The Ottawa Redblacks have been very active this offseason, rounding out their roster in an effort to improve upon their abysmal win total in 2022. While they have made many key moves that should add value to this roster, there is still work to be done. With months left before the season kicks off, this team is far from complete yet, so expect more moves to come the closer we get to summer. I also look for Ottawa to shore up as many needs as possible, allowing them flexibility in the draft where they hold the top overall pick.
R.J. Harris Retiring
The Redblacks have now lost three veteran players to retirement this offseason alone. First it was Antonie Pruneau, then it was Brendan Gillanders, now it is Rj Harris deciding to hang it up. All three players were pending free agency, and all three decided it was time to call it a career, rather than possibly leave the Red and Black in 2023.
Harris in particular is a crushing blow to this offense. Originally leaving college after the 2014 season, Harris spent two seasons with the New Orleans Saints before taking his talents north. Since those first two years in New Orleans, Harris spent his entire career with Ottawa. Playing with the team from 2017 to 2022. He began his time in Ottawa as one of the top targets on the offensive side of the ball.
He would a combined 110 passes for 1,468 yards and 4 touchdowns. However since a career high in receptions and yards during the 2019 season, his play has begun to fall off, with his role within the team following the same path. After the 2020 cancellation, Harris returned to the Redblacks hoping to regain his footing with the CFL.
He had a solid, but not spectacular season for Ottawa, catching 46 passes for 595 yards and 0 touchdowns. At this point, these were career lows for Harris in the CFL, and it unfortunately was just foreshadowing how 2022 would end for Harris. Returning to the Redblacks with a newly rebuilt roster around him, Harris likely felt reinvigorated.
However 2022 would end about as rough as you could expect for the veteran wideout. Once the premier member of the receiver corps, in 2022, injuries forced him out of the lineup after a 5 game stretch that saw him collect 17 receptions for 175 yards. Harris looked like he was on his way to another solid season, but injuries stepped in the way and derailed this train. I would imagine these nagging injuries were a huge factor in his decision to retire and walk away from the game on his own terms. The 31 year old former player can now begin his post playing career knowing he gave football his all.
R.J. we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors enjoy your retirement.
Davon Coleman, Back Again
Coleman is the definition of a CFL veteran. Originally getting his start in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, Coleman made the leap to the Canadian game after the 2016 season. After bouncing around to three different practice squads over the next four seasons, also spending time on the Cowboys active roster, had exhausted all of his practice squad eligibility. This fact led him to turn his attention north and jump to the CFL. First he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the 2017 season. His first season with the Tiger-Cats solidified his status within the CFL quickly. Teams instantly took notice of the recent American Acquisition knowing he would be a free agent soon.
As a CFL “rookie” Coleman put up an impressive season. Playing in 17 games, he collected 41 tackles, and 5 sacks. His ability to push the pocket from the interior of the defensive line allowed other players to do their damage as well. Adrian Tracy, Justin Capicciotti, and Simoni Lawrence all had 6 or more sacks on the year, while countless others had their fair share on their way to 48 as a unit. After the season, BC pounced, and brought Coleman to the Lions. He would have a career year in his first season there.
He racked up 56 tackles, 7 sacks, and 2 interceptions, leading him to return the following season. Fast forward a couple seasons, and Coleman joined the Ottawa Redblacks in 2021. He had suffered through two injury plagued seasons allowing him to suit up in just 14 contests for BC, and Toronto. Ottawa took a chance, hoping Coleman could get healthy and return to his pre-injury form. While Coleman has never matched the heights he saw in BC, he has been a solid performer for Ottawa. Over the last two seasons Coleman has played in 28 games with 48 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 touchdown.
With Coleman, I’m not concerned if the Redblacks truly ever get the pre-injury Coleman, but if we could get a full season from him in 2023, I would consider that a win. He missed several games in 2022 following a rather solid start to the season. Earlier this offseason he had been released, but was re-signed after about two months on the market. It’s an interesting situation to watch play out, I have to question if Ottawa thought they could find an upgrade over Coleman, and when they didn’t, they simply brought him back in.
Deandre Lamont, Defensive Back
Deandre Lamont spent the last 6 years in college. Beginning with Central Arkansas, he redshirted as a freshman before entering the lineup the following season. He played sparingly in his redshirt freshman season, appearing in just 4 games. As a redshirt sophomore that all changed when he began to be counted on more and more.
In 2019 Lamont was moved into the lineup, and allowed to play in 13 games with 6 starts. He collected 46 tackles, and 1 interception. In 2020, despite covid, Central Arkansas was able to play 8 games. Lamont started 7 of them, and had a career year. With 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. His final season before moving on to Illinois State, proved to be another great year for Lamont. He played in 11 games with 8 starts. He collected 65 tackles, and 2 interceptions.
