Redblacks end preseason with a sloppy win (& 12 other takeaways)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Ottawa Redblacks defeated the visiting Montreal Alouettes by a score of 19-13 on Friday night at TD Place to close out the preseason, but it was far from the resounding victory one might have hoped for from a veteran-laden group playing against backups.

Mistakes are expected when it comes to preseason football. New systems are being installed, chemistry is being developed and with so many bodies rotating through the lineup, a bit of confusion comes with the territory.

But while head coach Bob Dyce and his staff can live with the mental errors that naturally occur this time of year from rookies, he probably expected to see a more polished effort from some of his veterans.

Here are all my thoughts on the game.

1) Dru Brown might not have been happy with his unit’s performance — he said as much at half-time in an interview that R-Nation will love — but the 27-year-old did a number of things that bode well for the upcoming season.

Brown regularly pushed the ball down the field, made good reads, calmly bought time with his legs when the pocket collapsed, kept his eyes down the field, and repeatedly hit his receivers in the hands.

Stats don’t mean much at this time of year but in three quarters of action, Brown completed 60 percent of his passes for 247 yards and an interception. The turnover came as a result of a receiver popping a pass up and his stats as a whole would be much better if not for the six drops (by my count) from his receivers.

Following his departure from the game, sophomore quarterback Dustin Crum came in for the fourth quarter and completed three of four passes for 44 yards, while rushing twice for 13 yards.

It’s clear that Brown has done more than enough to cement his role as the starter heading into the season, and Crum has shown enough command of the offence that if he’s pressed into service, fans in the nation’s capital won’t need to hit the panic button.

2) A week after keeping his play-calling balanced and vanilla, offensive coordinator Tommy Condell cracked his playbook open a bit wider versus the Alouettes. He tried to work the passing game into a rhythm, calling 37 pass attempts to just 14 runs.

In general, it was still a simple game plan, but there were a few new wrinkles. Condell leaned into play-action, there were screens, shovel passes and rollouts. Some calls were executed with great effectiveness, others were handicapped by three offsides and a pair of holding flags.

The Redblacks finished the night with 337 yards of offence, converted on 32 percent of their second down opportunities but went zero-for-two in the red zone.

There’s no doubt the coaching staff will have expected more from a group that featured every projected starter minus Jaelon Acklin — who was a late scratch for precautionary reasons — but the good thing is with a bye week in Week One, Condell has time for his unit to work out the kinks.

3) It’s tough to evaluate the running backs on a night when none got more than five carries. Americans Ryquell Armstead, Kylin Hill and Ronnie Brown mustered seven, 10 and one yard, respectively.

Canadian Amlicar Polk only entered the game on the team’s final drive and turned his five carries into 17 yards. Polk probably showed the best burst, running through initial contact on every snap.

It’s unlikely all four backs survive cutdown day, so ultimately it will come down to who the coaches feel has the most well-rounded game. In the CFL, pass blocking skills and the ability to turn check-down passes into first downs is just as crucial as being able to push the pile.

4) Aside from veteran Bralon Addison and rookie Kalil Pimpleton, that was as disappointing an outing from the receiving corps as it gets. Addison turned six targets into six catches for 64 yards. Pimpleton hauled in five passes for 83 yards. Both generated 28 yards after the catch.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

In his first action since returning to Ottawa, prized free agent acquisition Dominique Rhymes failed to record a catch on three targets. His first drop shouldn’t be held against him, as he was blown up on the play. The second was just a bad drop and the third incompletion was an errant pass.

Justin Hardy snagged three passes for 28 yards but dropped an easy catch that would’ve been a first down. A week after impressing in Hamilton, rookie Jon’Vea Johnson dropped a likely touchdown pass. Rookie Ryan McDaniel had two catches for 40 yards, but also had a drop. Nick Mardner, the second overall pick of the 2024 Draft, finished without a catch and bobbled a pass that turned into an interception.

