Redblacks’ training camp primer: battles at every position

Editor’s note: With CFL training camps set to open on Sunday, 3DownNation is running previews on every team. Be sure to check out our Saskatchewan Roughriders preview coming later today.

Something feels a bit different this time around.

Following another 8-9-1 record (and a busy off-season) the Ottawa Redblacks head into training camp looking to lay the foundation for a team that contends straight out of the gate, to late November.

Head coach Rick Campbell and his staff will be trying to eliminate the maddening inconsistencies that have plagued the team the past few seasons. To do that, they’ll use the coming weeks to install their schemes, preach their philosophies and trim 85 hopefuls into a roster of 46 (plus a practice squad).

While some jobs are guaranteed, this year’s edition of training camp features fierce battles at every position.

Here’s a look at what to expect from each position group.

Quarterbacks: Battle of the backups

Trevor Harris is firmly entrenched as Ottawa’s starting quarterback. Nothing (barring injury) will change that. Things get interesting in this group behind him.

Dominique Davis was signed to be Harris’ backup, but his lack of experience (with only 33 career completions to his name), opens the door to the possibility of Will Arndt or Danny Collins overtaking him on the depth chart.

With limited opportunities to showcase their skills, an excellent (or poor) showing could quickly lead to a depth chart shuffle.

Running backs: Battle of the backups (Part Two)

William Powell was re-signed this off-season to be the Redblacks’ lead back. In theory, he should hang onto the job, but perhaps a motivated Mossis Madu will have something to say about that. Furthermore, after dealing with injuries the past few seasons, both will need to prove they can stay on the field.

An interesting name to keep an eye on is Ed Ilnicki. Last year’s Hec Crighton winner set a Canada West rushing record with 1468 yards and had eleven touchdowns. If given a chance, he could push for Madu’s primary backup role.

Fullbacks: Who fills Patrick Lavoie’s shoes?

Will it be J.C. Beaulieu, the player he was traded for? Will it be Ottawa native Brendan Gillanders? Will it be 2017 second round pick Anthony Gosselin?

Although in the past the fullback position has not typically been emphasized in offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo’s attack, it’s worth wondering if a trio of big, athletic backs change his mind.

Whoever emerges from this group will need to prove themselves as a reliable blocker and showcase soft hands as a safe check down option for Harris.

Receivers: Depth roles up for grabs

Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Diontae Spencer will be Ottawa’s three main pass catchers. The intrigue builds when you look beyond them.

After watching the likes of Juron Criner, Quincy McDuffie, Kenny Shaw, Josh Stangby and Jake Harty leave town, Desjardins replaced them with five American rookies and Canadian Julian Feoli-Gudino. The later will tentatively be pencilled in as a starter but a strong showing from someone like Richard Mullaney or RJ Shelton, combined with a Canadian emerging on the defensive line (more on that in a minute), could quickly change things.

Offensive line: Musical chairs

While you can probably go ahead and figure out who will be starting on Ottawa’s line, when it comes to nailing down their exact positions, things get more complicated, especially on the interior.

SirVincent Rogers and Jason Lauzon-Séguin seem like locks at the tackle positions. Veterans Jon Gott, Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan should all be starters, but perhaps 2017 first round pick Evan Johnson will have something to say about that.

Personally, I’m extremely interested to see where Gott and Mateas line up. In 2017, Mateas split playing time between guard and centre and the results couldn’t have been more different. At guard, Mateas often struggled. In the wake of Gott’s injury, Mateas moved to centre (his natural position) and played at an All-Star level. Given that Gott played guard before coming to the nation’s capital, it might be a wise move to put him back there and allow Mateas to start the season at centre.

Defensive line: A Canadian melee

Much like the offensive line, the biggest question along the other side of the trenches is in the interior. After losing both of last year’s starting defensive tackles in Zack Evans and Jake Ceresna, the Redblacks need someone to step up.

Cameron Walker, Andrew Marshall, Ettore Lattanzio, Daryl Waud and Michael Klassen are all Canadians capable of playing defensive tackle. If one of them could seize a starting role, it would do wonders for the Redblacks’ ratio, giving the team more flexibility at another position (think receiver).

Speaking of Canadians, keep an eye on Connor Williams. After missing all of last season with concussion issues, he’ll be looking to prove his worth.

