The Ottawa Redblacks have made some moves in anticipation for this week’s matchup against the 3-4 Roughriders. Ottawa and Saskatchewan have traditionally given CFL fans hard fought battles and close games with the series between these two teams nearly split evenly.
With three players returning from the 6-game injured list Ottawa is receiving some much needed reinforcements.
Wide Receiver Bralon Addison
Wide Receiver Tevaun Smith
Defensive Back Justin Howell
Howell is a starter and expected to return to a secondary that is coming off of a five interception game against Hamilton. Howell has started 4 games this season logging 11 tackles.
Meanwhile on offense Addison and Smith have not appeared in any games this season. Smith has been with Ottawa for a while so his transition back to the field should be an easy one. Addison however hasn’t had a chance to take any live reps since arriving in Ottawa and may need a week or two to get up to speed before taking on a full role.
Practice Squad Roster Sees Some Movement
Heading into week nine of the regular season we have seen two players signed and two players subsequently released to make way.
With the health improving at wide receiver, Raphael Leonard became a luxury signing that was let go in favor of depth on the offensive line. With Leonard released Ottawa filled his roster spot by signing Canadian Offensive Lineman Eric Starczala.
Eric Starczala, Offensive Line, Guelph
Starczala isn’t a new face in Ottawa. In fact this is just the most recent in a string of transactions featuring his name. He originally signed in 2022. Spending the majority of his time on the practice roster. He returned in 2023 in the same capacity, until injuries and legal concerns left the receiver room thin.
This led Ottawa to release Starczala and bring in more depth at receiver. Now with Addison and Smith returning to the line up, Starzcala was needed for emergency depth once again. Originally drafted in 2019, by Toronto his professional career was delayed to finish out his eligibility at Guelph. In 2020 the CFL canceled their season ultimately leading to Starczala waiting another full year to begin his career.
Released by Toronto in late July, he didn’t find his next opportunity until the 2022 season when Ottawa brought him in. Clearly Starczala is on the bubble, and it’s likely we see his name on the transaction wire again if the Redblacks suffer a rash of injuries once again.
Tobias Harris, Defensive Back, Old Dominion
This move came as somewhat of a surprise. Harris is a rookie defensive back who spent his final season with Old Dominion as a starting cornerback. He played in 9 games collecting 33 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 12 pass deflections, and 1 interception. He also added 2 punt returns for 36 yards.
While playing for West Texas A&M Harris was heavily involved on special teams which could be a big reason he finds himself on Ottawa’s practice roster. Having lost Dedmon, their top cornerback Brandin Dandridge had been asked to step in as the primary punt returner, while appearing on kick return as well. While Dandridge has shown a knack for finding the end-zone so has Harris.
Harris playing in 34 games over four seasons scored seven touchdowns while playing primarily defense. With 53 kick returns he managed 1,160 yards, and 1 touchdown. On 61 punt returns he managed 804 yards and 2 touchdowns, more importantly this ball-hawk managed 17 interceptions for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Adding 162 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, .5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and an astounding 42 pass deflections it’s clear Ottawa just added a promising young prospect, and didn’t care if it meant losing some depth at linebacker where they saw key players return from injury last week. I personally will be keeping an eye on Harris, he could be a starter before we know it if he can flash his unbelievable ability to play the ball in the air.
Maurice Ffrench, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh
The Redblacks have added another receiver. Bringing in Maurice Ffrench a 5’11 200 pound wideout from Pittsburgh. At just 24 years old, French is still very young despite the fact that he graduated from Pittsburgh in 2019.
Originally listed as a wide receiver, as a true freshman Ffrench would play both ways lining up at defensive back due to injuries. He would play in 45 games during college, starting 22. He would show his versatility, and value on special teams along the way. Acting as a “wideback” he took 22 carries for 49 yards and 4 touchdowns while also racking up 156 receptions for 1,637 yards and 10 touchdowns despite the fact that he didn’t catch a single pass until his sophomore season.
Over his career he quite literally played all phases of the game and managed to collect a total of 27 kick returns for 652 yards and 2 touchdowns, 28 punt returns for 164 yards and 6 tackles. As a senior Ffrench had a career year catching 96 passes for 850 yards and 4 touchdowns, 9 carries for 22 yards, adding 5 kick returns for 94 yards, 27 punt returns for 166 yards as well as 2 tackles.
After falling out of the NFL draft, he signed with the Chiefs who kept him on the practice squad for two seasons. After that he had a brief stay with the Chargers ultimately being called up in week 9. He appeared on just one play in three games, a 17 yard kick return before being waived and re-signed to the practice squad. He would sign a futures deal, and compete for a roster spot with the Chargers all off-season before being let go in August.
He ultimately made the leap to the CFL with the Elks in 2023. He would start four games for the Elks before being let go in July. He caught 15 passes for 190 yards and 1 touchdown, as well as 1 tackle. He was not used in the return game. Now he resides on Ottawa’s practice roster. This is likely just a precursor to an inevitable move up to the active roster down the line.
Ottawa Redblacks Still have Work to Do
Ottawa is far from done churning this roster to fit their needs going forward. In fact I would venture a guess we could see more moves next week as more injuries occur, and players return to the line up. At 3-4, and just one game out of a playoff spot but having lost to Hamilton twice, it’s now or never for Ottawa’s playoff hopes. They need to string together some wins, while keeping their fingers crossed that Hamilton adds a couple more ‘L’s’ to their record.
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