For the first time since winning the Grey Cup last November, the Ottawa Redblacks took the field for a game at TD Place. The beautiful summer night was contrasted by fact that last time the Redblacks played at home in front of R-Nation, heavy snow was falling and a berth to the Grey Cup was on the line.
Although the stakes were not nearly as high this time around, for many of 77 players dressed and participating in their first game in an Ottawa uniform, there was much worth fighting for.
For fans (and more importantly, Ottawa’s coaching staff), it was a chance to see how the replacements would fill in the gaping holes left by the departures of players like Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams, Mitchell White, Forrest Hightower, Cleyon Laing and company.
Here’s all my thoughts on Ottawa’s win.
1) New season, same old Harris
Henry Burris might be gone, but as Trevor Harris’ short performance demonstrated, the quality of QB play in Ottawa has not regressed one bit. In the two series he played, Harris was surgical and had the offence clicking on all cylinders. He completed 80% of his passes (12/15) to seven different receivers for 145 yards and a touchdown in half a quarter of work. Granted the Ticats were missing some key starters in their secondary, but still, Harris shows no signs of rust.
2) New team, same Tate?
Before leaving the game with a likely concussion, Drew Tate came exactly as promised. Reputed to be a backup capable of stepping in at a moment’s notice and winning games, Tate seemed comfortable under centre as he directed the Redblacks’ offence on a quick scoring drive. Unfortunately, Tate also has a reputation of being injury prone, and though the late hit that knocked him out of the game was no fault of his own, the reality is that if he is unavailable for any length of time, Ottawa’s QB depth behind Harris suddenly seems extremely thin.
3) Lindley’s long look
Pushed into action due to Tate’s injury, ex-NFL QB Ryan Lindley had the longest audition of any newcomer on the night. Though he started off shaky, Lindley deserves credit for battling his way through the game, going 16/25 for 133 yards and a touchdown. Despite not always being on the same page as his receivers, with several passes falling to the turf without any Redblack in the vicinity, Lindley flashed good arm strength as he led Ottawa to the win with two 4th quarter scoring drives. One area of concern is the number of his passes which were batted down at the line.
4) Backs look healthy
Breathe easy R-Nation, even if William Powell, Shakir Bell and Mossis Madu are all coming off season ending injuries, the trio look healthy. Each of the backs displayed strength, quickness and soft hands out of the backfield, which won’t make Rick Campbell’s life any easier but bodes well for the team. As well as the American backs played, the longest run of the night went to Ed Ilnicki, who rumbled for a 21 yard gain in the 4th quarter. Drafted to replace the departed Kienan LaFrance, Ilnicki looked good carrying the ball and on special teams.
5) Crowded receiving corps
With 16 different players catching a pass, it’s safe to say that Ottawa’s QBs don’t lack for weapons. There were a number of strong performances, but of the newcomers to the team, Daje Johnson, Joshua Stangby and Riley Wilson stood out. Tori Gurley also looked sharp in the slot, but left the game due to injury. I wouldn’t say that anyone played their way onto the team, but the coaching staff certainly has some difficult decisions ahead.
6) OL depth takes a beating
Despite solid play from his offensive line, OL Coach Bryan Chiu won’t enjoy watching film of this game. With Matt Albright, Pierce Burton and Randy Beardy all leaving the game due to injury, the Redblacks may be forced to reconsider their ratio going forwards. Although Beardy’s injury doesn’t seem as serious as the knee/leg injuries sustained by Albright and Burton, Ottawa’s offensive line depth took a serious hit. The team sorely needs Nolan MacMillan (who didn’t play due to an injury of his own), to get healthy soon. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that in limited reps, 2017 1st round pick Evan Johnson didn’t stand out, which for an offensive lineman, is a good thing.
7) Ends steals the show
American defensive ends Darryl Paulo and Avery Ellis balled out. While Ellis had the bigger night on the stats sheet (3 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble), both displayed high motors, regularly making a mess of things in the backfield and forcing Ticat QBs to throw before they were ready. On one play, Hamilton QB Everett Golson completed a pass for a 12 yard gain, yet instead of a DB making the tackle, it was a hustling Paulo. Canadians Nigel Romick and Ettore Lattanzio also both looked good, with the latter picking up a sack.
8) Fish out of water
It was only one play in the first quarter, but new LB Khalil Bass did not look comfortable at all in coverage as he was badly beat for a Hamilton touchdown. In Winnipeg, Bass occupied the middle of the defence, in Mark Nelson’s Ottawa defence, Bass plays the weak side linebacker role and will be asked to drop back in one on one coverage more often. His play in space is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
9) The DB factory continues to churn out playmakers
If there’s two things the Redblacks have become known for under GM Marcel Desjardins tenure, it’s drafting offensive lineman in the first round and finding young American playmakers for his secondary. Given a chance to start, 2nd year pro Imoan Claiborne continued to build off his strong showing in training camp. Other notables in Ottawa’s secondary were rookies Sherrod Baltimore (who finished the night with five tackles) and Corey Tindal (who snagged the game’s only interception).
10) Kickers clutch
Both Ray Early and Zack Medeiros were perfect on the night, going a combined 5/5 in FG attempts. Each also average over 40 yards per punt. That’s why it was a bit surprising to see the Redblacks bring back former kicker Brett Maher this morning.
11) Setting the tone
Wins in the pre-season are like Donald Trump’s word, both count for absolutely nothing. Still, it’s good to see a sense of urgency and resiliency in this year’s group of Redblacks.
12) Loud crowd
Even if some of the the announced crowd of 23,252 weren’t on hand, those members of R-Nation who did take in the game did a fantastic job of being their usual noisy selves. Ottawa is known for being a rowdy crowd and it’s good to see that holding true even in the pre-season.