This 2021 CFL season has been a tough one for the Ottawa Redblacks. Like the 2019 season, they got off to a hot start, opening the season 1-0 in Edmonton with a big defensive victory over the Elks going into a bye week, but since then, over the past 9 weeks of the CFL season they are 1-7. 9 games into the 2021 season the Ottawa Redblacks are 2-7 and the best they can do is go 7-7 and likely find themselves at second in the eastern division, and despite that looking impossible from a fan’s point of view and someone looking from the outside in, that is exactly what the Ottawa Redblacks will be striving to do.
To be able to close out the 2021 CFL season on a good note and even go 5-0 potentially to finish the season with a 7-7 record a lot has to go right, and a lot has gone right for this Ottawa Redblacks team already this season, except a lot has gone wrong as well. Some of the things that have gone right and are looked at to be positives for the 2021 Ottawa Redblacks would be the discovery of offensive weapons Caleb Evans, De’Lance Turner and Ryan Davis, Mike Benevides’ defensive management and Bob Dyce’s electric special teams unit.
At the top of the list, and something all of R-Nation has been talking about for the last couple of weeks is the discovery of their new favourite quarterback Caleb Evans. Starting off his professional football career off strong, Evans had thrown for 191 yards and 3 scores while even running for an additional 59 yards in his CFL debut against the Edmonton Elks in an Ottawa Redblacks win. He has since struggled over the last two games, throwing a total 4 interceptions but has still had a number of bright spots and the hiccups are expected out of a fresh out of University 23 year old rookie quarterback. Over the last two games he has continued to help the run game excel, running for 64 yards in Montreal on just 5 carries on Monday, and in Toronto last Wednesday he was able to throw the ball well. Eventhough he has the four interceptions over the last two games, Evans surpassed the 300 yard marker in just his second start in the CFL against the Argonauts, throwing for 334 yards. He has been able to connect with his playmakers on a number of occasions, and will continue to do so as they look to run with what works in this Paul LaPolice led Ottawa offence.
What did work in the Redblacks’ last game against the Montreal Alouettes on Monday who they play once again on Saturday at TD Place was the run game, led by running back De’Lance Turner. Turner, in his CFL debut, after a successful career at Alcorn State University and 12 games played in the NFL split between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins was able to run for 71 yards on just 10 carries and has an additional 15 yards on 3 receptions. With 86 yards of offence gained on just 13 touches in his very first game as an Ottawa Redblacks running back, after watching the run game struggle with both Timothy Flanders and Justin Davis leading the pack, it is clear that the run game can be established now, and with big play potential, runs of 16, and 28 in his debut Turner will need to get more touches to help move the ball and score points most importantly.
On the defensive side of the football, Mike Benevides has also been doing an exceptional job as the Ottawa Redblacks defensive coordinator and the defence has been a bright spot and a positive for the most part of the season. He has done a very good job working with the front seven, getting 6 sacks on Montreal Alouettes’ quarterbacks a week ago and running a defence to help Avery Williams, and Micah Awe to have outstanding seasons at linebacker, Williams leading the league with 62 tackles and Awe comes off of an 11 tackle performance, sitting at 50 on the season. The secondary has had its ups and downs due to the injuries of both Abdul Kanneh and Sherrod Baltimore which had been suffered earlier in the season, however with them back in the lineup and Brandin Dandridge getting three interceptions in his first three games played of the 2021 CFL season, there may be a turning point in this defensive secondary and the last 5 games may be the best 5 we’ve seen by this Mike Benevides’ defence, especially coming off of a 6 sack performance a week ago, this may just be true.
Also a large part of any success that the Ottawa Redblacks have had this season would be Bob Dyce’s electric special teams unit. Like every year, the Redblacks kicking game has been hitting on all cylinders. Of course there has been some moments, like 3 missed Lewis Ward kicks and a blocked Richie Leone punt that have hurt the Redblacks, however the field position that Leone’s punts have put the opposing offences in this season has helped in a big way for Benevides’ success with his defence and without Lewis Ward’s field goals, Ottawa would be shut out of a number games this season. Not mentioned yet, but has been likely the biggest positive that has come out of this 2021 CFL season for the Ottawa Redblacks would be the return game of DeVonte Dedmon. In just 8 games this season Dedmon leads the league in all-purpose yards with over 500 yards more than the next best player on the list. He has over 1,500 yards returning as well as 150 plus on offence along with 2 return touchdowns and a rushing score. Clearly he has been a game changer for the Ottawa Redblacks and has put Caleb Evans and the Ottawa Redblacks quarterbacks in good field position every time he touches the ball. If he continues at the rate he is at right now there is no questioning he will be the CFL special teams player of the year and will have an opportunity in the NFL for 2022 at just 26 years old.