What You Need to Know About The New Ottawa Redblacks Season
Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick (The Canadian Press)
The Ottawa Redblacks came up just short last season, losing the 106th Grey Cup to the Calgary Stampeders on the icy tundra of Commonwealth Stadium. Now seven months removed from the disappointing defeat, Ottawa is about to embark on a new season. Despite coming so close to their second championship in three years, the team isn’t exactly running it back.
What Has Changed, What Remains the Same
Free agency was a nightmare for Ottawa. The Redblacks lost quarterback Trevor Harris, running back William Powell, left tackle SirVincent Rogers and wide receivers Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer. There will be a new starting quarterback and several new skill position players with big shoes to fill.
What does remain largely the same, however, is a Redblacks defence that was impressive in 2018. Noel Thorpe took over as defensive coordinator last year and brought with him a versatile and aggressive approach. The Redblacks should be more comfortable in year two in Thorpe’s system, especially considering the fact that the defence retained 10 of its 12 defensive free agents this offseason.
More on what makes this Redblacks defence so exciting below, but the primary thing is continuity. Between keeping the bulk of last year’s unit and the amount of experience young and previously inexperienced players gained last season, this defence could make the leap to elite status in 2019. For the Redblacks to compete, this defence needs to be special.
An Improved Eastern Division
A team is only as good as its competition and the Eastern Division figures to be improved this season. The East still cannot hold a candle to the more talented and more competent West but it should be more competitive than last season.
The fourth-best team in the West has finished with a better record than the third-place team in the East each of the last three years, earning that Western team the crossover spot. That means the Eastern Division has only had two guaranteed postseason spots up for grabs the past three years. The trend figures to continue this season.
The Hamilton Ti-Cats were the Redblacks’ greatest competition in the East last season. They were far and away the division’s second best team but were handled by Ottawa throughout the season. The Redblacks swept the regular season series with the Ti-Cats 3-0 and then dominated them in the Eastern Final to win the division championship.
With Orlando Steinauer taking over as head coach, the Ti-Cats remain loaded on offence, competitive on defence and a popular pick to win it all this season. The Redblacks still have the East’s crown for now but Hamilton is shaping up to be a formidable foe once again.
Both the Alouettes and Argonauts figure to land somewhere around mediocrity. That is a far cry from where they performed last season, when Montreal finished with five wins and Toronto four.
Toronto seems to have a more defined vision heading into this season with a new head coach and a full commitment to James Franklin at quarterback. They also have playmakers on both sides of the ball that despite underwhelming in 2018, have the talent to give most teams trouble.
Montreal brought in some nice free agent pieces, including wide receiver DeVier Posey and defensive back Ciante Evans, but the drama surrounding the team ensues. The CFL has yet to find an ownership group to buy the team and head coach Mike Sherman was fired less than a week before the season opener. They were heading in the right direction it seemed this offseason but the Alouettes are back to being a complete question mark in the East.
Whether you haven’t been paying attention since the Grey Cup or are just joining RNation this year, here are some quick points to get you up to speed on the 2019 Redblacks!
5 Key Numbers:
1 missing offensive coordinator
Jaime Elizondo stepped down as the Redblacks offensive coordinator in early April to pursue a position in the soon-to-be XFL. He was the offensive coordinator in Ottawa for three seasons. Given the lateness of his resignation, the team did not fill its offensive coordinator role and will instead share the play-calling duties for this season. It is an interesting experiment but could lead to confusion early on in games.
2 new potential starting quarterbacks
Dominique Davis was with the Redblacks last season but was the team’s backup. Now with Trevor Harris gone, it is between him and newcomer Jonathon Jennings. Davis has been named the starter for this week’s season opener but do not be surprised if Jennings takes the starting role at some point this season.
3 bringing back the CFL’s #3-ranked defence
While the offence was overhauled, the defence was kept almost entirely intact. And what a defence it was last season. The Redblacks allowed the third least points against and forced the third most turnovers. With a deep d-line, a young and exciting linebacker core and a ball-hawking secondary, the Noel Thorpe led defence will likely need to deliver another great season to keep the Redblacks contenders.
4 straight years making the playoffs
The Redblacks have been the class of the East Division for several years now. After a dismal opening year, Ottawa has qualified for the playoffs in four consecutive seasons. Not to mention, they advanced to the Grey Cup in three of those playoff runs. Although many in the CFL world are discounting Ottawa’s chances this year and the East seems to have taken a collective step forward, the Redblacks have rightly earned the benefit of the doubt that they can make it five straight trips to the postseason.
5 of their first 6 games come against playoff teams from last season
Ottawa is facing a murderers’ row of opponents to open the 2019 season. Five of the Redblacks’ first six games come against postseason teams from 2018, including two against the defending-champion Calgary Stampeders. It is a brutal slate that will test a reworked Ottawa offence. On the bright side, R Nation will find out early on how this team stacks up and whether or not Dominique Davis can be QB1.