Looking forward to the 2022 regular season now that the preseason is in the books. How did the Redblacks fair, and were two games enough to build the necessary chemistry? In the offseason, the Redblacks attacked the free agency market with an aggressive nature. Whether it was signing players on the offensive or defensive side of the ball they spared no expense.
Coming off a 3-11 season in the 2021 season, everything was on the table for the 2022 version of the Redblacks. On December 17th, 2022 they announced the hiring of new general manager Shawn Burke. Burke, formerly of Hamilton immediately tapped his Ti-Cats roots to bring in a group of free agents.
Starting with the Quarterback Position
The Redblacks went out and signed the most prominent free-agent quarterback in the 2022 offseason, Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli had spent the 2021 season helping lead Hamilton into another Grey Cup Appearance. They’re second in as many seasons. Masoli also happens to be a long-term CFL veteran that immediately solidifies their quarterback position. More importantly, this means Caleb Evans gets a chance to continue his development behind Masoli for the next couple of seasons.
Evans is the number two quarterback here by default. After being the starter in 2021, last season’s rookie didn’t play well enough to lock down the position. However, the Redblacks haven’t given up on him yet which is why Masoli was signed. Bringing in a veteran short-term option, at quarterback will allow them to take their time developing Evans before he sees more action. Worst case scenario he is a capable back-up, best case scenario he replaces Masoli as the starter in two years when he is slated to hit free agency once again.
Tyrie Adams is the third-string quarterback here, but he is a very low-risk high-reward option as your third quarterback. In my opinion, Adams outplayed Caleb Evans this preseason. This should have led to a depth chart shake-up. The comfort level with Evans was simply too much for Adams to overcome right away. However, the dual-threat QB from Western Carolina could eventually unseat Evans if he continues to perform this well in limited snaps in practice. I could see a situation where he is used in other roles as well. Similar to how Edmonton is using Trey Ford.
At running back bringing back William Powell was a strong move. Powell is a guy who has played at the highest level and can help push his teammates to perform at that same level. The 33-year-old back still has a lot of gas in the tank, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackson Bennett see his fair share of carries given his preseason performance as well.
Bennett is a jack-of-all-trades in the CFL. He has played RB, and DB, and helped out on special teams. He will continue to add value on the special team’s units, but his true value is as a change of pace back to Powell in the backfield. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit a career-high in carries this season behind Powell with his previous career-high being 29 carries in 2019 with Hamilton. Bennett was a part of the group that followed GM Shawn Burke.
Gillanders is listed as a running back but he primarily plays a fullback style role. However, headed into the 2022 season the Redblacks are currently carrying two other players listed as fullbacks. 2019 was a career year for him in terms of offensive production. He was targeted 17 times in the passing game catching 16 of them for 97 yards, including 93 of those yards coming after the catch. He also managed 23 carries for 94 yards or just over 4 yards per carry.
He would also manage to add another 14 special teams tackles. This would prove to be his third season with double-digit tackles on special teams. He has a total of 60 tackles and 1 forced fumble. This displays exactly why the Redblacks have kept him on the roster since 2016. He contributes in multiple ways every season. At 5’11 211 lbs, he is far from the kind of size you want at fullback.
Williams is the fourth string back on the depth chart currently behind Gillanders. Williams is a very small running back, at 5’9 170 lbs. He will likely see most of his work coming in the passing game given his size. However, while in college at Southeastern Louisiana, he was a large part of the running game as well. He collected 222 carries between the 2018-2019 seasons.
On those 222 carries he produced 892 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 4 yards per carry, and 38.8 yards per game as a runner. In 2019 he displayed why I think he will be used primarily as a pass catcher. He would catch 68 passes for 571 yards and 3 touchdowns. This put him at 1,170 all-purpose yards offensively. He didn’t stop there, also contributing on special teams. He added a total of 28 returns for 415 yards and 1 touchdown as well. Williams reminds me a lot of Kavonte Turpin who is doing a bit of everything for the Generals of the USFL.
Marco Dubois is penciled in as your starter at the position. At 6’5 227 lbs this man likely would be playing tight end in the NFL if he were to be signed. He has carried the ball just 1 time in his 3 season professional career. It resulted in 1 yard.
At the same time, in the passing game as a receiver, he has been targeted 13 times catching 9 for 74 yards. He produced 47 yards after the catch and averaged just over 8 yards per reception. Neither Dubois or Gosseling offer the ability to affect the offense or special teams like Gillanders does.