Moving on to Illinois State in 2022, he would showcase his ability to do more than just cover. Setting career highs with 68 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble. He also tacked on 4 pass deflections, 1 pick six, and 3 tackles for a loss. He has played both cornerback, and safety while being asked at times to operate like a 4th linebacker on the field in run situations. During an interview with NFLDraftDiamonds.com, Lamont said he would like to sit down and pick the brain of Charles Woodson, who began his NFL career as a cornerback a position he played for 11 seasons, before shifting to safety a position he played for 4 more seasons.
Lamont is still eligible to be drafted in the NFL Draft next week, but if he should go unselected, the Redblacks will likely bring him up to compete in training camp. This amounts to a low risk, high reward signing, almost an extension of their 2023 rookie draft class.
Skyler Thomas, Defensive Back
Skyler Thomas attended Washington State University, but transferred to Liberty University in 2021, playing cornerback, and safety at 5’9 185 pounds. Beginning his time as primarily a cornerback, he would redshirt in the 2016 season. In 2017 he stepped on a college football field in a regular season game for the first time appearing in two games for the school collecting 4 tackles, and 1 for a loss. In 2018 he finally got a chance to play more often.
Appearing in all 26 games over the next two seasons Thomas was able to put up two solid seasons before moving on to Liberty. During these two seasons he collected 148 tackles, 3 for a loss, 11 passes deflected, 6 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. His final season with the school was far and away his best year with career highs in passes deflected (7), interceptions with (4), and fumble recoveries (2). He was always found near the ball.
Missing the 2020 season could have been a small blessing in disguise for Thomas. He was able to come in and learn the playbook for a full year before being asked to step into the lineup. With Liberty it was more of the same, he played in all 13 games but saw a small dip in statistics after that stellar last season for Wash State. This time he collected 55 tackles, 4 for a loss, 3 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown. This meant Thomas graduated having produced 8 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, 14 passes deflected, 7 tackles for a loss, and 2 touchdowns scored. Not a bad way to wrap up a college career.
Unfortunately Thomas didn’t seem to attend the combine, and during his pro-day the only drill he participated in was the vertical leap. He posted 34 inches. After the draft concluded he would sign a undrafted free agent deal with the Los Angeles Chargers of the NFL. He wouldn’t log any statistics, but this got his foot in the door of the professional world. This also directly helped lead him to the CFL opportunity he now receives. Thomas is a guy I expect could be a huge contributor after learning the Canadian Game. I am surprised we didn’t see him surface in the USFL or XFL given how recently he played in the NFL.
Depth at Wide Receiver to be Tested, Defensive Line Looking Stout, More Depth at DB
While Harris was not healthy for much of last season, and didn’t make the impact he would have liked, he was still a valuable contributor who averaged over 3 receptions per game while healthy last season. Someone will have to pick up that slack on offense, the Redblacks have no shortage of receivers, and talented ones at that. With Darvin Adams, RJ Harris, Shaquille Johnson, and Ryan Davis, all moving on to other teams, this offense is suddenly lacking reliable players around Jaelin Acklin. Someone will need to step up and fill this void. My thought is Lemar Durant, Justin Hardy, and Shaq Evans will get the first chances to do so, but I expect that the Redblacks also address wide receiver in the draft. Similar to how Montreal picked up a couple wideouts a year too early, rather than a year too late.
On the defensive line the Redblacks currently have 17 players listed on their roster after the move to bring back Coleman. Davon Coleman is just a piece of this puzzle, while he is expected to be a big time contributor in 2023 once again, I would expect we see a healthy rotation at the interior of this defensive line. Lorenzo Mauldin coming back to Ottawa was a huge victory for the team. Despite the fact that Mauldin was not new to the CFL, he certainly burst on the scene in 2022. Having played for Hamilton from 2019-2021, he managed to collect 4 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Last season alone he had 17 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in what amounted to the best season of his professional career by a long shot. Prior to his 2022 season with Ottawa, he had just 10.5 career sacks spanning back to 2016. Safe to say he found the defensive scheme that best utilizes his skill set.
At defensive back, the versatility, and depth is growing by the week. Assuming Lamont actually comes up north and doesn’t end up on an NFL roster somewhere, he should be a great fit, and a huge asset for this defense given his college production. The same could be said about Thomas, both look to have potential to make it at this level. However neither will be gifted a roster spot. Defensive back is now particularly deep for the Redblacks with 22 players on the roster currently listed as defensive backs. Some of these guys will not make the opening day roster, or practice squad. The question here is who will set themselves apart from the rather large pack?
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