Recapping the Ottawa Redblacks’ free agency acquisitions; did they fill every spot on the roster?

This off-season, the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks’ front office has been very busy and focused on building the roster that can bring their franchise back to the promise land. After winning just three games and missing the playoffs in back to back seasons, it was more than necessary to make some changes. First it was general manager Shawn Burke coming in with the new look front office, then it was the new players coming in, creating a whole new identity for the Ottawa Redblacks’ 2022 CFL season.

One of the first moves, and what some would say was the biggest move made by the Redblacks was signing veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. It wasn’t a move that had to be made. The Redblacks could have easily went with Caleb Evans for the 2022 season, but they didn’t. Masoli, a 33 year old veteran quarterback in the CFL had thrown for 2,445 yards and 10 touchdowns in 9 regular season games in 2021 with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. A receiver that hauled in a number of his passes in 2021 was Jaelon Acklin who was also signed by the Redblacks.

Acklin, who caught 108 passes for 1,386 yards and seven scores over the last two seasons was just one of 9 major additions on the offensive side of the ball. Receivers Darvin Adams, B.J Cunningham and Shaquille Johnson look to be top targets for Jeremiah Masoli while running back William Powell will help move the ball down field on the ground and offensive linemen Jacob Ruby, Darius Ciraco, Hunter Steward and Ucambre Williams will give support for Masoli in pass block and make holes for Powell to run through. The Redblacks also have receivers R.J Harris, Ryan Davis and Nate Behar coming back from 2021 as well as offensive linemen Dino Boyd, Jakub Szott and Ketel Asse so with a mix of players coming back, and players coming in to Ottawa, the team looks ready to take on all challenges on the offensive side of the ball. It’s always hard to make any predictions without seeing the team on the football field, but after watching the Redblacks in 2021, and seeing who they’ve brought in thus far this off-season, it may be a good idea to keep eyes on sophomore receiver Ryan Davis as he approaches his breakout season. The run game, led by William Powell will also be something to watch as it has been something missing in the nation’s capital for a couple of seasons now, but with veteran receivers Darvin Adams, B.J Cunningham, R.J Harris, Nate Behar and Shaquille Johnson around Davis in his second season in the CFL, coming off of a rookie of the year and an offensive player of the year performance in 2021, the career receptions record holder at Auburn is in for a breakout year in Ottawa.

On the defensive side of the football, the Redblacks were already pretty solid in 2021. Defensive coordinator Mike Benevides did a tremendous job leading the Redblacks defence, and now with Shawn Burke bringing in a couple of new faces to the defensive side of the ball, it’s obvious that the defence will only look better. Expect the Redblacks secondary to look like the best in the CFL. With Sherrod Baltimore, Randall Evans, Abdul Kanneh, Antoine Pruneau, Justin Howell, Jordan Beaulieu, Ranthony Texada and Treshaun Abrahams Webster coming back from 2021, the Redblacks could already field a starting unit. Add in new faces Trumaine Washington, Money Hunter, Patrick Levels and Ty Cranston on top of that list, it gets even better. As for the front seven, right now the Redblacks have Avery Williams, Cleyon Laing, and Davon Coleman coming back as starters in 2021 and then Kwaku Boateng and Lorenzo Mauldin IV have been signed to start on the defensive line as well. You can also expect Shaheed Salmon and Adam Auclair to step up from their linebacker positions in 2021 if Micah Awe doesn’t land in the NFL. One player to watch on the defensive side of the ball would be Sherrod Baltimore. Baltimore has been a huge part of the Redblacks defence since the 2017 season when he won the team’s rookie of the year award. The last couple of seasons he hasn’t had the right opportunities to play to his full potential. Whether it was injuries or limited playing time, there has always seemed to be a barrier in front of him. In 2022 there isn’t anything in his way. With Mike Benevides in charge of the defence, and star defensive backs Abdul Kanneh, Trumaine Washington, Money Hunter and Randall Evans around him, he is set to have a big year. Just take a look at his 2018 season when Jonathan Rose and Rico Murray were playing alongside him. He had 2 regular season interceptions and 2 post season interceptions, including one in the Grey Cup against Bo Levi Mitchell. Imagining what’s possible in 2022, with him being more developed as a football player and with an even better group around him potentially, should have R-Nation excited for what’s to come.

Sherrod Baltimore (27) of the Ottawa RedBlacks before the CFL game between the Ottawa RedBlacks and the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field in Toronto, ON, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

Sure, the Redblacks have signed a boat load of players, and some of them are big names, but don’t expect them to run the show in 2022. What is seen on paper is not always what is seen on the field. The Redblacks kickoff their 2022 CFL season on May 27th as they host the Toronto Argonauts for their first pre-season matchup.

J.P Cimankinda, Khadeem Pierre among Ottawa football players invited to CFL combines

Over the years we have seen a large growth of football talent in the nation’s capital. There has simply been a lot more football players make it out of Ottawa recently, than ever before. A couple of names coming out of Ottawa and making it into the pros in football this year that can back up that fact would include Jesse Luketa, Luiji Vilain, Katley Joseph, Liam Dobson, Chris Fournier and Patrice Rene who are all ready to attack the NFL if the opportunity comes up. Also set to become professional athletes, from Ottawa originally, or guys that played in the city for University would be J.P Cimankinda, Khadeem Pierre, Tristin Park, Jonathan Eduoard, Keaton Bruggeling, Sandor Mod, Frednick Eveillard, Chris Ciguineau, Bryan Latouche, Michael Pezzuto and Zachary Pelehos who have all been invited to CFL combines this year.

