The Ottawa Redblacks have struggled mightily during the last three seasons, posting a combined record of 10-40. The Redblacks finished 0-9 at home this season and have won only one of their last 25 home games.
There have been many reasons for the Redblacks’ recent struggles, including multiple injuries to key players, lackluster coaching and playcalling, an inability to make in-game adjustments, poor execution by several players in multiple positions in big moments, and consistent struggles combined with a lack of depth at key positions.
The Redblacks coaching staff will look a lot different this season. Interim head coach Bob Dyce was promoted to head coach in December 2022 and is the third head coach in Redblacks’ franchise history. Dyce finished the 2022 season with a 1-3 record but coached well in the final four games, bringing structure, energy, and passion to the locker room. He coached with conviction, took chances, and made some bold play-calling decisions, many of which paid off.
Dyce has a plethora of coaching experience, including seven years in Winnipeg (2003-09) as the receivers coach, and six years with the Roughriders (2010-15) as the passing game coordinator, offensive coordinator, and special teams coordinator. He’s been with Ottawa since 2016 as the special team coordinator and has consistently led special team units ranking near the top of the league. He’s also been a member of two Grey Cup-winning teams.
Khari Jones, who has had successful stints as offensive coordinator and head coach for the BC Lions and the Montreal Alouettes respectively will take over the offensive coordinator role. In two full seasons as the Alouettes’ head coach, Jones posted a record of 17-15. He got the best of QB Vernon Adams Jr. in the run-and-pass game and helped Adams Jr. develop into the dual-threat QB that he is now. The passion, energy, and talent Jones brought to the team helped the Als to an improbable 10-8 record in 2019 to clinch their first playoff berth in five years. Despite a lackluster start to the 2022 season, he will bring heart to the Ottawa offence that has been dull for several seasons. Not to mention, he is an experienced and creative play caller that takes risks, especially in the red zone, which the Redblacks want to see after settling for many field goals and punts on 3rd and shorts under LaPolice.
Barron Miles, who has extensive CFL coaching experience is taking over the defensive coordinator role. He served as a defensive backs coach and assistant defensive coach for four different teams across 11 seasons before landing the defensive coordinator role with the Alouettes in 2021. As a DC, he coached an aggressive style of defense that blitzed often and was dedicated to shutting down the run game to make opposing teams one-dimensional. His time as DC in Montreal was short-lived, but he allowed only 2849 pass yards, the second-fewest in the CFL in 2021, and ranked middle of the pack in rush yards and points allowed.
The Redblacks’ roster is also facing some turnover from last season. Notable departures include LB Avery Williams, LB Shaheed Salmon, WR Darvin Adams, S Antoine Pruneau, WR RJ Harris, RB Brendan Gillanders, RB William Powell, WR Shaq Johnson, OL Randy Richards, OL UCambre Williams, OL Sir Vincent Rogers, among others.
However, notable additions include re-signing QB Jeremiah Masoli, DL Davon Coleman, DBs Sherrod Baltimore, Abdul Kanneh, and Monshadrik Hunter, and bringing in LBs Jovan Santos-Knox and Gary Hunter Jr., OLs Terran Vaughn, Hunter Steward, and Drew Desjarlais, DLs Michael Wakefield and Keyshawn James, DE Kwaky Boateng and RB Ante Milanovic-Litre among others.
Santos-Knox is a beast of a pass rusher who possesses an unstoppable motor, great agility off the line, and excellent swim moves to shed blocks. He is also an impressive run-stopper and can play middle linebacker or on the outside. He will help fill the gap left by Avery Williams.
Vaughn, Steward, and Desjarlais are all excellent offensive linemen that will help Masoli stay on his feet, give him ample time to throw, and help open up holes in the run game with their strong push-off. Milanovic-Litre will provide extra depth at running back, likely a third down and pass-catching back and Boateng will add depth on the interior of the defensive line to rush the passer alongside Lorenzo Mauldin. The Redblacks ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks and 17 of their 47 sacks came from Mauldin, who led the CFL in sacks and won Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the Year. He had 12 more sacks than Kene Oneyka and Tre Hornbuckle who tied for second on the team with five sacks each. Ottawa needs to generate significantly more pressure from multiple areas, including from the edge and in the interior of the defensive line; Santos-Knox and Boateng will certainly help with that.
Between free agency, the CFL draft, and the global draft, the Redblacks’ management led by GM Shawn Burke did a good job acquiring and resigning talented players to fill positions of need. In the draft, the Redblacks mainly focused on building their offensive and defensive lines and adding depth to their secondary and linebacking core. Here’s how their draft panned out:
1) Dontae Bull, OL, Fresno State
Bull is one of the most physically impressive players in his class, who possesses excellent size, mass, and agility for his position. He utilizes his rare length, to create a longer path to the quarterback. While he lacks foot speed, he uses his length to his advantage by attacking defenders mid-rush with his good punch timing and placement to stymie the defender. However, he struggles when facing speed rushers and rushers who utilize quick inside-out counters and needs improvement on his speed to counter that.
