With the regular season finally over the Ottawa Redblacks have a lot of work to do for 2023. This past off-season they assembled what can only be described as a super team on paper. Unfortunately, that super team turned into a disaster very quickly when the most important piece of the puzzle, Jeremiah Masoli, was injured. Where do the Redblacks begin, and will this off-season bring a new approach as a new coaching staff is hired?
Step One: Determine the Direction
A coaching hire can change everything for a team, especially if the new coach would prefer to bring in his own staff. Suddenly this team could look completely different overnight as the new head coach opts to do a clean sweep and hire all new assistants. Many different candidates make sense here.
The main deciding factor in my mind would be their thoughts on the quarterback position. The Redblacks currently have five quarterbacks with two of those men, impending free agents.
Jeremiah Masoli – returning from injury
Caleb Evans – 2021 starter – impending free agent
Nick Arbuckle – added mid-season – impending free agent
Tyrie Adams – played minimally in final week of season – practice squad player
Dustin Crum – rookie NFL cut – practice squad player
Coaching Changes Create Questions at Quarterback
What the next coach decides to do here is huge. Masoli was brought in to stabilize the position and provide a proven veteran for Caleb Evans to learn from. Masoli signed a 2 year deal with the thought that maybe by the time his deal was up, Evans would have developed enough to take over once again. Instead, we saw Masoli get hurt after a less-than-stellar performance. Evans was reinserted and flopped.
This led to the Nick Arbuckle trade. It was clear the team wanted a veteran presence under center. The only problem with that is Arbuckle simply couldn’t get into a rhythm. He would play in 12 games attempting 308 passes. He completed 70% of his passes but threw 4 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, adding 2 rushing touchdowns as well. The team rotated back and forth between the two men for most of the season.
Dustin Crum was added after being released by Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs in final cuts. The Redblacks brought him in on the practice squad to develop alongside Tyrie Adams another American quarterback. Crum is coming from the NFL with no previous experience with the Canadian game. He didn’t get any action in-game, but I would keep an eye on Crum if he doesn’t attempt to return to the NFL this off-season.
Tyrie Adams was inserted in the lineup for the final regular season game. He played very well and showed that his time on the practice squad served him well. Adams is another guy to watch, his background in indoor football prepared him for the similar route concepts and high motion in these two styles of play. He could be someone who watches his stock rise depending on which coach is hired.
Masoli to Start?
On the surface, it would appear that Masoli would return to his starting job no matter who the coach is. General Manager Shawn Burke is still there and was instrumental in bringing Masoli in, due to their shared ties with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
With this in mind, maybe taking a look at Tommy Condell makes sense. Condell was hired as the Tiger-Cats offensive coordinator in 2013 the same year Masoli signed. During the next 3 seasons, Hamilton appeared in the Grey Cup twice and led the league in points scored in 2015. Condell resigned after the 2015 season for personal reasons.
He would return to football in 2017 in Toronto spending 3 seasons there winning a Grey Cup in 2017. He returned to Hamilton in 2019 serving as the offensive coordinator once again. For the next three seasons, Condell and Masoli worked hand in hand. Masoli would sign with the Redblacks this off-season and Condell stayed with Hamilton. While this season didn’t go as planned, it wasn’t that long ago that Masoli and Condell helped lead the Tiger-Cats to a league-leading 551 points and a Grey Cup appearance.
The Redblacks’ offensive problems don’t stop at the quarterback position. They will need to address their entire backfield this off-season. The Redblacks as a team produced the second least rushing yards in the league, despite averaging the fifth most attempts. This led to a league low 4.5 yards per rushing attempt, and second lowest rushing yards per game at just under 86 yards per game.
This has to change, you can’t expect your passing game to carry the run game all year long. If it were me I bring back Bennett, and Gillanders, but allow Powell to walk. Powell needs to be replaced by a younger option. Preferably a bigger back. The run game will be taking a hit if Caleb Evans leaves as well, he ran 88 times for 354 yards and 16 touchdowns this season quickly becoming the go to option in the red zone.
William Powell was the starting running back, and is an Ottawa fan favorite, but at 34 years old he missed the majority of this season due to an injury. He didn’t make his debut until week four and was re-injured in week nine. He wouldn’t appear in a game again until week 18. On the season he produced 80 touches for 361 yards and 1 touchdown. However, he only signed a one-year contract last season and is an impending free agent.
Behind him was the “Jackson of All Trades” Jackson Bennett. Bennett has played offense, defense, and special teams during his professional career. He was signed to play running back for the Redblacks. Bennett was highly effective averaging 4.7 yards per carry on his 50 totes.
He would also serve as a solid receiver catching 15 of 18 targets for 86 yards, and adding 8 kick returns for 160 yards. He would finish the season with 73 touches for 480 yards in 14 games. Bennett is a guy I would like to see the Redblacks bring back. His ability to add value on special teams as well as offense is invaluable.
The most effective of the bunch was the 5’9 170 lb, DeVonte Williams. The rookie back had 90 carries in just 8 games, totaling 454 yards rushing, he also helped the passing game with 27 receptions on 33 targets for another 159 yards. He is the one lock on this depth chart to be back in 2023 if he doesn’t receive interest from the NFL. Ottawa should do everything it can to get him more involved in 2023.
Brendan Gillanders is a fullback/running back. He totaled 6 touches for 26 yards and 4 tackles on special teams. He is one of those players that every team needs to have. When needed he adds depth as a running back, he can also add value on special teams, and as a lead blocker on offense. He is also an impending free agent.