Of those on the list, the biggest may just be J.P Cimankinda. Cimankinda is an Ottawa raised, 6-foot-1, 225 pound running back coming out of the University of Ottawa. He is coming off of a good season in 2021 where he had 426 yards on 76 carries in a limited number of snaps along with 221 additional yards in two playoff games. As a proven power back with speed at the collegiate level, Cimankinda has a lot of potential moving into the pros, and with eligibility remaining to play more at the University of Ottawa, there’s a chance he stays one more year and then makes his impact in the CFL.

Then there is Khadeem Pierre, a 6-foot-1, 190 pound defensive back originally from Ottawa and now a former Concordia Stinger. In 2021 he made 30 total tackles and had one interception with the Stingers and is ready to make his mark in the CFL in 2022 with whatever team wants to show interest in him.

The CFL combine season will kickoff on March 10th and will conclude at the end of March before the May 3rd CFL Draft filled with talent.

Redblacks add on to their free agency frenzy, sign Byron Marshall and Jhaustin Thomas

This off-season the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks have been by far the busiest team in the CFL. It has seemed as if every single day they have made a move to improve for the 2022 season. On Monday, the team made two more moves in addition to their busy off-season. They signed American wide receiver Byron Marshall and American defensive lineman Jhaustin Thomas.

Byron Marshall, a product of the University of Oregon is a dual threat, running back, receiver and kick returner. At 5-foot-9, 215 pounds he was the first player in PAC-12 history to record a season with 1,000 yards rushing and then 1,000 yards receiving. Over his time spent at Oregon as a running back, and then a receiver he had over 3,600 all-purpose yards and scored 27 touchdowns on 423 touches. He then played in 13 NFL games where he did similar things, playing a role as a backup running back and receiver as well as kick returner of the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. In those 13 games he gained 420 yards on 56 touches. With DeVonte Dedmon in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, it is expected that Marshall comes into Ottawa to battle for the return job and a dual threat offensive weapon alongside Terry Williams. Marshall likely comes in as a connection from Shawn Burke, as he was signed by the Hamilton Tiger Cats last off-season, and is actually the brother of former Tiger Cats running back Cameron Marshall.

Jhaustin Thomas also has Hamilton connections, having spent time on the Tiger cats practice squad in 2021 after playing the 2019 CFL season with the Toronto Argonauts. With Toronto, the 6-foot-6, 275 pound defensive lineman made 14 tackles and a sack. The 28 year old comes to Ottawa behind both Cleyon Laing and Davon Coleman at defensive tackle but might find himself a spot on the roster for 2022 if he has a good training camp.

The two signings on Monday aren’t major by any means, but they could be good in the long run. Fans should be excited to see what Byron Marshall has in store for the Redblacks. If he is anything near the kind of player he was at Oregon, it may be fun to watch him play with the bigger field at TD Place.

Ottawa Redblacks add B.J Cunningham and Trumaine Washington, re-sign Pruneau; a look at 2022’s 1 on 1 battles

This off-season, the Ottawa Redblacks have improved heavily. Newly hired general manager Shawn Burke has made a great first impression in the nation’s capital, and has done so by not only signing a new franchise quarterback, but an entire team around him as well. Some of the areas where he has brought in a lot of talent thus far this off-season have come at both wide receiver and defensive back.

Giving Jeremiah Masoli some weapons, Burke has re-signed and will be bringing back 2021 Redblacks receivers R.J Harris, Ryan Davis, Nate Behar and Jordan Smallwood but has also added Darvin Adams, Jaelon Acklin, Shaquille Johnson, B.J Cunningham and Llevi Noel from free agency. The Redblacks top 7 receivers; Darvin Adams, Ryan Davis, Jaelon Acklin, R.J Harris, B.J Cunningham, Nate Behar and Shaquille Johnson all combined for 305 catches, 3,815 yards and 13 touchdowns in their 2021 seasons. Bringing all of that together into one room can be a great move by the Ottawa Redblacks. It gives a solidified number one receiver in Darvin Adams, and a big competition between the rest to figure out who plays which role on the offence. Ryan Davis is a true NFL talent and the Ottawa Redblacks are lucky to have him back in 2022. He may just be the number two receiver, and develop into being a primary target for Masoli while Jaelon Acklin, B.J Cunningham and R.J Harris all play major roles in the receiving core as well as Canadians Shaquille Johnson and Nate Behar.

The great group of receivers for the Ottawa Redblacks coming in for the 2022 CFL season will also be going head to head with some extremely talented defensive backs at practice. Among the positions improved this off-season, Shawn Burke and the Redblacks front office went out and signed a good group of help in the defensive backfield. Coming back from 2021 is Sherrod Baltimore, Abdul Kanneh, Randall Evans, Justin Howell, Antoine Pruneau, Jordan Beaulieu, Ranthony Texada and Treshaun Abrahams Webster and coming in for the 2022 CFL season will be newly acquired defensive back Trumaine Washington who led the CFL in interceptions in 2021 with the Edmonton Elks, Money Hunter and Patrick Levels.