Canadians Daniel Oladejo — a former Ottawa Gee-Gee — and Keaton Bruggeling — a former Carleton Raven — both made a pair of catches, for 38 and 26 yards respectively.

5) There’s a lot to like from the group we saw at offensive line in the first quarter. From left to right, Ottawa lined up Dino Boyd, Drew Desjarlais, Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, Dariusz Bladek and Zack Pelehos. The pass protection was excellent but if you want to nitpick, you might have hoped for a bit more of a push in the ground game.

While it remains to be seen if Pelehos has indeed won the starting right tackle job over Dontae Bull — the duo rotated snaps throughout the whole game — the second overall pick in the 2022 Draft had a number of impressive reps, with more than a few resulting in pancaked defensive linemen.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

It seems as if for now, Bladek has won the starting right guard job over Jacob Ruby, but even if Ruby and Bull start the 2024 campaign as backups, life in the trenches is precarious, and both will wind up playing at some point.

The good thing is that there is no shortage of experienced depth at a crucial position.

6) Barron Miles saw his defensive unit play starters well into the fourth quarter. Even if the group’s performance needs to be taken with a grain of salt given that it came against backups, it is encouraging that it looked sharp.

Ottawa held Montreal to just 249 total yards, and the Alouettes averaged a measly 3.8 yards per second down. Montreal went one-for-three in the red zone, conceded a sack and had two turnovers on downs.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Furthermore, just two of Montreal’s 14 offensive possessions gained over 30 yards, and both of those drives received help in the form of Redblacks’ penalty flags.

Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox led the way with six tackles and a tipped pass that turned into a 101-yard pick-six from Tobias Harris.

7) Although it featured a few strong individual performances, as a whole, Ottawa’s special teams were not nearly as locked in as one would’ve hoped.

It was the first preseason action for kicker Lewis Ward, who made field goals from 52, 35, 26 and 17 yards out, but he missed from 25 yards out and dinged the upright on an attempt from Montreal’s 49-yard line.

Punter Richie Leone averaged 45 yards per punt and had a beautifully placed kick that sat at Montreal’s two-yard line late in the fourth quarter. But the team only averaged a net field flip of 31 yards per punt thanks to leaky kick coverage.

Defensive lineman Aiden John led the way with two special teams tackles, including one that saved a touchdown.

8) Speaking of the return game, DeVonte Dedmon has officially put the league on notice;  he will be a force in 2024. Dedmon averaged 14 yards per punt return and had a 48-yard kickoff return.

He also had a 107-yard punt return touchdown nullified by an unnecessary holding call. As long as he can stay healthy, expect electric things from Ottawa’s return game this season.

9) As I mentioned at the start, preseason football comes with mistakes, but being flagged 14 times is inexcusable. You have to think Dyce will have his team much more disciplined when they take on the Blue Bombers in two weeks’ time.

10) Shoutout to photographer Scott Grant as he starts his 54th season of shooting Ottawa football. He spent decades as the official photographer for the Rough Riders, then the Renegades, and briefly held the role with the Redblacks. Now he shoots to grow his legendary archive and for us here at 3DownNation. We’re fortunate to have someone of his experience and skill as a part of our team.

Justin Hardy-Ottawa RedBlacks-31may2024-Photo:Scott Grant

11) It’s not common for the Redblacks to wear white at home but with the new 2024 home jersey yet to be released, it makes sense. R-Nation can expect to see the team’s new look unveiled before the home opener on June 13.

12) Going 2-0 in the preseason isn’t anything to brag about, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. After three weeks of training camp and two preseason games, the time has come for Dyce and general manager Shawn Burke to trim the roster to 45 and build a practice squad of up to 13, counting the additional Global spots.

Once that’s done, it’ll be full focus on making the most of the inconvenient Week 1 bye to ensure the team hits the ground running in Week 2 when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers visit TD Place to kick off Ottawa’s season.

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).