The Redblacks have signed four players to fill out their expanded practice roster. The CFL allows teams to expand their practice roster late in the year to help with any depth concerns for the stretch run of the season. Ottawa seemingly felt their defense was lacking depth at every level.
Rounding out the Defensive Depth
One of the four players that was signed as a result of this practice roster expansion rule, we reported on earlier this week, Sherrod Greene. Click on his name to find out more about him. Rather than rehash that here, I will focus on the three players that we didn’t talk about in that article. Those players are defensive lineman VanDarius Cowan, linebacker Tylar Wiltz, and defensive back Skyler Thomas.
VanDarius Cowan, DL, Maryland
At one point VanDarius Cowan was the number 2 linebacker coming out of high school in the state of Florida, he was also ranked 67th overall nationally. He would initially commit to and play for Alabama. Playing in 7 games for Alabama it became apparent he was nothing more than a depth piece at the school with players like Mack Wilson, Rashaan Evans, and Anfernee Jennings. With this in mind Cowan would transfer to West Virginia where he believed he had a better chance to start.
In 2018 he sat out the entire season due to NCAA transfer rules at the time, (aren’t you happy they changed that rule?), he would then start the 2019 season suspended for four games due to eligibility issues. When he finally got on the field for the team he played in two games collecting 6 tackles, 1 for a loss, and 1 sack before suffering a season ending injury missing the rest of the year. In 2020, he was faced with a covid shortened season, and again played in a limited amount of games. This time in just 4 games, he showed what he is capable of. He racked up 17 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
In 2021 he played in ten games, but he was relegated to a depth role, he had 15 tackles, 1 for a loss, and 1 sack after looking dominant in 2020 this was rather disappointing for the young pass rusher. He would ultimately transfer one last time to finish his career with Maryland. In 11 games at Maryland he held nearly the exact same role as he did his final year with West Virginia and put up paltry stats as a senior. This didn’t help his case for being drafted in 2023. In 11 games he had 13 tackles, 2 for a loss, and 1 forced fumble. He didn’t log a sack for the first time since he sat out the full season in 2018.
At 6’4 251 pounds for Maryland’s pro-day Cowan managed solid, but not spectacular numbers across the board. He ran a 4.86 40-yard dash, with a 1.71 10-yard split. A 7.28 three-cone drill, 28 inch vertical, and 16 reps on the bench press again were solid but didn’t necessarily surprise anyone. With a limited resume due to his injuries, transfers, and covid, and a pro-day that didn’t generate a ton of buzz, he went un-drafted, and unsigned after the 2023 draft. He now finds an opportunity in the CFL, where his skill-set seems to fit well with the style of play the CFL requires.
Tylar Wiltz, LB, Pittsburgh
Tylar Wiltz was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he played his high school football. Coming out of high school he originally committed to Southern Arkansas University. After spending one season there without appearing in a game he chose to take the JUCO route. He would move on to Independence Community College, where he saw his first collegiate action. In ten games versatile linebacker collected 46 tackles.
After the 2018 season he transferred to Missouri Southern University where he stuck for the next three seasons. His first year with the team he was coming off the bench as a rotational piece, but still managed to play in 10 games, with 2 starts. He managed 26 tackles. The following year he was elevated to the starting lineup, where he would excel. He would collect 186 tackles 4.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions over the next 22 games, all of which he started.
Finally after three seasons with MSU, he chose to transfer one last time to finish out his college career. This is how he found his way to Pittsburgh. As more of a depth piece, he played in 13 games. Starting 3 of those games he managed to once again have a solid season. He had 49 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 interception on the year. At his pro-day he measured out at 5’11 218 pounds before putting up decent numbers. Running a 4.72 40-yard dash, with a 1.59 10-yard split, and a 7.05 three-cone drill.
He also had a 36 inch vertical leap, and 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. While he would fall out of the draft entirely in 2023, the Pittsburgh Steelers invited him to rookie mini-camp. Wiltz is a solid fit at linebacker for the CFL. He is known for his ability in coverage, and this will prove to be an asset for Ottawa.
Skyler Thomas, DB, Liberty
The final player on this list is a familiar name for Ottawa fans. Skyler Thomas has been on and off the roster this season already. Originally from Washington State, he played in a total of 28 games in four seasons (did not play in 2020 due to covid). During his time at Washington State he collected 152 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 6 interceptions, 4 pass break ups, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 forced fumble.
He then chose to transfer to Liberty for the 2021 season following Covid 19. While at Liberty he had a decent year on his way to 55 tackles, 4 for a loss, 3 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 1 touchdown. At his pro-day he measured out at 5’8 184 pounds. He went on to run a 4.52 with a 1.64 first step. He didn’t participate in the bench press, but managed a 34 inch vertical leap, and a 7.38 3-cone drill.
His lack of top end speed may have hurt him in the 2022 draft class, but he still found his way onto the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent. However he didn’t see much playing time in the preseason which ultimately spelled the end to his stint with the Chargers. He played just 2 snaps, and logged 1 stop, and 1 sack. This wasn’t enough for the Chargers to keep him, and they let him go. This left him available for Ottawa to sign. He was originally signed in April of this season, and chose to return to the Redblacks when offered a spot on their practice roster. Skyler Thomas has a chance to develop into a quality player for the Redblacks if they give him a chance. He can after all play safety, or cornerback.
I am happy to see that Ottawa is taking their issues on defense seriously. We don’t see them sign four defensive players to the practice squad for no reason. This was a calculated decision to add depth, and bring in younger players to develop for the future. Ottawa has a history of doing this on a nearly year in and year out basis. Could these four players be the next wave of young talent to affect the Redblacks on game day?
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