The Redblacks preseason began on Thursday night with the team cruising to a 27-7 win over the Montreal Alouettes. This victory, only their fourth in their last eleven tries at TD Place, has established, well, not much at all, but it did give a few glimpses of change.
Redblacks Preseason Revealing Changes
Developing any projections or specific team-wide analysis from a preseason game where the roster and scheme are in constant flux is a exercise in futility. Defences tend to bring a vanilla scheme and offensive production is inhibited by prospective quarterbacks simply not knowing the unique tendencies of 10-12 different receivers.
With that said, we saw enough this past week to realize that these are not the 2017 Ottawa Redblacks in terms of defensive attitude and overall scheme. New defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe had his fingerprints all over the Alouettes game and pulled back the curtain just enough to allow us to see what he has in store for the opposition this season.
The Redblacks struggled greatly last year in bringing pressure, in part due to a belief that the young secondary would not be able to respond when the quarterback was able to escape the onslaught and hit his check-down. Thus far, the team are showing a slicing and dicing defensive front with multiple stunts that freed up, amongst others, the boundary and field half’s, safety and Will linebacker to assault the Alouette backfield on Thursday. In one third-quarter foray, halfback Corey Tindal got in so quickly he could have accepted the hand-off himself.
Former Alouette, Micheal Klassen, and NFL journeyman Bruce Gaston dominated the A-gap, and, at least for a night quelled any fears of being unable to replace Zach Evans. The secondary showed some confusion when Alouette quarterbacks Wily and Shiltz escaped the rush, but those are areas that will be quickly addressed in the film room.
The 2017 Redblacks were in the bottom of the league in takeaways and have made many comments in camp regarding their commitment to turning this around. Their actions back up those words as they attempted to strip on every tackle and were a threat to ball security all night long. Incidentally, it was punter Richie Leone who not only made a touchdown-saving tackle, but produced a fumble during that same takedown.
Offensively, as was expected Alex Mateas started at centre. Jon Gott was moved to right guard, a position he played in Calgary prior to joining the Redblacks in 2014 and establishing himself as the heart of the offensive line. With Nolan MacMillan, who had occupied the right guard spot last year, still not participating in camp, Gott seems to be pencilled in as the starter. Yet, when Macmillan returns the Redblacks will have to make an interesting decision.
While early reports seem positive, the air went out of TD Place when Trevor Harris was writhing on the ground merely eight and half minutes into the first quarter. Dominique Davis showed flashes of speed and an ability to set the defence on their heels in a touchdown drive that saw him go for 6/6 for 70 yards. If the Redblacks can continue to refine this read-option package for Davis it would go great lengths to allowing them to change the flow and dynamic in-game by putting Davis in for a series or two.
Ex’s and Oh’s
- It was nice to see a local product and University of Ottawa alumnus Lewis Ward go 4 for 4 on field goals with lots of friends and family in attendance. The Redblacks have Ward, Richie Leone and Sergio Castillo in camp, but Ward is the only national player in the group. His performance makes it easier for the Redblacks to keep him for FG’s and Leone exclusively for punting. Leone is a punting specialist while his FG kicking has been inconsistent at best. Castillo can handle both but is still plagued by injury and carrying two international kickers, while possible, would constrain the Redblacks ratio flexibility.
- Receiver RJ Shelton separated himself from the crowded group of aspiring receivers with his work on special teams. He had two punt returns for 47 yards, but it was the threat he showed in the returns and his speed to the edge that brought the faithful out of their seats. By making a mark on special teams Shelton gives the coaching staff a reason to keep him around, that and you can’t coach speed. He also had three receptions for 26 yards.
- Manitoba Bisons product, Teague Sherman continued to build on his resume as a ball hawk. His forced fumble in last nights game added to 6 forced fumbles in 49 games along with two blocked kicks while with Winnipeg. He is showing why the Redblacks thought he would excel in Thorpe’s defence. His signing was a by-line on the CFL transaction sheet but the importance of a National, depth secondary player with a nose for the ball cannot be overstated.
- 2018 4th overall pick, Mark Korte, who played predominately at left tackle during his time at the University of Alberta took over at centre from Alex Mateas. He struggled in the shot gun with many high and low snaps. Considering the depth the Redblacks have at centre it was a curious move, but the best way to see the measure of a man is to throw them right into the fire.
The Redblacks get back to work on Saturday preparing for their last pre season tilt against the Toronto Argonauts at the University of Guelph on Thursday, June 7th. The Argos rested the majority of their starters against Hamilton on Friday so the Redblacks should expect a tough test against the defending champs. With a bye in week one of the regular season, Redblacks Head Coach Rick Campbell has stated that in the midst of evaluating new talent he wants the veterans to get significant reps in both pre-season games as they have an extra recovery week.
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