When the Ottawa Redblacks won the 104th Grey Cup in Toronto over the 15-2-1 Calgary Stampeders their defensive secondary was their best asset. The defensive secondary that year consisted of defensive backs Forest Hightower, Mitchell White, Jeff Richards, Jonathan Rose, Abdul Kanneh, Jerrell Gavins, Nick Taylor and Antoine Pruneau. They forced league MOP Bo Levi Mitchell to throw three interceptions and 13 incompletions, including the final pass of the game which now Ottawa Redblacks defensive back Sherrod Baltimore watched on ESPN2 in the states as a free agent. He says coming into the 2021 CFL season with the opportunity to play with Antoine Pruneau and Abdul Kanneh who were among that 2016 group, “I’ve got the upmost respect for Dooley (Kanneh) and Pruneau because I watched them in 2016 before I got up to Ottawa. When I came to Ottawa I told coach Ike (Charlton, former Redblacks DB coach) that I wanted to be a part of that team because they were making plays, I don’t know what that secondary was and coming here in ’17, Abdul was gone but Pruneau was here so I studied the game from Pru and asked him millions of questions.”
Like that 2016 Redblacks defensive backfield, the one coming into the 2021 CFL season that Baltimore is now a part of following his 3 seasons in Ottawa has plenty of potential and lots of expectations as well. The backfield has Abdul Kanneh and Antoine Pruneau coming back from the Grey Cup run in 2016 as well as Sherrod Baltimore, Randall Evans, Gump Hayes and Brandin Dandridge who were in Ottawa in 2019 but have also added free agents this off-season Don Unamba and Marcus Roberson. Looking at the majority of those names, a lot of those resonate with CFL fans across the country and have made some key plays in the past. Pruneau, who has been a part of the Ottawa Redblacks franchise since day one in 2014 has played in 93 regular season games, making over 375 tackles and forcing more than a bakers dozen of turnovers is in for a bounce back year following some injuries he suffered in the 3-15 season in 2019 while Don Unamba and Abdul Kanneh look to become fan favourites in the nation’s capital as well. Unamba and Kanneh have each played over 70 regular season games over their CFL careers, Unamba making 228 tackles, 11 sacks and forcing 14 turnovers, returning two for touchdowns and Kanneh making 252 tackles, 7 sacks and forcing 21 turnovers. The two are well experienced defensive backs alongside Antoine Pruneau who often make other veterans feel very young in the Redblacks’ secondary. Baltimore said in Saturday’s media availability, “Theres so much experience out there, even me (after playing 3 years in the CFL) I’m still growing myself better everyday and I still feel like I’m the youngest out of the group.”
All in all though, Sherrod Baltimore is extremely excited to be a part of the 2021 Ottawa Redblacks defence, and he believes they have the right mentality moving forward into the season which starts on the road August 7th against the Edmonton Elks. “Its an honour to be a part of this secondary.” he said, “They bring the best out of me everyday; our expectations are high. Dooley (Abdul Kanneh), Pruneau, Unamba, everybody, we want to win the grey cup period. We want to be the best defence point blank.”
Baltimore himself has played in 42 regular season games since the 2017 season in which he won the team’s rookie of the year award and has made 95 tackles, 2 interceptions has forced and recovered one fumble. He has also intercepted two passes in the playoffs including a Grey Cup interception in 2018 against Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders but is yet to reach his peak performance in the CFL. Since joining the team in 2017 he hasn’t been given the best of opportunity on the defensive side of the ball, having been placed on the practice squad even following a rookie of the year performance in 2017 by defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe but now with Mike Benevides in charge of the defensive group and with a great group around him, Baltimore could really have a breakout season in 2021. He will also be playing alongside defensive stars Avery Williams, Cleyon Laing, Micah Awe, Davon Coleman, Stefan Charles, Avery Ellis, and Jerod Fernandez who headline the Redblacks’ front seven and headline what could be the best defence in the league this season.
Watch out for Sherrod Baltimore and the Ottawa Redblacks defence as they look to make that impact they have in mind, going to the 2021 Grey Cup in Hamilton.