Gosselin is a 2017 second round pick by the Redblacks. Despite standing 6’1 251 pounds, he managed to put up the top 40 yard dash time at the CFL Combines for the running back position. He managed a 4.73 40 yard dash to take the lead. Definitely not the type of speed or size you typically see running with the ball, unless you’re Derrick Henry.
Gosselin has been sticking around the roster for years in Ottawa. Despite spending the past four seasons in the CFL with the Redblacks, Gosselin has no carries in his career. He has been used solely as a receiver being targeted 10 times catching 9 for 42 yards, including 34 of which came after the catch. Again I think if this were the NFL I believe Gosselin would be playing tight end and not fullback, with Gillanders much more closely resembling a true fullback in terms of role, than these other two men.
Moving on to the Wide Receiver Position
At this spot the Redblacks had brought in a host of names to round out their depth chart. With final cuts done and over with, a few of those men didn’t make the cut. The most surprising move of them all was he release of BJ Cunningham. Cunningham was signed away from Montreal this past offseason, and looked like he would be a big factor. Instead the Redblacks move on from the veteran.
He wasn’t the only wide receiver released. Seantavius Jones, and Brandon Arconado were outright released while they placed another three receivers on the practice squad. The most prominent name being Keaton Bruggeling, who impressed this preseason. Also on the practice squad are Anthony Mahoungou, and Siosi Mariner.
These cuts definitely defined the receiver room a lot more than it was this offseason with so many new faces coming to the team. However, despite the 6 receivers that are no longer on the active roster, the Redblacks still decided to carry eleven receivers with Ryan Harris landing on injured reserve.
Darvin Adams, and Jaelon Acklin are your top two receivers. Adams was signed away from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers where he had spent the last 7 seasons, Acklin was one of the men who followed Shawn Burke from Hamilton. Both of these guys are solid receivers, but Adams is a couple years removed from a big season.
Behind the top two we have RJ Harris, and Shaq Johnson. Last season despite catching 9 fewer passes, Harris led the team in reception yards in 2021. Davis, the man currently on IR led the team in receptions with 55 for 589 yards. Johnson spent his first 5 seasons with the BC Lions. He signed with the Redblacks this offseason. Johnson managed 48 targets, catching just 30 of them for 295 yards and 0 touchdowns. He is an interesting choice to be so high on the depth chart, but we will see exactly how things shake out long term.
Nate Behar is a big reason why I’m surprised to see Johnson this high on the depth chart. Behar is a former first round pick in the 2017 season with Edmonton. He played in Edmonton until signing with Ottawa prior to the 2019 season. Behar set career highs in receptions and yards, with 38 receptions for 439 yards. Two interesting things to note here about Behar, one of which may be affecting his status on the depth chart.
First Behar actually has averaged more yards per reception year over year since joining the CFL. This seems to suggest that as he develops as a player, he is being trusted more and more downfield. This could also be a symptom of him producing more separation, or knowing when to modify routes to get open.
However on the flip side of things, an aspect of his game that may hold him back from more of a role in the passing game is his catch rate. One would assume, as a receiver matures, catching the ball would become more and more natural. In Behar’s case he actually had the highest catch rate of his career in 2018 his second season in the league, and first with a major role on offense. He caught under half his passes in year 3, and rebounded slightly but still didn’t top a 60% catch rate last season. Meanwhile, Johnson has stayed extremely consistent around 62%, peaking in 2019 at just under 70%.
Noell falls right about where I had expected. He will see some time on the offensive side of the ball, but his true value as a player in Ottawa is on Special Teams. He has collected 79 special teams tackles, 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown, and has returned kicks in the past as well. He developed a solid role in the offense with Toronto before moving on to Ottawa. The thing with Ottawa is they addressed the wide receiver position in bulk this offseason, and Noell had one of the lower target counts among the gr
Low Risk High Rewards Round Out the Roster
Tevaun Smith tried his hand at the NFL, despite being a first round pick by Edmonton in 2016. He ultimately would sign with Edmonton for the 2019 season and remain for 2021 as well. Moving on to Ottawa in 2022. The season away from the game seemed to affect his performance in 2021, so I am anxious to see where his target share is by season’s end. Opening up the season on the 6 game injured list is less than ideal.
