The Redblacks (0-0) enjoyed a Week 1 bye but will face a tough challenge as they host the Roughriders (1-0) Thursday night at TD Place.
“It will be fun to get out there and tee it up and see what this version of the Redblacks look like,” said Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris.
Harris, who suffered an ankle/knee injury in the Redblacks first pre-season game says he’s “good enough, ready to roll,” when asked if he was fully healthy.
The Redblacks will need its offensive line at its best against Saskatchewan or it could be a long, hard night for Harris. Saskatchewan’s defence, led by elite pass rusher Charleston Hughes, made life miserable for Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray in a 27-19 win over Toronto in Week 1.
It will be a good test for a line that features veterans Jon Gott, SirVincent Rogers, Alex Mateas, as well as second-year Evan Johnson, who was moved to right tackle after playing left guard last season, and rookie Mark Korte.
“We believe in all these guys, they’ve done a good job,” said Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell. “You’re right about playing against Saskatchewan as they have good players and they’re well-coached and so it will be tough, but I know these guys will be ready to go.”
Korte was a first-round pick for the Redblacks this year and is excited at the opportunity ahead.
“It’s nice to get some film of a regular-season game, seeing them play Toronto, we dove into that pretty well,” said Korte. “It’s nice to have that going into our first regular season game.
“It’s a pretty steep learning curve coming into a CFL training camp and getting that professional level of mental preparation that you need to compete at this level.”
Last week, Chris Jones’s defence led with a four-man rush much of the night and defensive end Hughes had three sacks.
Ottawa can ill afford for Harris to take too many blows if he’s still dealing with any kind of lingering affects from the early injury.
“They’re obviously a great pass rush, up there with the best in the league,” said Harris. “We’ve got to find ways to neutralize that and we’ll be all right. We’ve got to keep them on their heels in terms of making sure we’re giving them different looks, different depths, different timings and making sure we’re running the football and establishing the run – we’re a very diverse offence and I think if you ask the co-ordinators in the league it’s tough to get tendencies on us because we do so many things.”
While Harris will undoubtedly be under close scrutiny, it will be interesting to see how the Noel Thorpe-led Ottawa defence produces for the Redblacks.
Thorpe was hired in the off-season as the new defensive co-ordinator and promised to bring a more aggressive style to the nation’s capital.
A key off-season addition for the Redblacks was veteran linebacker Kyries Hebert, who played in Montreal with Thorpe last season.
“I am beyond excited to finally be able to put my hands and body on someone else and cause some destruction on the football field,” said Hebert. “It’s something we’ve been building on for a while since mini-camp, just building and building, and now we can finally let it out on someone else.
“We’re building something special here. One block a time, one player at a time and hopefully we can get everyone together and peak at the right time and (Thursday) is our first opportunity to show the growth that we’ve had since mini-camp.”
SASKATCHEWAN (1-0) at OTTAWA (0-0)
Thursday, TD Place
HOME SWEET HOME – Can the Redblacks finally turn things around at home? With a 5-11-2 record at TD Place the past two seasons, Ottawa has failed to take advantage of home field.
SPEEDY SPENCER – Diontae Spencer looks to build on his all-star season in 2018, but expect teams to be better prepared for the Redblacks receiver who turned heads last year.
SINOPOLI STARTS – Brad Sinopoli will get his first game action since last October when he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. The veteran Canadian receiver is looking for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.