Linebackers: Outside openings

At 37-year-old, Kyries Hebert will man the middle of Noel Thorpe’s defence, but who keeps him company?

Veteran free agent acquisition Rico Murray seems like a good bet to man one of the outside linebacker spots. His experience, versatility and big-play ability will be all be valuable assets to a defence looking to cause more turnovers than last season’s league-low 22.

Sophomore Kevin Brown is a strong candidate to round out the linebacking corps. Coming off a rookie season in which he saw limited action (playing in 11 games, starting one), Brown has plenty of speed and is a reliable open field tackler. That said, he won’t be handed the job and will have to earn it over American CFL rookies like Darien Harris, Avery Williams and Chris Santini.

Secondary: Holdovers vs Newcomers

The Redblacks’ secondary can be split into three distinct camps. Those guaranteed a starting position (Antoine Pruneau, Sherrod Baltimore, Loucheiz Purifoy), those looking to bounce back after subpar seasons (Jonathan Rose, Corey Tindal) and those new to the team (Josh Johnson, Brandon Stewart, Aarion Penton, Damian Swann, Anthony Cioffi, Jules Dornevil).

Rose will be given every opportunity to keep his starting role. That leaves one spot up for grabs. Although any newcomer is only a few pre-season interceptions away from stealing a starting job, in all likelihood it’ll come down to a battle between Corey Tindal and ex-NFLer and B.C. Lion Josh Johnson.

As for those who don’t wind up as starters, special teams play will determine if they make the final roster.

Kickers: Who can do it all?

Two Canadians (Lewis Ward, Mathieu Hebert) and two Americans (Sergio Castillo, Richie Leone) enter the ring. It’s not exactly Hell in a Cell but at the end of this scrap there will likely only be one kicker remaining.

On paper, the more experienced American kickers would seem to have the early edge. But here’s the caveat, if Ottawa chooses to use an international at the kicker position, said kicker would need to be capable of handling both the punting and placekicking duties. As demonstrated in 2017, Castillo is able to do both at a high level, but he’s coming off a torn ACL. As for Leone, although widely acclaimed for his huge leg and massive punts, his placekicking has been at best, shoddy. Connecting on just 72 per cent of his career field goal attempts, he’ll need to be much better to win the job.

At this point, Canadians Ward and Hebert are clear underdogs. Both have completed five-year USports careers (Ward with the Gee-Gees, Hebert with Sherbrooke) and both punted and place kicked for their respective teams.

Santino Filoso

Santino Filoso

Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)
Santino Filoso
Santino Filoso
About Santino Filoso (225 Articles)
Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)

16 Comments on Redblacks’ training camp primer: battles at every position

  1. MR. Green // May 16, 2018 at 12:20 pm //

    I believe the East will be a lot stronger this season. I see Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton all above 500, barring key injuries of course. Hopefully Montreal is not far behind.
    Out here in the West, should be great again. I’m excited to get going. Riders first preseason game is only 12 days away.

  2. rogieshan // May 16, 2018 at 12:37 pm //

    Given the CDN depth on the O & D line, team can afford to start three international receivers to go with Sinopoli. If rookies Korte & Pickett show they are advanced enough to contribute, maybe Vincent-Rogers is even expendable and Johnson can slot in to form an all-Canadian O-line.

    • No question the RedBags have excellent NI talent in the OLine, but don’t confuse quantity with quality on the DLine. Nobody comes close to replacing Zack Evans.

      Cam Walker is totally incapable of playing DT. Way too undersized and underpowered to play inside. They’d get obliterated against the run if they tried that.

  3. Receivers are among the best in the league. LBs however, are among the worst in the league.

    Biggest problem in Ottawa though is the lack of NI talent. CANNOT afford to lose starters like Zack Evans and not bother to replace them.

    • rogieshan // May 16, 2018 at 3:30 pm //

      Evans was indeed a rock but INT AC Leonard and a healthy Connor Williams will help. Maybe they’ll employ three internationals there – they do have that flexibility. I also trust Thorpe and his attacking system will be an upgrade overall.

      • AC Leonard is terrible. He’s exactly what you’d expect from a WR trying to play DE.

        No pass rush ability at all. He just runs outside the OT and hopes he can win with speed. Chris Van Zeyl learned this the hard way. Of course the rest of the OTs around the league quickly realized all they have to do is set wide and wash him right out of the play.

