Just over the halfway mark of the season, the Ottawa Redblacks sit atop the East Division with a with a 5-4-1 record. While some fans might take solace in that fact, the reality is that there is much football left to be played, including what is sure to be a hotly contested home and home with the Ticats that could very well wind up deciding the division.
Though Ottawa’s 5-4-1 record is only a single game off 2015’s 6-4 record after ten games, the vibe around the two teams couldn’t be more different. At times this season, the Redblacks have looked unstoppable; gaining huge chunks of yards at will, scoring with ease and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, while at others they’ve struggled to string together back to back first downs and allowed rookie quarterbacks to shred them apart.
The team’s inconsistent record is a direct result of the injuries, self-defeating penalties and the erratic play of certain players.
Let’s take a look at and grade how each positional group has performed to date.
Trevor Harris: 156/199 (78.4%) for 2133 yards, 11 TDs and 1 INT
Henry Burris: 90/135 (66.7%) for 1132 yards, 6 TDs and 5 INTs
Brock Jensen: 24/35 (68.6%) for 291 yards and 2 TDs
Aside from one truly poor effort (by Burris against the Argos in his first game back from injury), Ottawa’s QBs have given the team a chance in every single game. Upon stepping in for the injured Burris, Harris had a four game stretch that set the league on fire, averaging 370 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs per game. When Harris too was injured, second year pro Brock Jensen came off the bench and more than held his own in front of a hostile Saskatchewan crowd. While much was made of the eventual switch to Harris as the full time starter, what seems to be lost in the shuffle is that Burris is still not healthy. The pinky finger on his throwing hand remains extremely crooked and needs to be taped to the ring finger for him to throw at all. In all likelihood he should not have been playing when Harris was hurt, but he either rushed himself back or was pushed by a coaching staff that didn’t trust Jensen. For now, Burris remains a highly experienced fallback option as Harris continues to round back into form.
Running backs: B-
Nic Grigsby: 59 carries for 265 yards (4.5 per carry) and 1 TD
Travon Van: 47 carries for 248 yards (5.3 per carry) and 1 TD
Kienan LaFrance: 35 carries for 157 yards (4.5 per carry)
Much like the QB position, Ottawa’s running backs have been decimated by injury. After losing William Powell in the preseason, Travon Van was pencilled in as the guy to carry the load. Van’s speed and shiftiness were on full display for two games, until he got injured. At that point, Grigsby was signed and seemed to get better with each game. Ultimately he was released when Van was ready to return to action. LaFrance has probably been the biggest revelation at RB, consistently running hard and hitting holes with power. LaFrance’s physical running style paid off as he earned his first start of the year, only to have his number called just six times throughout that game. When OC Jamie Elizondo stays committed to it, the Redblacks’ running game has proven to be an asset to the offence, despite the fact that no player has had a 100 yard performance.
Chris Williams: 65 catches for 991 yards and 8 TDs
Greg Ellingson: 42 catches for 747 yards and 1 TD
Brad Sinopoli: 53 catches for 651 yards and 3 TDs
Ernest Jackson: 47 catches for 626 yards and 6 TDs
After each hitting the 1000 yard mark last season, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, Chris Williams and Greg Ellingson are all currently in the top 15 in the CFL in receiving yards and on pace to do it again. Teams have been forced to pick their poison on defence, as focusing coverage on and blanketing one receiver has allowed the others to thrive. Each of these players are more than capable of taking over a game and each has had at least one 100 yard receiving game so far. American Khalil Paden has settled into the 5th receiver spot (showing incredible speed and explosiveness), after wrestling the job away from Canadian Jake Harty. As well as this group catches the ball, the entire corps deserves huge credit for their downfield blocking ability which leads to huge YAC (yards after catch). In my mind, the most impressive stat from this group is that each of the Fab Four has over 250 YAC. The only thing that can slow this group down is OC Jamie Elizondo’s fondness for calling short routes/screens and the occasional drop.