These additions at receiver and defensive back not only make up of some great one on one battles in Ottawa but also some great training camp battles to make the team. If you know anything about the CFL, you would know that no job is guaranteed. With all of these veteran signings, and the mix of young talent in Ottawa, it can be interesting to see what the Ottawa Redblacks final roster looks like in 2022. If that competitive mindset and environment stays throughout the season, it should bring the best out of each and every player on the team, making the Redblacks a true contender for the Grey Cup in Saskatchewan.

Analyzing a busy week in the nation’s capital; which of the Ottawa Redblacks’ moves will have the biggest impact?

The talk around the CFL as of lately has been surrounding the Ottawa Redblacks. Since general manager Shawn Burke was hired in December its as if everyone wants to come play in the nation’s capital. They have been signing players left, right and centre for the past week now, clearly showing improvements from the 2021 CFL season, but which of the moves made will leave the biggest impact on the Redblacks future?

When asked this question, many would run to Jeremiah Masoli and say that he will 100% be the reason for the turnaround of this Ottawa Redblacks team, but it is important to remember that a good quarterback is nothing without good help. Burke and the Redblacks front office have been checking off all of the boxes to ensure that Masoli has help around him to have a good run in Ottawa. With that being said, the biggest moves made by the Redblacks front office thus far have to come up front with the four offensive linemen signed this off-season. Bringing in Ucambre Williams, Jacob Ruby, Hunter Steward and Darius Ciraco will make a huge difference on the Ottawa Redblacks offence. Last season the Redblacks gave up the most sacks in the CFL. Bringing in a new quarterback, and a new but old running back in William Powell, Burke wanted to make sure that he gets the best player out of both of them, and he should get their best with a solid offensive line on their way to Ottawa for 2022. Alongside their revamped line, the offensive side of the ball has also seen some major changes at wide receiver. In 2021 the Redblacks top pass catchers were Ryan Davis, R.J Harris, Kenny Stafford and Nate Behar. Over the last couple of days they’ve added Darvin Adams, Jaelon Acklin and Shaq Johnson to that list as well. Masoli will have Darvin Adams, Jaelon Acklin, Ryan Davis, R.J Harris, Shaq Johnson and Nate Behar as his top receivers. This off-season is beginning to look a lot like the one in 2015 when Ottawa brought in playmakers Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams and Brad Sinopoli. In 2015 and 2016 each of those four receivers surpassed the 1,000 yard marker. If two or three of the Redblacks’ pass catchers are able to reach those totals in 2022 it should be a special year in the nation’s capital.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Ottawa Redblacks have improved as well. In 2021 the defence was mainly what kept Ottawa in games during the season. Mike Benevides had a solid group formed and the defence had a special bond over the span of the year. The players clicked, and kept fighting no matter what the circumstances were, and a lot of the time those circumstances weren’t that great. As we look into the future for the 2022 CFL season, it looks like the Redblacks defence, and Benevides’ group will be even better than it was in 2021, and a lot better. They’ve signed pass rushers Lorenzo Mauldin and Kwaku Boateng, linebacker Patrick Levels and defensive backs Money Hunter, Alden Darby and Ty Cranston to the team. If you were to point out one or two of these signings and name them the biggest it would have to be both Boateng and Hunter. Boateng because he has the ability to be a true ratio breaking pass rusher and Hunter simply because they needed a replacement for Brandin Dandridge who is now NFL bound and he is set to be a starting defensive back. Both Boateng and Hunter are also just 26 years old and have good, solid years of CFL football behind them making them perfect, young veteran players to build around for the present day as well as the future potentially.

Just a small recap from the moves made thus far, the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks have signed quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running backs William Powell and Jackson Bennett, receivers Darvin Adams, Jaelon Acklin, Shaquille Johnson, and Llevi Noel, offensive linemen Darius Ciraco, Ucambre Williams, Hunter Steward, (and Jacob Ruby), defensive linemen Lorenzo Mauldin and Kwaku Boateng, linebacker Patrick Levels and defensive backs Alden Darby, Money Hunter and Ty Cranston. It has clearly been a very productive off-season for the Redblacks and with the Draft right around the corner it can get even better. Ottawa is serious about winning a Grey Cup in 2022, and don’t be surprised if it does indeed happen with all of the help they’ve collected around the CFL already.

“We spoke this into existence.” Ottawa’s Very Own Jesse Luketa dominates at Reese’s Senior Bowl

Every year, over 100 of the top NFL Draft prospects gather in Mobile, Alabama for the annual Reese’s Senior Bowl. The game, and the entire week is an opportunity for NFL Draft prospects to showcase their talents one last time before the Draft, and being in it’s 72nd year in 2022 it is proven to be a turning point in many NFL players careers. Over the years, the Senior Bowl has hosted a lot of big name NFL stars. Players like Brett Farve, Reggie Wayne, Fred Taylor, Terrell Owens, Michael Strahan, Larry Allen, Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye have played in the game in the past while recently the game has seen Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel and more in the game as well. This year’s Senior Bowl headlined quarterbacks Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett alongside some other top tier prospects like Trevor Penning, Jermaine Johnson and Roger McCreary but there were also a number of underrated players at the game there improving their draft stock. 

