The Ottawa Redblacks have added three players to their practice roster in preparation for their week 17 bout with Montreal, and beyond. Some of these names are familiar to fans, and some could end up released again in the future. Others could be long term contributors getting their foot in the door with the franchise late in the 2023 season.
Currently there are 12 players on the injured list who did not practice or were limited on Tuesday. This includes four offensive linemen; Drew Desjarlais, Hunter Steward, Dontae Bull, and Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, two linebackers; Jovan Santos-Knox, and Gary Johnson as well as four wide receivers; Jaelon Acklin, Nate Behar, Siaosi Mariner, and Shaq Evans all of which have been key contributors in the past.
Eric Starczala and his On-Again, Off-Again Relationship
Starczala is locked in an on-again, off-again relationship with the Redblacks. He has been signed and released several times this season alone. He is hoping this is his last time this season, allowing him to remain on the roster into the 2024 season. However Starczala has been a bubble player since joining the Redblacks and I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. If you would like to learn more about Starczala check out his break down here. There have however been a lot of injuries along the offensive line, if they don’t heal up quick he could see game reps sooner rather than later given his knowledge of the offense.
Jon’Vea Johnson WR, Toledo
Johnson is a unique case of a player with the physical makeup and production to attract interest from not one, not two, but three leagues and multiple teams along the way. Originally he pursued the NFL signing with the Dallas Cowboys after going undrafted in 2019.
He stood out in OTA’s with Dallas, but went on to struggle during the preseason games before landing on injured reserve. The Gary, Indiana native played in all four games catching 8 passes for 73 yards despite being targeted 18 times. Quarterbacks had a 32.9 QBR when targeting him.
He returned to Dallas in 2020 but this time he didn’t appear in the preseason games and still ended up in the practice roster. He signed a futures deal after the 2020 season but was released in March of 2021. He was immediately claimed by the Jaguars who kept him until June before moving on. Then about a month later Chicago signed him. He would end up on the practice squad after catching 3 of 4 targets for 19 yards. He lasted with Chicago until November.
Transition To Alternative Options
Johnson waited nearly a year before signing his first CFL deal with Montreal in August of 2022. He again did not see action in any regular season games but remained on the practice squad for the entire season. Heading into 2023 Johnson was signed by the Memphis Showboats about 2 months after the CFL season concluded. However he never made it on the roster for Memphis. He was released just before the season began.
This left him weighing his options, so he looked back to the CFL signing with Hamilton. He originally signed on May 5th, before being released on June 2nd. Two weeks later he was brought back for a week on the practice squad. Since being released June 20th he’s been available, but the question is what does he bring to the team? It’s been five years of bouncing around for Johnson without a single regular season appearance, how long can he continue his career without this changing?
Luckily for Jon’Vea he has never been in a better position to see in-game reps than he is right now with four wide receivers hurt currently, Johnson will be taking meaningful reps all week in practice which, if he takes advantage of could lead to a call up for week 17. Luckily for the Redblacks they do have one more bye week coming up soon as well.
Vosean Joesph LB, Florida
Joseph is yet another interesting case. Joseph was a 5th round pick by the Bills in 2019. He graded out poorly in his first action that preseason with an overall grade of 26.9. Ironically that score would have been much worse if not for the fact that he looked really good on 3 pass rush snaps grading out 74.1. Missing 2 tackles along the way didn’t help.
After this his career was quickly derailed in Buffalo. He would end up released in final cuts a year later after not appearing in the preseason this time. After he was let go he disappeared..no more NFL interest, and his first CFL contract didn’t come until 2022. The ironic part about this is the fact that he was regarded as a potential future starter by draft experts in 2019.
Since then he has been a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing as a rotational linebacker and on special teams. Over the last two seasons he collected 16 tackles, and 1 sack, 12 of his tackles coming on special teams. This is somewhat of a long shot but at one point his potential was highly regarded, so at worst this is a low risk high reward signing that they can move on from if necessary. Given the injuries at linebacker it seems the Redblacks are prepared to bring Joesph in strictly for depth at linebacker.
However if I am the Redblacks coaching staff, I might consider trying him as a at least a part-time pass rush specialist this season. During his career at Florida, the 6’1 230 pound linebacker did most of his damage on the opposing side of the line of scrimmage. As a Junior during his best season he produced 9 tackles for a loss, and 4 sacks. Totaling 14 tackles for a loss in 30 games.
Keep in mind that Ottawa has a similar player currently in Bryce Carter. Carter stands 6’1 253 lbs. Why not tell Vosean to bulk up the rest of this season, and prepare for a role as a pass rush specialist in 2024? In my humble opinion his athletic ability bodes well for the defensive end position. It certainly can’t hurt, something has to improve in the pass rush category by next season after a dramatic drop off due to the change in schemes.
Educated Guess on the Fit and Value of these Players
If I had to guess, our best chance for an immediate impact is in fact Vosean Joseph. He could dress next week due to his value on special teams alone, but I expect him to learn the defense this week before being utilized the rest of the season on defense and special teams. I still strongly encourage Ottawa to look at him as a full-time pass rusher but only time will tell how he ends up fitting in the defense. Betting on the young former NFL draft pick to figure it out is a safe choice, and one I expect to pay off.
The other two players are guys I view as strictly late season depth and bubble players here for a purpose, but both could be gone as early as next week. Jon’Vea Johnson might want to consider taking his talents to Europe, Mexico or the AFL to get on the field in the regular season. That could be his last shot to solidify his spot with a team in the CFL.
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