Featuring a squad heavy on players battling for positions on the lower rungs of the depth chart and light on players likely to be on the field on June 21st when they open the regular season against Saskatchewan, the Ottawa Redblacks traveled to Guelph.
The 15 hour odyssey began in Ottawa Thursday morning and ended back in the nation’s capital around 3am on Friday. A 32-17 victory over the Toronto Argonauts was sandwiched between two flights, four bus rides and a couple of meals.
While pre-season contests are nothing more than glorified scrimmages, with so many established starters not making the trip, there were plenty of reps to go around. Some players took advantage of the snaps and played their way onto the team, others did the opposite.
Here are all my thoughts on the game.
1) Dominique Davis’ performance should go a long way towards easing the fears of R-Nation. Davis played the entire first half and aside from one errant throw, was sharp. Davis looked comfortable in Jamie Elizondo’s system, making good reads and getting rid of the ball quickly. He completed 78.3% of his passes, going 18/23 for 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception. If not for two deliberate throwaways, those numbers would be even better. Davis also did an excellent job using his feet to avoid pressure and move the pocket. Although he was playing against backups, Davis led four scoring drives. Last night’s performance should do the trick and earn him backup quarterback position.
As for only other quarterback to throw a pass for the Redblacks, Danny Collins had an efficient night. 8/13 for 100 yards is a solid if unspectacular outing. Collins threw a handful of strikes, threading the needle into a few tight windows. He was also fortunate not to have been picked off multiple times.
2) A week after averaging 1.9 yards per carry, Cedric O’Neal had a much better outing in Guelph. Displaying a mix of strength and speed, O’Neal battered his way through the Argo defence to the tune of 10 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. He also fumbled once.
The only other running back the Redblacks dressed for the trip was 2017 Hec Crighton winner Ed Ilnicki. The Canadian was given was seven consecutive carries on the game’s final drive and picked up 30 yards.
3) With the big dogs resting back in Ottawa (Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli, Diontae Spencer), the plethora of other pass catchers hoping to make the Redblacks’ roster had an opportunity to make their case. Dominique Rhymes and Seth Coates stood out. The former turned 12 targets into 10 catches for 101 yards, hanging onto the ball despite being on the receiving end of some thumping hits. The latter (Coate) hauled in four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown but also fumbled.
4) After having four high snaps in the game against Montreal last week, 2018 1st round pick Mark Korte had a much better night at centre vs Toronto. Aside from a single bad snap, Korte delivered the ball well. It’s fair to say that Korte has struggled with the transition to centre. After a stellar U-Sports career that saw him split time between the tackle and guard positions, the adjustment to playing in the middle of the offensive line has taken some time. That said, if last night was any indication, Korte’s settling in. If he can be counted upon as a reliable option at centre, Korte would provide the Redblacks with further depth behind Alex Mateas and Jon Gott.
5) On the defensive side of the ball, Corey Tindal led all players with seven tackles. The second year player did an excellent job recognizing plays and flying to the ball carrier. Linebacker Zeek Bigger and defensive lineman Bruce Gaston also made their presence felt with a combined nine tackles. Loucheiz Purifoy played sparring but made every snap count, making three tackles (including one for a loss) and forcing a fumble.
In the secondary, Aarion Penton had an impressive pick six and Reggie Daniels made an incredibly athletic diving interception. Josh Johnson also nearly had an interception but failed to hang onto the ball.
6) The Redblacks’ kicking battle is clear as mud. Building on last week’s strong showing, Canadian Lewis Ward continued to be perfect, nailing a 20 yard field goal and a convert. Meanwhile Americans Sergio Castillo and Richie Leone also made field goals. The trio averaged 62, 62 and 65 yards per kickoff respectively. Castillo punted twice for 82 yards. The decision as to who makes the team may come down to who the coaching staff believes can stay healthy.
7) Speaking of special teams, for the second week in a row, both Kieren Duncan and RJ Shelton continued to look explosive and dangerous. Each had a return of 50+ yards. Additionally, Duncan averaged 7 yards per punt return while Shelton chipped in on offence, making two catches for 19 yards. Don’t be surprised to see both make the final roster (perhaps stashed on the one game injured list).
8) Pre-season football and sloppiness go hand in hand but Redblacks truly did themselves no favours last night. When Ottawa’s defence forced a fumble, the offence immediately fumbled the ball right back. Same thing happened after their first interception. Although the Redblacks generated four turnovers, they gave the ball away an equal amount of times. On top of that, the team took nine penalties and went just 1/3 on two point conversion attempts.
9) I get that pre-season games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I can’t get over TSN not broadcasting every game. In place of CFL action last night, TSN’s five channels showcased a baseball game between two American teams, the Calder Cup and the French Open. Furthermore, the fact that TSN’s Toronto radio station couldn’t even be bothered to air the game is ridiculous. Toronto is the league’s biggest market and one in desperate need of growth. How blacking out any of their games helps is beyond me.
10) With the win, Ottawa’s pre-season comes to a close. Performances at this time of year should always be taken with a grain of salt, but the fact that Rick Campbell and company have some tough decisions ahead is a testament to the work done this off-season by scouts and GM Marcel Desjardins. As roster cuts only have to be announced Saturday morning, Desjardins and the coaching staff can use today to pour over film.
Once those decisions are made, Campbell has an extra week to prepare his squad for Ottawa’s season opener against Saskatchewan. Although many grumbled when it was first revealed that the Redblacks’ first bye week was in Week One, it’s turned out to be a boon. Mainly because it allows Trevor Harris more time to heal, but it will also benefit other nicked up players like Jason Lauzon-Séguin, Nolan MacMillan, Brad Sinopoli and Brandon Stewart.
The Redblacks kick off their regular season at home on June 21st.