The 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl; photo by JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic

One player that went down to Mobile this year for the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl and instantly raised his draft stock was Ottawa’s Very Own Penn State linebacker and edge rusher Jesse Luketa. As a senior with the Nittany Lions Luketa made 61 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, shared a sack and had a pick six, adding to his phenomenal totals over his 38 career games at Happy Valley. When he had gotten to Mobile on Monday last week, his time at Penn State gave him a late round grade for the NFL Draft. Now, a few days out from the Senior Bowl game, he’s being looked at as an early draft pick all thanks to an exceptional week in Mobile. 

It seemed as if Luketa was putting on a clinic each and every single day that he was in Mobile. He was making plays left, right and center during the week in practice against some of the best offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft including 6-foot-8, 387 pound tackle Daniel Faalele from Minnesota who he had run over at 6-foot-3, 261 pounds. Luketa showed his full potential throughout the week, displaying to scouts, coaches, general managers and owners across the NFL how physical, and technical he can be as a pass rusher as well as how quick he is, being able to move easily into coverage if need be and stop the run efficiently too. Talking about the week he had in Mobile, Luketa had told me (Jordan Zlomislic from JZ Media), “It was a great opportunity for me to display my abilities at a higher, national level with scouts, GMs, owners all in attendance. It ultimately allowed me to raise my stock. Guys come to Mobile, and the mantra here is ‘The Draft Starts in Mobile’ so me personally I see it as an opportunity I felt I dominated from the day I arrived to today (on gameday Saturday) so I feel comfortable, and I feel excited.”

After seeing his performance all week on social media, and hearing his name all over the NFL world, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel down to Mobile, Alabama myself alongside Jean Guillaume who coached Luketa and has been a mentor of Luketa’s since high school. In Mobile, on the Friday night prior to the game on Saturday at dinner with Ottawa linebacker Kervens Bonhomme of South Alabama, myself and Coach Jean Guillaume, Jesse was adamant that he’d get a sack in the game. He had a stellar performance all week at practice, he thought it would be a perfect way to finish the week and raise his draft stock. Well, the very next day he got his sack. In fact, he got two. Jesse Luketa was one of many top performers of the Senior Bowl, making two sacks (one strip sack) as well as a tackle for loss on Alabama running back Brian Robinson. After the game, interviewing him about the two sacks he told me, “Once I got the first one I just kept telling myself to get two more. I got the second one and then from there I was working towards getting the third one. It didn’t happen but for me honestly I capped off a strong week with an even stronger performance I felt in the game so I’m extremely proud.”

Jesse Luketa’s Senior Bowl performance, video done by JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic

For many, this week and the game from Luketa was a surprise. Sure, he’s made it this far, having the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl and receive an invite to the NFL Combine in March so there is some buzz around his name, but he exceeded a lot of people’s expectations from him. However for Luketa himself and those that have followed his football journey from the beginning, him having success at this stage is not a surprise at all. Since Jesse Luketa first stepped foot on a football field in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada he has dominated. One of Luketa’s mentors, Coach Jean Guillaume, the 2020 Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year, who coached him at St. Patrick’s High School in Ottawa and helped him through the process to go play at Mercyhurst Prep School in Erie, Pennsylvania was able to touch on exactly that, as well as the kind of person Luketa has been since he’s known him. “Jesse’s never changed.” Guillaume said, “He used to be a safety and I was coaching dbs, and he’d come to training I put on at the parks and I remember that was a kid that, you tell him to do one and he would do two, he would always give the extra. He would always push himself and he’s never changed. There’s some players out there that you can say something like, ‘he wasn’t that serious about anything when he was young until he played at this level.’ but Jesse is not that. He never changed. He’s always been a leader, and he’s always pushed himself to the last second of every thing he does. The same guy we are watching now is the same guy that was playing safety at 15 years old. He has put in the work and there shouldn’t be a surprise that he is doing what he is doing.”

Luketa is not the only one to be making this kind of impact at the next level from Ottawa. Just two years ago one of his best friends from Ottawa, Neville Gallimore went through the exact same process as him, playing in the Senior Bowl and getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Gallimore has since made 41 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 3 sacks with the Cowboys in his first 19 games of his NFL career and is going on to be one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in the next couple of seasons. Gallimore and Luketa went to school together growing up and played alongside each other during their early football days in Ottawa. To be in Mobile just two years after Gallimore, Luketa said, “It’s just going back to us sitting in a room before we even had the opportunity to even be in the situation we’re in playing in the senior bowl. We spoke it into existence,” he continued, “I’m a firm believer of manifestation. We spoke about us being in this exact situation and for me to be here, although it may be surreal sometimes, it’s expected and I’m extremely grateful to be in this position I’m in right now and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ottawa gas to produce moving forward because the talent is there, it’s more so just having that scope transferred over to all of the kids that have the dream to do the same thing we have.”

Beginning to show the younger generation of athletes the possibility of being at the same level as he and Gallimore, Jesse Luketa has always used his platform to put on for the city of Ottawa. His tags on social media have been “OttawasVeryOwn” for the longest time and he’s proud to be from the nation’s capital. Going into the NFL, his platform will only grow, and there will only be more opportunities to give back to the city he is from. When asked about that ability he was telling me, “It means everything.” and, “Those who know me know that I pride myself as a son of a village and I’m a product of my environment. Growing up in south Ottawa, Ontario, Canada it’s a low income area so for all of the kids that are thinking their dreams are too far attainable, I’m basically trying to change that, that stigma and show them, me achieving my dreams, show them that no dream is too far attainable and that they can do the same thing as me if they set their mind to it.”