Offensive line: B-
After starting the same five players for every game in 2015, this season, Ottawa’s offensive line has been in a constant state of flux. Aside from LT SirVincent Rogers and C Jon Gott, no other offensive lineman has started every game. J’Micheal Deane, Alex Mateas, Jason Lauzon Séguin and Matt Albright have all spent time at guard and Jake Silas and Séguin have split reps and starts at RT. The juggling that has taken place is reflected in the fact that the Redblacks’ have given up 31 sacks (second most in the CFL). It’s not all negative though, as Ottawa averages 84.8 yards per game on the ground, good for 4th in the league. Whenever he does finally return from injury, Nolan MacMillan should provide a huge boost to the unit and bring a sense of stability to the group.
Defensive line: A-
Zack Evans: 20 tackles, 6 sacks,
Ettore Lattanzio: 19 tackles, 3 sacks
Connor Williams: 12 tackles, 4 sacks
Aston Whiteside: 9 tackles, 2 sacks
Along with the play of its quarterbacks and receivers, the defensive line has arguably been the best positional unit on this year’s team. Led by a strong Canadian contingent, DL Coach Leroy Blugh has his group balling. Stout against both the pass and the run, the Redblacks are 3rd in the CFL with 28 sacks and 2nd best in league on the ground, conceding an average of 63.6 yards per game. The scariest thing for opposing offences is that this unit will only get stronger, as Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Aston Whiteside still remain out with injuries but will return at some point this season.
Damaso Munoz: 39 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack
David Hinds: 34 tackles, 1 INT
Antoine Pruneau: 31 tackles, 1 sack
John Boyett: 24 tackles, 1 INT, 2 sacks
To sum this group up in a word; average. On one hand you have the emergence of Boyett, who seems to be magnetically drawn to the ball carrier and who lays devastating hits, which led to the surprise release of Hinds. On the other, you have Pruneau losing his starting role to American Nick Taylor because of missed tackles. The one constant in the linebacking is corps is Munoz, who is always reliable and rarely caught out of position. It’ll be interesting to see if Pruneau re-gains his starting role or if Taylor or an NFL cut winds up filling that role.
Defensive backs: C+
Forrest Hightower: 34 tackles, 3 knockdowns
Abdul Kanneh: 30 tackles, 1 INT, 1 knockdown
Jonathan Rose: 25 tackles, 6 knockdowns
Jermaine Robinson: 25 tackles, 1 INT, 2 knockdowns
Mitchell White: 11 tackles, 2 INTs, 4 knockdowns
#DBlock, as they’ve anointed themselves, haven’t played very well over the first half of 2016, ranking 5th in the league by giving up 310.7 passing yards per game. Ottawa’s secondary is another group that has been dealing with injury issues all season long. Hightower, Kanneh and Rose have all missed time and Jerrell Gavins has only managed to suit up for 5 games this year (though reports indicate he’ll likely return following the bye week). The signing of Mitchell White has proven to be a stroke of genius by GM Marcel Desjardins, as White has brought stability and leadership to a unit that seems to be lacking both at times. With only 4 interceptions to their credit, #DBlock must do a much better job of generating turnovers as the season winds down.
Chris Milo: 29/38 FGs
Zach Medeiros: 49 punts for 2193 yards (44.8 per kick)
To say Chris Milo has been inconsistent this year would be putting it politely. In 2016, Milo has made 29/38 (76.3%) of his attempts, which is 12.6% worse than last year’s 88.9% average. Milo has been money from beyond 50 yards (going 3/3) but is only 4/10 in the 40-49 yard range and has missed three kicks in the <40 yard range. For all his struggles, Milo remains a proven veteran who has a championship pedigree. The team needs to hope that as the games start to count for more, Milo rises to the occasion. In terms of punting and kickoffs, Zach Medeiros has been stellar, really getting good hang time on kicks which in turn has allowed coverage units to get downfield and limit returns (for the most part).