Terry Williams is penciled in fairly high in the pecking order at slot back. They must have liked what they saw last season when he produced 10 punt returns for 90 yards, and 10 kick returns for 169 yards in 2 games. The 26 year old pass catcher, likely could see some carries as well to try and get him involved in other ways.
Justin Hardy is very intriguing from the CFL perspective. Hardy was a 4th round pick in the NFL, he had five fairly successful seasons in the NFL with Atlanta. Ultimately after a coaching change prior to the 2021 season, Hardy was not resigned. He would move on to the Bears, but only spend time on the practice squad. He didn’t receive interest from the NFL after that, so instead he takes his 73.1% catch rate in 2020 to the CFL, where he instantly becomes one of the more sure handed receivers.
In one of the more surprising cuts, 2021 interception leader Trumaine Washington was let go. The Redblacks brought in many new faces in the secondary, but I don’t know that anyone saw Washington being the odd man out here. However, they didn’t stop there:
DB Tenny Adewusi
DB Jordan Beaulieu
DB Douglas Coleman
DB Marloshawn Franklin
DL Deonte Holden
DL Will Kiely
DL Weston Kramer
DL Clement Lebreaux
DL Jhaustin Thomas
LB Subomi Oyesoro
LB Terrance Smith
The Redblacks decided to carry just nine defensive backs on the active roster across all different alignments. They did keep four more on the practice roster, but it was somewhat of a surprise that they didn’t opt to keep at least ten on the active roster, with Treshaun Abrahams-Webster on the six game injured list.
Looking at the linebacker position there is a only one starter returning to this unit from the 2021 season. That man is Avery Williams the middle linebacker. Williams is a man who came out of Temple in 2017. He has now been with the Redblacks since his rookie season, and has been performing ever since.
Stepping in where Micah Awe left off, Adam Auclair should be the starter on the weakside. Auclair is a prototypical weakside linebacker. At 6’2 223 pounds, he is capable of running with most tight ends and running backs. His brother is also a football player, currently with the Houston Texans. Showing that Adam has the requisite talent to play in the CFL as a starter.
On the opposite side you have Patrick Levels coming over from Montreal. Originally starting his career with Calgary back in 2017, he played sparingly, seeing a lot of time on special teams. He would sign with Montreal in 2019. The former Alouette has been an extremely solid performer in the 2019 and 2021 seasons racking up 128 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 touchdown. The Redblacks are counting on him solidifying the strongside of their defense, they can if needed cheat some help over to Auclair’s side.
The depth at defensive end will immediately be tested. They signed Kwaku Boateng away from Edmonton. The 6’2 257 pound national player, has racked up 25 sacks in four seasons. He was brought in for his prowess as a pass rusher, and will be counted on to come back strong when he returns from the six game injury list.
Luckily for fans of the Redblacks, the team has solid depth at defensive end. Ottawa was hoping to pair Praise Martin-Oguike and Boateng to wreak havoc on the opposing quarterbacks this season. Eventually they will get that opportunity, but to start the season it looks like Martin-Oquike will be the man expected to lead the way.
The men in line to pick up Boateng’s snaps are former NFL player Lorenzo Mauldin, and returning Redblacks Kene Onyeka, and Nigel Romick. I expect Mauldin to get the first crack at the starting position. No matter who gets the call off the bench first, I fully expect all three of these guys to play a lot of snaps to start the season. If one of these guys can set themselves apart before Boateng returns they will be able to earn starter level snap counts as the 3rd DE filling in when needed.
Interior Defensive Line
Davon Coleman and Cleyon Laing will pair together as the starters in 2022. However, there is literally no depth behind them. Not on the active roster, or the practice roster. It will be interesting to see what they do to fill out the interior line with the season nearly here. Coleman and Laing combined for 7 sacks in 2021, and that was a solid performance, but I am concerned about the depth here. The rest of the defensive linemen on the roster are too small to kick inside on a regular basis.
Regardless of how you break it down this Redblacks roster may have had some surprising cuts, but ultimately they have a roster built to compete this season. With many veterans performers leading the way. My biggest question about the squad is if chemistry will come right away, or if it will take a couple weeks to get going. I was more worried about the team when there was the potential of missing the preseason due to the impending strike. With the CFL figuring out the CBA just days before the season starts, Ottawa might have been the biggest winner of the offseason.
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