10) Lucas Cormier, DB, Mount Allison
A versatile defensive back, who can play corner, safety, strong and weakside linebacker, and halfback, he has the speed, ball-tracking skills, and talent to make plays all over the field, exactly what the Redblacks need following Pruneau’s retirement. He’s a speedy corner who can jam receivers on the line, run with the quickest opponents, and can get up to break up 50/50 balls, but can also cover the run and rush the passer. An extremely beneficial piece for the defence.
12) James Peter, LB, uOttawa
Deemed as undersized by many scouts, there have been some concerns about his success at the next level. While he is athletic, versatile, has a ton of potential, and could play weakside in the CFL as he did in college, he is half a foot shorter than the average offensive guard which could pose a problem for a middle linebacker. Worst case, he is a difference-maker on special teams.
17) Daniel Oladejo, WR, uOttawa
Oladejo’s unique combination of speed, agility, and strength helps him stand out in the receiver position. He is a technical route runner who can create separation in and out of his breaks. He is explosive off the line, can make contested catches in traffic, has a high football IQ, strong hands, and outstanding ball-tracking ability. His excellent footwork and timing can punish defences and his speed makes him hard to bring down in the open field.
19) Aidan John, DL, Saint Mary’s
John impressed scouts mightily at the CFL Invitational Combine with his size, strength, speed, length, high football IQ, and innate abilities to rush the passer, shed blocks, and cover the run. He is a special player despite having stepped away from football for a few seasons before ex-Carleton Ravens coach Steve Sumarah who now works at St. Mary’s convinced him to return to the Huskies last season. His 29 tackles led the team in 2022.
25) Josh White, LB, Regina
White possesses great instincts and demonstrates impressive physicality, especially with his great tackling and his innate ability to shed blocks and funnel to the ball carrier to stop the run. At 6’1”, 222 pounds, he runs a 4.78-second 40-yard dash which is quite good for his size. He has the potential to be a starter but will need some work in his pass coverage, especially against faster opponents.
37) Daniel Perry, WR, Saskatchewan
At 6’0”, 196 pounds, Perry has impressive speed for a larger receiver. He is explosive off the line, can get through press coverage, has the speed to get downfield quickly, has excellent hands, a good vertical, and has great ball tracking ability to locate deep balls and secure 50/50 balls. In 2022, he had 797 yards and three TDs in 12 games after 650 yards in 10 games in 2021.
46) Quintin Seguin, DL, Charleston Southern
An intimidating figure standing at 6’2”, 271 pounds, Seguin projects to be a player with the potential to become an elite run-stopping defensive tackle in the CFL despite an underwhelming performance at the CFL Combine. He has solid balance and agility for his size, can withstand pushes from offensive guards, and can shed blocks to track down and stuff the runner.
55) Alexander Fedchun, DL, St. FX
Fedchun practically lived in the opponents’ backfield at St. FX. His speed, incredible timing, agility, explosiveness off the line, and his unique repertoire of swim moves to shed blocks make him a threat to any offensive lineman considering he stands at 6’4”, 226 pounds.
58) Amlicar Polk, RB, uOttawa
Unfortunately, Polk didn’t get much action behind J.P. Cimankinda on the depth chart but is a physical runner who can find holes in the defense and exploit them. He can also catch passes out of the backfield and contribute on special teams.
The Redblacks have signed all 10 players to entry-level contracts and all will attend training camp to try out for the final roster.
Finally, the Redblacks also signed both of their picks in the Global Draft. They signed DL Blessman Ta’ala – who is a natural run stopper and can also contribute as a rotational pass rusher, as well as Swedish OL Lucas Lavin to entry-level contracts. Lavin is 6’5”, 327 pounds, and a force in both run and pass protection. They’ll both contribute to the team’s depth on both lines.
The Redblacks have a lot of potential to succeed this season thanks to their off-season acquisitions, which helped fill in their biggest positions of need. A brand new coaching staff under Bob Dyce also completely revitalized the locker room and will surely bring positive results onto the field.
However, a team with many new players and fresh coaches needs time to iron out the kinks, so don’t expect the Redblacks to be Grey Cup contenders in year one.
This is still a rebuild and the Redblacks are entering the final stages of a four-year-long rebuild that started back in 2019. They addressed their biggest needs well in free agency and the draft; now it’s all about putting it together. If all key players can stay healthy and the Redblacks can start the season strong, one can expect this team to be a 7-9 win team and contend for a playoff berth late into the season.
In addition, the Redblacks play in a tough division. The Toronto Argonauts are defending Grey Cup champs and have only added to their roster, the Tiger-Cats are as strong as ever and the Alouettes are coming off their best season since 2019, so none of their division games will be easy victories.
Only time will tell how the Redblacks perform this year. Their first preseason game is against the Montreal Alouettes on Friday, May 26.