The 2021 CFL season kicked off last Thursday in a 2019 Grey Cup re-match between the reigning champions the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger Cats. This was followed by three other games over the weekend, including the last one for week 1 at 10:00 eastern on Saturday, featuring the newly named Edmonton Elks who were hosting the Ottawa Redblacks. Ottawa brought the victory back home to the capital in a 16-12 defensive win, thanks to the likes of defensive back Abdul Kanneh, kickoff returner DeVonte Dedmon and the coaching staff who put the team in the best situations throughout the game, but eventhough they came away with the win, and they are 1-0 it is clear that they have some more work to do.
If Abdul Kanneh doesn’t get two interceptions, one going for a touchdown and/or make that game saving tackle with one second left in the game, the Redblacks are 0-1. DeVonte Dedmon and the kickoff/punt return team helped Ottawa’s offence on multiple occasions get into good field position for 3 Lewis Ward field goals, but if those returns were only 5-10 yards instead of 26 and 24 yards like his longest ones in the game, the game could have been much different and the Redblacks are completely aware of that and do not want to lean on the defence or special teams to be the ones making the plays always.
Following the victory on the road, the Ottawa Redblacks have been scheduled a bye week, meaning they do not play in week 2 of the 2021 CFL season, but just because they don’t play a game doesn’t mean they can’t improve and continue to work. Head coach Paul LaPolice, who like the majority of the coaching staff other than Bob Dyce and Patrick Bourgon is new to the organization this season made the decision to have two practices during the bye week. They practiced both Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 through 12:50, making up of 4 hours and 40 minutes of field time on a bye week for the team to regroup and get ready for next week’s game week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on the road at Mosaic Stadium on the 21st.
In the game against Edmonton, the Redblacks’ passing game was close to being non existent. Quarterback Matt Nichols didn’t have a bad outing by any means, completing 12 of 20 attempts, however the completions went for just 71 yards. The offence struggled to move the ball consistently during the game, gaining just 127 yards of offence all game but that is something that can be and already has been worked on in practice in Ottawa. Nichols has been completing deep passes in practice, and connecting on throws to a variety of different receivers, including Ryan Davis who looked to be his favourite target in the season opener. Davis caught 6 of 7 targets for 33 yards while running it once for 6 yards and returning a kick for 22 yards. He also was found returning a punt for a touchdown on a lateral pass from DeVonte Dedmon which eventually was called back after the command centre called it an illegal forward pass. Davis, R.J Harris and Jordan Smallwood should remain starters moving into week 3’s game against the Roughriders but some names to keep eyes on if they are able to make their way into the offence would be DeVonte Dedmon who of course is the team’s kick return specialist but has experience at slot receiver, and could be a great utility player in the Redblacks offence, very similar to what Canadian slotback Anthony Coombs can do when he is healthy. Coombs dressed for the week one game in Edmonton and saw some action, however didn’t get his hands on the ball after being taken out of the game due to an injury he’s been nursing since training camp. Canadian receivers Nate Behar and Daniel Petermann also played in week one and each can deliver some big plays to the offence when their names are called, but the biggest names to keep eyes on from the offensive side of the ball would have to be running backs Timothy Flanders and Justin Davis.
If you know anything about football, you would know that establishing a run game is crucial if you want to win games. The Redblacks were held to just 56 rushing yards on 16 attempts in the season opener. Flanders had 11 carries for 39 yards, which was enough to move the ball here and there but with an 8 yard run as the longest on the day, it wasn’t enough to bring a much needed spark to the offence. Flanders has continued to take reps at running back and looks to be the starter moving forward, however with Brendan Gillanders suffering a leg injury from the game in Edmonton, there is a slight chance we see Justin Davis get some reps as well. Davis is a speedy and agile running back out of the University of Southern California who spent time with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL. He’s someone that can bring an extra spark to the Redblacks’ offence, and at just 25 years old, he, alongside Ryan Davis who is 24 years old and DeVonte Dedmon who is 25 could be seen as a part of the Ottawa Redblacks’ future plans. Considering Timothy Flanders’ last game was in the 2018 CFL season, and has missed out on over two years of football, he is likely just getting started this season and R-Nation should expect to see him move the ball more efficiently in week 3’s game in Saskatchewan, so keep eyes on that as well as the status of running back Brendan Gillanders, because if he isn’t able to go next Saturday against the Roughriders, we may be able to see the first of Justin Davis in red and black.
After Thursday’s practice as well, the Ottawa Redblacks released both Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Brandon Hitner while signing defensive back Jordan Beaulieu, receiver Wesley Lewis and defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka who played his collegiate career with UCLA and Miami.