These words from Luketa, demonstrating leadership for not only those around him but the entire city of Ottawa is a true testament to the kind of player and person he is. On the football field he has proven to be a top tier athlete. He is able to play almost anywhere you want him to play. Off the field he is the same, he is exactly the kind of person you want in your locker room. He is one that has fought through a lot of adversity throughout his own life and football career so he is grateful and humble to be where he is today and where he is headed. Luketa is a person that will never forget where he came from. It is clear that he loves being from Ottawa, and he will always put on for the city, but he is also someone that will always help and show love and appreciation for those around him. When talking about Luketa more in detail, Coach Guillaume commented, “Jesse is all about the community, and giving back. When you see his handle online it’s ‘Ottawa’s Very Own’ and he’s had that since the beginning. He didn’t just make that yesterday. He’s had it forever and he has always wanted to represent the city of Ottawa. When I see Jesse give back and put that spotlight on the city I get drunk of joy because all of these speeches I give to kids I coach about giving back, he does exactly that and nobody has ever needed to tell him to. He does it all on his own. He wants to do it and at the end of the day how can you not like this guy. He is setting a perfect example for the future of Ottawa and him doing good can only be good for the city of Ottawa. Jesse’s success is Ottawa’s success and the city should be cheering for him and supporting him with everything he does.”

On and off of the football field, Ottawa’s Very Own Jesse Luketa should be one to watch as he enters the NFL. He will be a star on film and will show everyone exactly the kind of football player he is, and what he can do at the top but it is important to take notice of the kind of person he is off of the football player as well. As one that had seen his Senior Bowl experience up close and personal, and one that has followed his football journey for a long time now, I know that Jesse Luketa is the exact kind of player and person that anyone would want to be a part of their NFL team. He is truly the full package as a player, a teammate, a leader, a community builder, and even a brand. On the football field, Luketa says that whoever drafts him is getting a player that is, “ready to work,” and “ready immediately and a guy that will be an overall leader and a cultural driver.” He told me, “I’m excited. This week (at the Senior Bowl) was good. I’m going to enjoy this, but it’s back to work and time to work on the next objective which is the combine.”

Luketa will be participating in the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis in March, and depending how he tests there, his draft stock may only keep going up. 

Ottawa Redblacks make an early free agency splash; CFLFA officially open on Tuesday

There has been a large number of transactions coming out of the CFL over the last couple of days. Sure, the moves have come across the entire league, and all 9 teams have been active this off-season but the majority of news has come out of the nation’s capital with the Ottawa Redblacks.

Coming off of the second straight 3-win season in 2021, and another year without a playoff berth, Mark Goudie and the Ottawa Redblacks’ ownership with OSEG went out to hire Shawn Burke as the Redblacks’ new general manager. Since taking over as the organization’s second general manager in their history, Burke has changed the look of the Ottawa Redblacks and he’s done so very quickly. Even before free agency opens officially on Tuesday February 8th at 12:00 PM EDT, Burke has made a huge splash in free agency.

Thus far as the Redblacks general manager he has re-signed Abdul Kanneh, Randall Evans, Davon Coleman and Nate Behar, but has also brought in quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running backs William Powell and Jackson Bennett, receivers Jaelon Acklin and Llevi Noel, offensive lineman Jacob Ruby, Ucambre Williams and Darius Ciraco, defensive linemen Kwaku Boateng and Lorenzo Mauldin and defensive back Ty Cranston. Headlining that list is of course Jeremiah Masoli who comes in as what looks to be the Redblacks starting quarterback for the next two CFL seasons. He will be ahead of 23 year old Caleb Evans and 25 year old Devlin Hodges. William Powell and Jaelon Acklin also make a mark as big moves for the Redblacks early on this off-season. Powell coming back to Ottawa where he began his CFL career coming out of the NFL, playing in 25 games with the Redblacks running for 2,835 yards in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and 13 touchdowns. The last two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders he had 1,826 yards and 15 scores on the ground as well as 595 receiving yards. Powell and Bennett at running back all add towards De’Lance Turner, Justin Davis and Brendan Gillanders who are already under contract for the 2022 CFL season. Acklin adds to Nate Behar and Ryan Davis who combined for 1,028 yards in 2021. With 1,386 yards and 7 scores over the last two seasons in Hamilton, Acklin is a great pass catcher for the Ottawa Redblacks, however he may not be considered a number one receiver just yet. The Redblacks may have some work still to do when it comes to bringing in weapons for Masoli. Llevi Noel was signed, however he has mainly found himself on special teams during his CFL career with the Argonauts, racking up 864 yards in 74 career games and 79 special teams tackles, so he may be looked at as more of a special teamer than a receiver for Ottawa’s Bob Dyce.

On the offensive line, the Redblacks have gotten better, bringing in Ruby, Williams and Ciraco, but Nolan MacMillan and Mark Korte are set to hit the market on Tuesday, so there looks to be some question as to who will fill the other two open spots on the offensive line. Dino Boyd could be one of the players filling a spot on the line, having played with Ottawa in 2021 and set to come back but there are also a large number of players still available for Ottawa to sign as well.

