dyce will see to that. Not using Williams on returns also benefits Ottawa as it limits his chances of getting injured and allows him to focus on his offensive role.
6) Ottawa will host a home playoff game
Make no mistake about it, the East Division is going to be a dogfight all season long and the Redblacks will be right in the thick of things. Much like last year, the division could ultimately be decided by a home and home series with the Ticats in October. Even if the Redblacks come out on the wrong end of those games, I still expect their record to be good enough to allow them to finish no worse than 2nd in the East.