Offensive promise and baffling personnel management: 10 thoughts on the Redblacks’ preseason opener

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

For the first time in 209 days, the Ottawa Redblacks took to the field for a football game.

It might have only been a preseason game, and they might have come up short on the scoreboard — falling 22-21 to the visiting Montreal Alouettes before 15,802 fans at TD Place — but the game should still be considered a success.

That’s because when it comes to exhibition games, only two things truly matter: avoiding disastrous injuries and seeing players expected to contribute when the games count make plays.

Here are all my thoughts on the game.

1) With Jeremiah Masoli still on the mend from the broken leg he suffered last season, Nick Arbuckle got a long opportunity to cement his case for the backup position. The sixth-year pro started off hot, completing eight of his first nine passes, but cooled off as the game went on. He finished the night with a stat line of 15-of-25 passing for 209 yards.

Arbuckle made good reads and pushed the ball down the field a couple of times, something that wasn’t on display much in 2022. He was also victimized by a couple of drops and a few miscommunications with his younger teammates. Of the 10 drives he led, two made it to the red zone and four resulted in field goals.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

2) The only other quarterback to take snaps for the Redblacks was Tyrie Adams, who entered the game late in the third quarter. The 26-year-old did some good things, leading two scoring drives and making the throw of the night by perfectly placing a 43-yard bomb to a streaking DeVonte Dedmon on a corner route, but also left some meat on the bone with an inopportune red zone fumble.

The second-year pro was effective with his legs, buying time in the pocket and scrambling when necessary, running twice for 26 yards. During the five drives he was under centre, Ottawa generated nine first downs.

3) Hard to put much stock in our first look at Khari Jones’ offence given that it’s only the pre-season, but putting up 398 yards of offence and averaging seven yards per play is nothing to sniff your nose at. Yes, it would’ve been better to see more possessions finish in the end zone as opposed to Lewis Ward splitting the uprights, but the fact that the Redblacks went on multiple long drives is encouraging.

In terms of play-calling, it was as vanilla as you would expect given that these two teams play for real in a couple of weeks. I’ll only nitpick the third-and-one run from shotgun in the first quarter that resulted in a turnover on downs in the red zone. Let’s leave that play in the preseason, eh?

4) American running back Devonte Williams will need to be better if he wants to claim the starting job. Not only did his first carry result in a fumble, but he seemed to run the wrong way later in the quarter and missed a handoff from Arbuckle. That forced his quarterback to waste a play and throw the ball away.

Canadians Jackson Bennett and Ante Milanovic-Litre got a handful of carries but it was rookie De’Montre Tuggle who stood out the most. The 24-year-old Houston native turned his eight touches into 33 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards. More importantly, he wasted no time in getting up the field. Oftentimes, rookie running backs are guilty of dancing around while waiting for rushing lanes to open up but as soon as the ball was in Tuggle’s hands, he was heading north.

5) The Redblacks dressed 11 receivers and a handful helped their case for a roster spot. Justin Hardy picked up where he left off in 2022, snagging four passes for 70 yards. In terms of the rookies, American Savon Scarver turned five targets in four receptions for 53 yards. Canadian Daniel Oladejo caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.

Veteran Shaq Evans — a key off-season addition — was targeted nine times but only caught two passes.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

6) The first unit offensive line of Dino Boyd, Drew Desjarlais, Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, Jacob Ruby and Zack Pelehos looked solid, especially in pass protection. The group struggled to find much push in the ground game, but Arbuckle had a clean pocket every time he dropped back to pass. If this group winds up being the starting five come the regular season, it’ll provide Ottawa with plenty of ratio flexibility given that right tackle is a spot rarely occupied by a Canadian.

7) With Montreal resting multiple offensive starters, the way Barron Miles’ defensive unit performed should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, there were some encouraging signs.

When the starting defensive line was in, Ottawa got plenty of pressure on the opposing quarterback. And all game long, the unit was stout against the run, conceding just 32 yards on the ground. When put in a bad spot as a result of Williams’ fumble, the defence bent but didn’t break, limiting Montreal to a field goal.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

In terms of notable players, linebacker Gary Johnson Jr. had three tackles for a loss. Defensive lineman Aidan John — the 19th pick in the 2023 CFL draft — showed great hustle and was frequently around the ball carrier. Global player Tyron Vrede got the start at middle linebacker and finished with a game-high five tackles. Third-year pro Adam Auclair finished with three tackles and former Carleton Raven Kene Onyeka was a force coming off the edge, notching a sack.

8) If there’s one thing the Redblacks have been known for in recent years, it was stellar special teams play. Bob Dyce might not be directly in charge of that group anymore but as a head coach, it’s hard to believe he’ll tolerate the kind of sloppy kick coverage we saw last night. Ottawa gave up 244 return yards to Montreal, with Alouette returners averaging 20.3 yards per return.

As for the kicking game, Lewis Ward was his reliable self, nailing four field goals including a 51-yarder. Punter Richie Leone punted twice and made a field goal from 12 yards out. Jake Julien — the Redblacks’ fourth-round pick in the 2021 Draft — punted three times and missed the convert he attempted.

9) I realize it’s likely that most of Ottawa’s veterans don’t make the trip down to Guelph for the team’s second preseason game against the Argos, but I really disliked how the Redblacks managed their personnel last night.

It was somewhat surprising to see Arbuckle play deep into the third quarter, but perhaps that can be chalked up to wanting to see the first-stringers finish a drive in the end zone. Jaelon Acklin was on the receiving end of a big hit in the second half, as was DeVonte Dedmon, who wound up being temporarily pulled from the game by the league’s injury spotter.

Most baffling of all, Dedmon returned to the game and played into the fourth quarter, catching passes and fielding punts. Given his value to the team, risking his health so late in a meaningless contest was a massive risk. It’s not like he was going to suddenly learn something new out there.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Speaking of returners, the decision to use Brandin Dandridge — a key starter in the secondary — as a punt returner, despite having 11 receivers dressed, including guys like Scarver who thrived as a returner in college, doesn’t add up. Why not let a young player trying to crack the roster impress in the return game as opposed to an important veteran?

10) It’s never ideal when a team blows a nine-point lead in the final two minutes of a game but luckily for the Redblacks, the game counted for nothing in the standings. If there’s one positive to take from the late collapse it’s that Dyce and his staff will have plenty of teaching material to draw from. The young backups on the field in that situation got a taste of how quickly leads can vanish in the CFL and why it’s so important to finish strong.

More than once, TSN’s field-level microphones picked up Dyce’s bark as he coached his players up. His intensity never waned and that should be what sticks with R-Nation. Some fans will be upset the team lost yet again at TD Place but for those with long memories, they won their preseason game at Lansdowne last year before promptly going winless at home for the rest of 2022. Perhaps don’t read too much into a single point, last-second loss in May.

Up next for Ottawa is a trip down to Guelph, where they’ll close out their pre-season against the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).