Some players that are not available would now be Kwaku Boateng, Lorenzo Mauldin and Ty Cranston on the defensive side of the ball. The Ottawa Redblacks defence wasn’t bad in 2021. Mike Benevides did a great job coaching the defence and called a great system throughout the 2021 CFL season, keeping the Redblacks in the games defensively when they weren’t able to do so offensively. By the looks of it, they want to go from good to great on defence for the 2022 CFL season. Boateng is looked at to be one of the best pass rushers in the CFL, and as a Canadian, pairing up with Cleyon Laing on the defensive line he could easily become a ratio breaker for the Redblacks. Mauldin is a former NFL Draft pick and has shown glimpses of what he’s capable of in the CFL while Ty Cranston comes back to Ottawa where he played with the Gee Gees coming off of a 29 tackle, one interception season with the Alouettes in 2021. The Ottawa Redblacks just lost defensive back Brandin Dandridge to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, so even though Cranston is signed, the defensive side of the ball should continue to improve in Ottawa, especially with other key players Stefan Charles, Micah Awe, Don Unamba and Antoine Pruneau yet to be re-signed.

The moves made by Burke and the front office so far have been fantastic. They have changed the narrative in the city of Ottawa and for the Ottawa Redblacks but with free agency officially opening on Tuesday at noon, it’s clear that there is still more work to be done. Burke and his squad should be focused on wide receiver and offensive line on offence and linebacker and defensive back on defence. At receiver there are a number of players still available for Ottawa to sign. Greg Ellingson, Brandon Banks, Ricky Collins Jr, Markeith Ambles, Darvin Adams and Jordan Williams Lambert just to name a few. On defence, Jonathan Rose may just be a perfect fit for the Ottawa Redblacks defence, especially with Dandridge off to the NFL. Rose already lives in Ottawa, and has spent time with the Redblacks previously in his career as one of the league’s top defensive players. It should be a no brainer to bring him in for 2022.

Before they sign anyone else though, they should re-sign their remaining star free agents. R.J Harris and Micah Awe should be the easiest re-signs for the Redblacks. Don Unamba, Avery Ellis, Mark Korte, Nolan MacMillan and Antoine Pruneau would be great re-signs as well but there isn’t a lot of promise regarding that news yet.

The main goal going into 2022 for the Ottawa Redblacks is to win a Grey Cup. So far it looks as if they are on track to do exactly that, but they need to ensure that they stay on that track.

“I’m where I want to be.” Episcopal football coach Kadeem Rodgers, “excited” for future of program

In 2021 Kadeem Rodgers earned the role as head football coach for Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. After spending time with the program previously as an assistant coach and serving as a head coach for Millbrook School in New York, Rodgers says he is, “where I want to be.” He told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic in an interview, “My first memories were at practices, and around football. My father coached football, and I ended up playing for him myself. I remember as a kid at school I was always writing up plays. I had my book open, on one page there was the school work and the other had my own playbook I was writing up. I’ve always wanted to be a high school football coach. I know the power coaches have in athletes lives growing up, and I want to help young athletes become the best versions of themselves.”

He and Episcopal are coming off of a 3-6 season in 2021, but he’s ready to turn that around for the 2022 campaign and build up the football program in Alexandria to the best of his ability. “We were the only boarding school in our league, and dealing with COVID it put us behind the other teams that we played. It wasn’t a great season, but it excites me to get better, and it gives us an opportunity to deal with losing.” Rodgers explained, “We can re-evaluate and come back better for next season, as a coach I’m looking forward to it.”

Historically, Episcopal has a great football team. In past years they have been able to win a number of games and even championships, but what makes them even better, and what is more important for the school is the amount of football players that have made it to the next level. Episcopal has football players playing at the division one level with schools varied from Wake Forest, Notre Dame to Yale and Dartmouth. It speaks for itself at that point, where Episcopal is successful for bringing players to the next level athletically at a high level, but also academically, seeing student athletes go to Ivy League schools. Coach Kadeem Rodgers told Zlomislic, “The proof is in the pudding. There are guys that have made it and are getting sent to division one schools and even Ivy League schools. Athletics and academics, what is better than that.”

Kadeem Rodgers with his daughter, a family man and excellent coach with a great vision for the athletes

Some players that have come out of Episcopal recently have been international students. With the rise of football talent in other countries like Canada, as well as countries over seas, Episcopal, as a boarding school has been able to help athletes like Luiji Vilain, Jonathan Sutherland, Chris Fournier, and Patrice Rene from Ottawa find homes in the NCAA and each one of them are likely to find homes as professionals as well. The boarding school, and the football team are great for young athletes with big dreams, Coach Rodgers just wants to be able to help the next generation of athletes. “I want to be able to build with this team here (at Episcopal) and coach a program that is known to play for one another, known for acting of class, and a team full of resilient and responsible individuals. I want to not only help my team become the best versions of themselves, but I want to be the best version of myself when I am around them.”

Canadian “playmaker” Dylan Djete, “going to make most of the opportunity” with Wofford Terriers at division one level

When it comes to the game of football, there has always been talent north of the USA-Canada border. As the only other country outside of the United States that has football in high school, college and the professional stage, the country of Canada has always produced good football players. But have they produced great, and phenomenal football players too? Yes they have. The CFL has always had some of the greatest Canadian athletes, and we’ve seen a number of players in the past make it across the border to play in the NCAA as well as the NFL, but for the majority of the players that have excelled in football, it has happened in the trenches. Canada has mainly been known for talent on the defensive and offensive lines over the years. It wasn’t common for us to see skill position players come out of Canada and have success down south.

