When CFL training camp begins on July 10th there will be 100 players stepping foot on the field at TD Place. The last time the Ottawa Redblacks were at TD Place was on November 1st 2019 for their 2019 CFL season finale against the Montreal Alouettes. This time will be much different, though. Not because of a global pandemic nor the new turf put down at the stadium but because of the changes made within the organization. Among the players set to start for the Ottawa Redblacks in 2021 only about half are returning from the 2019 squad while the others are new additions, fresh, new additions. For the casual fan it will be very tough to recognize the team come week one of the 2021 CFL season but those that have stayed in the loop will be very excited for the new look Ottawa Redblacks team. One person that has been behind the scenes in all of the moves for the Ottawa Redblacks and is very excited to see the team back on the field is Jean-Marc Edme. He said, “I’m excited to see it all. It is hard to pick and choose who exactly to watch out for this year because we have focused on every position. We have gotten better and we’ve focused on bringing in the best training camp roster possible.”
The majority of major Ottawa Redblacks changes came on the offensive side of the football. Bringing in a primarily new running back and receiver room to go around veteran CFL quarterback Matt Nichols the Redblacks’ offensive weapons will be very young going into 2021. The oldest receiver on the team is 29 year old RJ Harris while the oldest running back is Brendan Gillanders at 30 years old but Edme says, “We’re looking forward to seeing the young players come in.” He explained, “we signed a number of young players at all of the positions and those players coming in with the veterans we already have will be a good thing.”
One of the positions on the offensive side of the ball that is expected to be filled with young talent is the receiver position. After losing both Brad Sinopoli and Jalen Saunders to retirement recently and both Caleb Holley and Dominique Rhymes to free agency since the 2019 season the Redblacks have brought in numerous receivers, now hitting 22 total on the roster. Some young receivers to look out for that weren’t with the team in 2019 like RJ Harris, Jerminic Smith, DeVonte Dedmon, Rafael Araujo-Lopes, Wesley Lewis and Nate Behar were would be Ryan Davis, Michael Klukas, Daniel Petermann Jordan Smallwood, Kendrick Rogers and Joe Walker. The receivers have experience at the professional stage and have had success at the collegiate level making them viable for the Redblacks offence and Edme had mentioned, “We signed guys that fit LaPolice’s offence and that we think can make an impact for us.” Davis, a former Auburn receiver and the University’s record holder receiver as for receptions is a versatile receiver, similar to DeVonte Dedmon, Jerminic Smith and Anthony Coombs. He, Cortrelle Simpson, and Ervin Phillips have speed and have the skill set to be able to stretch the field after they catch the ball while Kendrick Rogers, Joe Walker, Amba Etta-Tawo, and Jordan Smallwood are bigger body receivers that have the ability to win the contested catches. The young group coming in should have some success and will surprise the casual fan alongside those coming back from the 2019 CFL season.
Along with the receivers, the Ottawa Redblacks have also improved heavily on the defensive side of the ball, at all positions. From Cleyon Laing, Stefan Charles and Davon Coleman coming in as defensive tackles and Stanley Maponga, Praise Martin-Oguike and James Crawford as defensive ends to Marcus Roberson, Abdul Kanneh and Don Unamba coming in in the defensive back field the Redblacks have made easy for defensive coordinator Mike Benevides to be excited to coach the 2021 Ottawa Redblacks defence. “Everything starts in the middle,” Jean-Marc Edme had said, “We’re built well in the middle with experienced and proven talent, helping the other pieces on the edge and in the backfield succeed.” In the backfield the Redblacks can find their 2019 MOP Avery Williams with their rookie of the year Jerod Fernandez as well as free agent signees Micah Awe, Don Unamba and Christophe Mulumba. They, alongside defensive backs Sherrod Baltimore, Randall Evans, Gump Hayes, Abdul Kanneh and Brandin Dandridge are bound to have success with the defensive line and coaches that the Redblacks have coming into the 2021 CFL season and should be given the recognition they deserve leading into the season.
The Redblacks deserve more recognition going into the 2021 CFL season, however that is not what they are seeking. They are seeking the opportunity to win games and be in the Grey Cup once again like they were in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Edme says, “We as a team have put a lot of work in to build the best roster possible this off-season, we believe we have done that and I’m excited to see the team play again.”