Despite these four names if I’m a betting man, I’d bet that we see Burke address running back this offseason fairly early. Whether that’s in the draft, or free agency remains to be seen. I’m very curious if they retain any of their free agents at the position.
Every player listed as a fullback is currently headed to free agency. Marco Dubois, Anthony Gosselin, and Brendan Gillanders all are on expiring contracts. In my eyes this is a position group that isn’t broken so why try and fix it? However I’m saying this without knowledge of the next coach’s scheme, fullback could be a position that doesn’t exist in the next offense.
This could be a position group that sees a lot of attrition. With seven impending free agents, it would be a fool’s errand to expect all these men to return. With Darvin Adams and Shawn Johnson being the obvious priorities. I expect quarterback and receiver to be two position groups that the Redblacks eye heavily in the drafts.
Also potentially headed to free agency are: Nate Behar, Ryan Davis, Rj Harris, Tevaun Smith, and return man Devonte Dedmon
The line has five current free agents and two men I believe the team will attempt to lock up are Ucambre Williams and Darius Ciraco. These men were counted on heavily in 2022 and I expect them to be a big part of the plans going forward. Turning a cold shoulder to the offensive line would be career suicide for Burke this off-season. These two men aren’t the only names that could test free agency after a rough season.
Also heading toward the open market are: Hunter Steward, Randy Richards, and Dino Boyd. While Williams and Ciraco might be the priorities here, Steward is the next in line. Dino Boyd played in 15 games this season and is likely someone the Redblacks would like to hold onto. Richards was signed last season after two seasons away from the game due to a brief retirement and covid 19. It will be interesting to see if they attempt to retain him this off-season.
Lorenzo Mauldin needs to be a priority for the team to resign. He racked up 17 sacks in 2022 his first season playing in the CFL. The Redblacks defense needs his presence on that line again in 2023 if the NFL doesn’t come calling again.
Davon Coleman is a free agent for the second straight season. For the second straight season, Coleman put up 4 sacks as an interior lineman. Pairing with Cleyon Laing another free agent to form a pretty nasty duo inside. Laing has back to back 3 sack seasons.
Keene Onyeka racked up five sacks this season and now hits free agency with an elevated stock. The third year end put up just 2 sacks last season and has played his entire career in Ottawa I could see him returning.
Kwaku Boateng was the big free agent signing last off-season for the defensive line. He ended up getting injured before the season began and didn’t appear in a game in 2022. He has 25 career sacks in just four seasons which is definitely production the Redblacks could benefit from if healthy. I think he will be an interesting name to watch this off-season.
The losses may not stop there either. With Praise Martin-Oguike, Cleyon Laing, and Nigel Romick also headed toward free agency. Something tells me we see a rush of defensive linemen being resigned before free agency begins. This year’s group of free agents, combined for 34 of the 47 sacks by the entire team in 2022. This was one of the relative strengths of the team during a terrible season. If I was Burke, I would be focused here first and foremost.
Last season’s leading tackler Williams had 94 tackles in 2022 despite playing in 18 games this season. This was a drop off from his 2021 numbers when he had 89 tackles in 13 games. Williams is the heart and soul of the defense. If anyone is priority number one it’s Williams.
Salmon was a key contributor on special teams and a role player on defense. He produced 23 defensive tackles, 15 tackles on special teams, 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles. He is a guy who is young and working his way into the starting lineup slowly. I expect the team to try and bring him back in 2023.
Griffin was a solid contributor defensively last season with 34 tackles, in just 8 games. He played in 8 games for Ottawa last season as well producing 8 defensive tackles and 5 special teams tackles. The previous coaching staff had a plan for him in place. It will be interesting to see if the team tries to bring him back.
This position group could be scary after free agency and not in a good way. Every player the Redblacks counted on in 2022 will hit the market this off-season:
The Redblacks have a lot of work to do defensively before the 2023 season if they have any hopes of being competitive. No position group requires more of that work than the secondary. Eight different members are currently heading to free agency, and just four others are under contract on the active roster. Perhaps younger players like Jeremiah Baltrip, Edris Jean-Alphonse, and Darius Williams will become necessary pieces to the roster puzzle in 2023.
Every member of the special teams is set to hit free agency. Punter Richie Leone, Kicker Lewis Ward, L.P. Bourassa the long snapper and return man Devonte Dedmon. Another group that could see some new faces if the new staff isn’t happy with the performance in 2022.
Lewis Ward to his credit should be retained. He converted on 86% of his 57 field goal attempts in 2022 converting 25 of his 27 point-after attempts. He is headed into his 5th season all in Ottawa with a career conversion rate of just over 88%. As a rookie, he missed just 1 field goal in 52 tries.
Punter Richie Leone is also headed into his fifth season with Ottawa but 7th overall. He has been a solid punter with a career average of 47.7 yards per attempt. However three of his four seasons with Ottawa he has averaged 46.4 yards or less. He has yet to reach the heights he experienced with BC where he averaged over 49 yards per attempt for two seasons.
Devonte Dedmon averaged 13.4 yards per return nearly 3 1/2 yards more per attempt than any other player who returned a kick or punt this past season. Dedmon is by far the best return man north of the border and the Redblacks surely know this. The question is how valuable is a good return man? In my opinion, a man of Dedmon’s caliber in the return game is a unicorn. They don’t come around very often, and you want to make sure you hold on to them when they do. I would be trying to sign him to a multi-year deal.
With a four-win season in the books, I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see a large amount of turnover this offseason. The fun won’t truly begin until they fill their coaching vacancy. Then we will see exactly how the team intends to shape its roster under the new regime.
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