        Leonard is a poor man’s Al Hall.

        • greenenvy? // May 17, 2018 at 1:00 am //

          Good input. The RedBlacks problems are defence. Leonard & Newsome aren’t scaring anyone. Ask the Riders. The DT’s, same thing. Hebert is likely a one off & don’t expect a repeat of last year. Thorpe helps but has little to work with. On the + side, the offence is very good. Non-playoff team IMO.

  4. Phil Miller // May 16, 2018 at 4:35 pm //

    Battles at every position because this is a full rebuild year for the Red-Blacks. Good time to do it with the all out Tire Fires in Montreal and Hamilton.

  5. LOL love how they start with the Redblacks but make a point of saying the Riders one is coming later today. So basically they are saying here’s anything we cobbled together until we can figure out how to skew the Riders preview for clicks and comments.

    • We already know what the Riders preview will be.

      They’ve finally got a franchise QB in Collaros to go along with a very good set of receivers. Adding a proven workhorse NI back like Messam was a huge addition to the ratio but Regina still has issues with a lack of NI talent. Home playoff game is possible but unlikely with the two Alberta teams in their division.

  6. bill dehoog // May 16, 2018 at 9:48 pm //

    Overall much improved team in Ottawa. Offence is first rate with lots of Nationals starting on Oline.Look for Waud and Williams as solid DTs. Will go with 3 down lineman. BIG improvements in DB and LB. Watch for lots of rotation and flips between LB and DB
    Have some dynamite rookies at receiver and running back. Count on 11 or 12 wins this year

    • MJ Bandit // May 16, 2018 at 10:17 pm //

      Between Waud, Lattanzio, Klassen & Williams (can also play DE – where i hope they aren’t expecting that much out of the Rider mediocre cast-offs) – Ottawa should be able to roll with 2 Canadian starter DTs; they might also be able to sign former draft pick Medhi Abdesmad (who has bounced around the NFL some). The rest of their D has some big concerns though – especially at linebacker (Hebert pencilled-in as MLB – not sure about that – he;s better suited at OLB); vets Murray & Purifoy are at least decent experienced additions; Pruneau is IMO the best safety in the league.

      Offence very solid (except for nobody at back-up QB = potential nightmare). Strong O-line; Powell with depth at RB and at least some good receiver talent.

      Wouldn’t count on 11 or 12 wins though; more like just over .500 ?

  7. George Fogarty // May 16, 2018 at 9:56 pm //

    Good overview Santino. RBs are going to be fine and will be contenders. Going to be a great CFL season again and looking forward to Choke-steders repeating again as the perennial CFL choke champs.

  8. Bill deHoog // May 17, 2018 at 7:40 am //

    Not sure why everyone thinks the defence is so awful. They weren’t far off last year. They gave up yards, but were fairly good in the red zone. Just needed a couple of extra stops per game. Some good additions through free agency plus some good looking rookies on board. Last year’s rookies are a year older, wiser and stronger. Plus the scheme will be different which should be a plus. Should be in the mix for top spots in the East. Agree with not much depth behind Trevor, but most teams are in the same boat. Offence will be fast and efficient

    • Let’s start with the DLine – – AC Leonard is terrible and Jon Newsome isn’t much better. You’re sure not going to get much of a pass rush from those two. Inside, Klassen is a mediocre back up at best. Lattanzio is way too small for DT. I really like Waud’s game but he’s just not able to stay healthy. Unless one of the new Imports can step up, there’s very little talent at DT.

      Good idea to move Purifoy back to LB as he struggled badly last year trying to play in the secondary.

      I can assure you that Rico Murray is atrocious. Constantly torched when he tries to drop into coverage. I’d be surprised if he starts, but if he does he’s going to be targeted.

      I love how aggressive and hard hitting Hebert plays, but let’s be honest – – how many dominant 38yr old LBs are out there? Completely unrealistic to expect much from him at this age.

      And speaking of unrealistic, the suggestion that the defence just needs “a couple extra stops per game” is laughable.

      Two stops per game means shaving off between 6 to 14 points per game. Which equivalent to somewhere between 108 and 252 fewer points allowed. That’s a ridiculous impossibility.

  9. Solid point on OL. At this point, we saw enough evidence last year about the performance of the offensive line to know that starting Mateas at anywhere besides Centre is malfeasance.

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