In the last couple of years though, receivers Nkeal Harry, Chase Claypool and Joshua Palmer, running back Chuba Hubbard, defensive backs Tevaughn Campbell, Jevon Holland, Benjamin St Juste and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga have made their ways to the NFL as skill position players. John Metchie, Jesse Luketa, Chase Brown, Sydney Brown, Alonzo Addae, Jonathan Sutherland, Jared Wayne and so many other Canadian skill position players are already getting ready to enter the NFL as well, and that narrative, that Canadians can only play in the trenches is changing extremely fast. One player that is a great example of that narrative change is Dylan Djete. Djete is a 6 foot, 175 pound receiver originally from Montreal, Quebec. He excelled on both sides of the football, having played both defensive back and wide receiver, and even dabbling at quarterback as well in Canada before finding his calling at receiver across the border at Clearwater Academy International in Florida.

With the Clearwater Academy International Knights in Florida, Dylan Djete made an immediate impact, scoring three touchdowns in his first game across the border. He says, “I knew I was good at football when I went but I didn’t know what I’d be able to do there (in the states). In Canada we look at Americans and American football like its so big but it’s kind of overrated. They all are human, they breathe the same air as us and stuff. When I scored three touchdowns it was a blessing to see that I can do it there, and the rest is history.” As a junior with the Knights Djete caught 31 passes for over 780 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was the team’s number one receiver, and was only getting warmed up for what would be the most productive season in the history of Clearwater Academy International. His totals as a senior in 2021 put him above division one receivers Ajou Ajou, Jared Wayne and Nickolas Tshivuadi with 37 catches for 900 yards and 14 scores. “It was a blessing,” Djete told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic, “I put in a lot of work and invested a lot of time to get to that point. For it to actually happen was a blessing and I’m only going to keep pushing at it and never give up.”

Just recently it was announced where Djete will be pushing at it next, as he received his very first division one offer from Wofford College in South Carolina and committed to it days later. When he got the offer, Djete said, “It was a relief,” and explained, “It was a long wait. I’ve waited over a year and a half for this. Since my first season in the states I’ve been waiting for it to happen. I’ve been working hard for it, and every hard worker knows that when you work hard for something, and you get it, there’s always that feeling where it’s like ‘finally!’ It doesn’t even feel real yet, I haven’t really realized it yet that it’s happened.”

He’s worked hard to get to this point in his football career, and there will be no looking back. As a dual threat receiver with a number of tricks up his sleeve, Djete prides himself as being a good route runner that is able to create separation with a good football I.Q and good hands. He told Jordan Zlomislic that he is a “playmaker,” and that at the division one level, “they can expect the same kind of production I had in high school, but better. I am prepared, and will only be a better player than I was before. I don’t want to put my goals out there or anything, but (Wofford) is getting someone that is going to work and make the most of the opportunity they gave me.”

With the long list of division one players that have come out of Clearwater Academy International over the recent years, and the success that Canadian skill position players are having, everything points towards Dylan Djete being the next best receiver to make it in the NCAA and soon the NFL. He’s got all of the tools to make it happen, and with his work ethic, it’s a name to remember and keep tabs on.

The king is back: Abdul Kanneh and Randall Evans sign extensions with Ottawa Redblacks, what are the Redblacks going to do in free agency?

The 2022 CFL free agency period will open at noon eastern on February 8th. One week from today the Ottawa Redblacks will have a lot of major decisions to make, and they already have been preparing to make those decisions with the CFL’s negotiations window open as of January 30th. Of course, first of all they have a long list of free agents of their own to deal with, which they have started to by re-signing defensive backs Abdul Kanneh and Randall Evans. Kanneh, a 31 year old defensive star is coming off of a year, where is seemed like he could carry the Ottawa Redblacks at times… because he did. He had two interceptions in week one, including a pick six, and then had one more interception later in the year on top of 28 defensive tackles. Evans made a big impact in 2019 and 2021 with the Ottawa Redblacks as well, having made 150 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and forcing two fumbles in 31 games. Re-signing Kanneh and Evans gives the Redblacks Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Abdul Kanneh, Justin Howell, Jordan Beaulieu, Ranthony Texada, and Treshaun Abrahams-Webster in the backfield as experienced CFL players alongside both Denzel Rice and Anthoula Kelly who have been signed as American free agents. Ottawa has yet to re-sign defensive stars Antoine Pruneau, Micah Awe, Avery Ellis, Don Unamba and Davon Coleman. Before signing anyone outside of the organization next week Shawn Burke and his front office should prioritize re-signing some of their own star power on defence.

