• By: Ron Guillet

Redblacks Here to Stay

Chevon Walker fends off Argonaut Brendan Smith during a carry. Photo credit: Mike Carroccetto / METRO

The Ottawa Redblacks are a work-in-progress, which was clear the moment they joined the CFL as an expansion team.

Expansion teams don’t have a winning history in sports. Most of them struggle out of the gate and take a few years before solidifying a respectable presence.

Looking back when the CFL expanded into the United States, the failed experiment yielded mixed results.

The Sacramento Gold Miners finished 6-12 in their first season, the Las Vegas Posse 5-13, the Shreveport Pirates 3-15, the Memphis Mad Dogs 9-9, the Birmingham Barracudas 10-8 and finally the Baltimore Stallions, who eventually became the current incarnation of the Montreal Alouettes and finished 12-6 in 1994 and 15-3 in 1995, winning the Grey Cup as an American club.

Being the third CFL team to play in Ottawa, the Rough Riders and Renegades preceding them, patience is key to the Redblacks’ survival in the league.

Jeremiah Johnson, Colin Kelly
Jeremiah Johnson and Colin Kelly celebrate a touchdown. Photo credit: Jean Levac / Ottawa Citizen

Despite a 2-16 record in their inaugural season, the Redblacks averaged 24,294.7 in attendance, 99.33 per cent of TD Place’s capacity, according to cfldb.ca. That ranks Ottawa sixth in average attendance, more than the Toronto Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That’s impressive. Now consider Ottawa is bound to improve upon their 2-16 season and they will certainly average more than a single sellout as seasons pass.

The 2015 CFL draft is expected to contain a strong crop, and with the Redblacks securing the first-overall selection, they’ll have a choice between a number of prospects who might upgrade their woeful defence, which was 26.5 yard-per-game worse than the second-last Saskatchewan Roughriders. Their eight-ranked offence leaves much to be desired as well, of course, and it’s generally a sound strategy to pick the best player available rather than attempting to fill individual needs. After all, that player can always be flipped for greater value if the situation calls for it.

All three of the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked prospects would be great additions to the Redblacks.

First there is Brett Boyko, the consensus top prospect of the draft, who is a hulking 6-foot-7, 310-pound offensive lineman. The left tackle from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, however, might be picked up in the late rounds of the NFL draft or as a free agent.

Next is Tyler Varga, a 5-foot-11, 224-pound running back. The Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute grad and four-time football MVP is not expected to be usurped as the top-ranked running back, as he is the only one in the position ranked in the top 20. He certainly wouldn’t be a bad option for the Redblacks, who ranked last in rushing yards.

Finally there is University of Manitoba wide receiver Nic Demski. The 6-foot, 215-pound top-ranked CIS player has been named an all-Canadian in each of his first three university seasons. He could also help bolster the Redblacks’ receiving yards-per-game.

In any case, a solid draft crop in 2015 will be crucial for the Redblacks’ current and future success. They won’t become a great team overnight, but building a solid foundation is the first step.

With well over 24,000 fans supporting them at TD Place, the Redblacks have reason to hold their heads high when they kick-off the 2015-16 season.