Redblacks’ head coach Paul LaPolice praises Caleb Evans for growth as second-year quarterback

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Ottawa Redblacks’ head coach Paul LaPolice likes the growth he’s seen from quarterback Caleb Evans as the second-year passer led the club to its first win of the season over the Toronto Argonauts.

“The last two games he’s done a really nice job,” LaPolice told TSN 1200. “Certainly his completion percentage. We talked about making sure we throw completions against a team that’s going to play a lot of zone and he completed 83 percent of his passes. He was 24-of-29 and he had a throwaway, right? Pretty outstanding day for him. No interceptions, two touchdowns, so just some really good stuff from Caleb.”

Evans started eight games as a rookie in 2021 after opening the season as the third-stringer behind Matt Nichols and Dominique Davis. He eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark only once and threw almost twice as many interceptions (nine) and touchdowns (five). His play has vastly improved this year since taking over from an injured Jeremiah Masoli, throwing for 786 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions over three starts.

“This is the toughest position to play I think in all of pro sports. There’s a lot that goes on your plate and sometimes these guys just don’t get a lot of opportunities. When he gets these opportunities, he’s gonna make the most of them and learn from them. There’s things he did outstanding in the game and there’s some things I’m on the sideline talking to him about like how he could do better,” said LaPolice.

“But I certainly think there’s a growth to him. I certainly think he’s got tools to be able to create with his legs and we gotta continue to keep developing him as a pocket passer. But he’s certainly in the last two games put us in a position to win football games.”

Evans seems to have developed quick chemistry with boundary wide receiver Jaelon Acklin, who was signed away from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in free agency. The third-year target caught seven passes for 144 yards and a touchdown against Toronto and is now the league’s leading receiver following three consecutive 100-yard games.

“We’re not really pushing that, it just kinda shows up in certain plays and stuff. He’s done a really good job of finding Acklin and putting him in a position to get the ball and Acklin, hats off to him,” said LaPolice.

“We hit a crossing route for I think the second play of the game. They blitz us and Caleb recognizes it, sees they’re blitzing us and we can’t protect it. He throws the crossing route and Acklin takes an eight-yard route and turns it into a 40-something-yard gain. Outstanding job by both guys.”

When asked how he maintained leadership during the club’s 0-6 start to the season, LaPolice indicated that it was all about consistency. He believes his team has responded well, showing they can play disciplined football.

“I try to be as consistent as I can to the players. I try to make sure that we understand what wins football games and what doesn’t and try to educate them on the mistakes they make and go from there, but the biggest thing is you better be consistent and have a vision for what you want your team to look like,” said the veteran coach.

“I was really proud of our guys at the end of the game when there’s a little chipping going on and Toronto’s taking the objectionable conduct penalties and our guys are just walking away. That’s the team we want to be — smart, play hard, play physical and do the things winning teams do.”

The win over Toronto served two key functions — not only did it end Ottawa’s season-opening six-game losing streak, but it also moved the Argos to 3-3 on the season. As such, the Redblacks remain only four points out of first place in the East Division despite a disastrous start to the campaign, opening the door for a potential playoff run.

“I was just happy to keep things going in the East (Division) and certainly happy for the players. This game’s difficult sometimes. They’ve worked extremely hard and some balls haven’t bounced their way and they’ve been in so many close games. For them to be able to basically in the second half take over the game and win the game, it was proud to be on the field with them and happy to see them celebrating after the game,” said LaPolice.

The Redblacks are in tough this week as they are set to host the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night at TD Place Stadium. The Stampeders are coming off back-to-back losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, though they remain an impressive 4-2 on the season.

“Calgary’s an outstanding football team,” said LaPolice. “Talented quarterback, talented defence, well-coached, so this will be a big challenge.”