Once that is done though, there is plenty of talent around the CFL that he and his staff can get hands on and bring to the nation’s capital. Going into free agency, some of the key players and parts of the team in Ottawa right now stand as quarterbacks Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges, running backs De’Lance Turner and Justin Davis, receivers Ryan Davis and Nate Behar (R.J Harris is a pending free agent), offensive linemen Jacob Ruby, Dino Boyd, Jakub Szott and Andrew Pickett, defensive linemen Cleyon Laing, Praise Martin Oguike and Kene Onyeka, linebackers Avery Williams, Shaheed Salmon, and Dwayne Norman and defensive backs Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Randall Evans, Abdul Kanneh and Justin Howell as well as specialists L.P Bourassa, Lewis Ward and Richie Leone. The team’s needs would come at receiver, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker depending what they decide to do with their own pending free agents.

Reports have come in saying that Burke is looking to pursue veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from Hamilton. In 2021 the Ottawa Redblacks struggled on the offensive side of the football. They weren’t able to put points on the board on a number of occasions and weren’t able to keep up with the competition a lot throughout the 14 game season, but the struggles rarely came from quarterbacks Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges who are under contract with the Redblacks for 2022. The Ottawa Redblacks gave up a league lead 53 sacks in 2021 and the receiving core only helped the quarterbacks pass for an average of 194 yards per game. It was not the quarterback play that put the Redblacks behind in 2021. It was the offence built around the quarterback and the way the offence was managed that put the team behind. In 7 games under centre in 2021 Caleb Evans won 2 games. He threw for 1,279 yards and ran for 345 while scoring a total 8 touchdowns. He brought a spark to the Ottawa Redblacks’ offence, and at 23 years old he showed potential to be a great quarterback in the CFL. Shawn Burke and the Ottawa Redblacks do not need to pursue Jeremiah Masoli and spend what would likely be over $400,000 for a quarterback. They have their quarterback on the roster today, what they do not have though is a team built around him. With a strong and reliable offensive line as well as some playmakers to throw to, Caleb Evans is a quarterback that can bring a Grey Cup back to the city of Ottawa.

Building around Caleb Evans, or whoever the Redblacks want under centre in 2022 will be hard without Mark Korte on the team. Korte has been offered a contract from his hometown Edmonton Elks and is expected to sign with the Elks once free agency officially opens next week. Nolan MacMillan remains unsigned by the Ottawa Redblacks, he would join Justin Renfrow, Josiah St John, Brett Boyko, Matthew O’Donnell, Cody Speller, Kay Okafor, and a number of other proven CFL offensive linemen in the free agency pool including B.C Lions’ lineman Hunter Steward who the Redblacks reportedly have interest in. It is clear that the offensive line is an area in need of improvement for the Redblacks, and it should be addressed with proven and reliable talent.

Moving to wide receiver, and what could be the most influential positions for the Ottawa Redblacks in 2022, like it was in 2015 when Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and Chris Williams came to the team, Ottawa is in need of a playmaker, or two. R.J Harris is a pending free agent, and should be re-signed as a proven veteran pass catcher. He may not have the flashy 1,000 yard seasons that you love to see for fantasy football, but he has been a great veteran on and off of the field for the Redblacks and is continuously a reliable pass catcher no matter who is under centre. If he is re-signed by Ottawa that gives Caleb Evans, or who ever plays quarterback in Ottawa R.J Harris, Ryan Davis, Nate Behar and Jordan Smallwood at receiver. On the market next week though is Duke Williams, Darvin Adams, Rasheed Bailey, Kenny Lawler, Hergy Mayala, Jake Wieneke, Brandon Banks, Greg Ellingson, Jevon Cottoy, Jaelon Acklin, Jordan Williams Lambert and Ricky Collins who would each come to Ottawa with an insane ability to succeed in red and black. To be able to get back in the Grey Cup, Ottawa needs at least two or three top tier offensive playmakers. Running back De’Lance Turner and receiver Ryan Davis showed their potential to be exactly that in 2021, but adding proven talent to the mix would only help Paul LaPolice and his Redblacks offence for the 2022 CFL season.

On the defensive side of the ball, if everyone is re-signed there is not much more to do to improve Mike Benevides’ squad. In 2021 the defence is what kept the Redblacks in games for the most part of the season. Players like Micah Awe, Randall Evans, Avery Williams, Abdul Kanneh, Brandin Dandridge, Sherrod Baltimore, Praise Martin Oguike and Davon Coleman were the heart of the Redblacks defence, and when they all were healthy it was a powerful defence to go up against. It is unlikely that everyone comes back from the 2021 CFL season though, so some names to keep eyes on in free agency would include Kwaku Boateng, Dylan Wynn, Darnell Sankey, Ja’Gared Davis, Ed Gainey, Cariel Brooks, Jevon Santos-Knox, Jumal Rolle, Trumaine Washington, Jonathan Rose, Branden Dozier, Alden Darby, Patrick Levels and more. Defence wins championships, and the Redblacks defence, all things considered, was very strong in 2021, with a couple of key additions this off-season, it could be one of the best in the league and lead the Redblacks to a Grey Cup.

As described, there are a lot of decisions to be made this week and next week for newly hired general manager Shawn Burke. Depending on the decisions he makes, as well as how they play out during the 2022 CFL season, a lot of what happens within the next couple of weeks will determine whether or not he was the right hire for the Ottawa Redblacks as they aim to get back into the Grey Cup after two three win seasons in 2019 and 2021. If you were the general manager in Ottawa, what would you do? Would you build a team around young quarterback Caleb Evans who is full of potential, or spend on a veteran quarterback like Masoli with limited space for a team built around him? How much of a difference would it be going with a veteran under centre?