• By: OLM Staff

What Chris Ackie Brings to the Redblacks Defense

Photo credit: Johany Jutras

Well, in one word: versatility.

26-year-old Chris Ackie, who was acquired at last week’s trade deadline from the Alouettes for a second round pick in the 2019 draft, has been a force this season at linebacker as both a tackler and in pass coverage.

At time of the trade last week, Ackie was fifth in the CFL in tackles. He also has a sack, forced fumble, two interceptions and a touchdown in the 2018 season. That touchdown came against the Redblacks in fact. Ackie intercepted a deflected ball and returned it all the way for a touchdown in an eventual Ottawa victory.

Ackie’s athleticism was well known coming out of the University of Laurier. At the 2015 CFL National Combine, Ackie led all prospects in the vertical jump (40 inches) and set a combine record in the broad jump (10 feet, 11.5 inches). He was selected fourth overall by the Alouettes that year. Due to his combination of size and speed, he was moved from defensive back to linebacker in Montreal.

Ackie started 13 of 15 games for the Alouettes this season at weak side linebacker (WLB), a position dependent on versatility. A linebacker needs to be a tone setter in the middle of the defense, no matter which of the three spots he lines up at. Ackie has done that and more.

He has been a tackle machine with excellent pursuit of ball carriers in between the tackles and in the open field. Ackie led the Alouettes in tackles in two of their three wins this season; he missed the third with an injury.

Ackie has been fantastic in pass coverage as well, a necessity for playing outside linebacker in the CFL. The position requires a player’s ability to hold his own in matchups with wide receivers as well as running backs out of the backfield. Ackie, who was a coverage man as a Laurier Golden Hawk, showcased his coverage ability two weeks ago against the Stampeders.

Ackie was in zone coverage over the middle of the field. He read the eyes of potential Most Outstanding Player nominee Bo Levi Mitchell and jumped the route for his second interception of the season. It was a great example of patient and instinctive coverage skills.

That injection of versatility in the Redblacks defense comes at a perfect time. Not only are the CFL playoffs less than a month away, but Ottawa’s linebackers and safeties have been banged up in recent weeks.

Football is a war of attrition as a season goes along. Due to an injury to starting WLB Kevin Brown during the week and an injury to starting middle linebacker (MLB) Avery Williams in Edmonton, Ackie was forced in at WLB for the majority of the game in Saturday’s loss to the Eskimos.

Brown was added to the six-game injury list last week, joining the Redblacks’ top two safeties on the injury report: all-star Antoine Pruneau and rookie Justin Howell. Williams did not practice yesterday and remains a question mark for this weekend’s game, potentially leaving three open starting spots on the defense up in the air.

The injuries will likely force the Redblacks to juggle their linebacker and safety positions. JP Bolduc has started the past two games at safety but was burned badly last game by Edmonton receiver Bryant Mitchell on a 75-yard touchdown play.

The Redblacks have a ton of talent at the linebacker level, which was true even before they acquired Ackie, and it should give them roster flexibility down the stretch.

It is possible the Redblacks could shift starting strong side linebacker (SLB) Anthony Cioffi into the starting safety position and utilize Ackie, Kyries Hebert and Williams (if healthy) in the three linebacker roles moving forward. Cioffi played both strong safety and free safety during his college career south of the border at Rutgers. Even shifting Ackie to safety could be a possibility.

“Adding a National player with Chris’ skill set makes us a better football team and provides us with ratio flexibility for the remainder of the season,” said REDBLACKS General Manager Marcel Desjardins at the time of the trade.

Ackie being a Canadian, having experience on special teams and being familiar with Noel Thorpe’s defensive system seem to all be factors in the Redblacks’ interest in picking him up this late in the season.

Ackie spent three seasons with Thorpe as his defensive coordinator in Montreal. He also has the benefit of momentum as he is in the midst of a career year. His previous high for tackles in a season was 17. He now sits at 84 with three games to play. He could potentially be a rental for Ottawa, as Ackie is in the last year of his contract, but he joins the Redblacks at a place of need in a year that a Grey Cup run is in the team’s grasp.

We will certainly have a better understanding of how the Redblacks plan to use their linebackers long-term over the course of the next few weeks, which happen to be the year’s most important.

The Redblacks are tied at the top of the East Division with the Hamilton Ti-Cats, who they will matchup with over the next two weeks. They will first meet in Ottawa this Friday and then next Saturday in Hamilton to decide who claims the East’s regular season crown.

Matching up with Ti-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will be a test for the defense. The linebacker unit will have its hands full in coverage between the numbers, especially with Hamilton slotback Luke Tasker. Even accounting for Masoli scrambling out of the backfield as a rusher will be an important component to containing their offense the next two games.

Chris Ackie should play an important role for the Redblacks the rest of this season. His versatility as a player makes it uncertain at this point what that role will be, but it figures to be impactful.