After making it to 3 Grey Cups in a three year span, the Ottawa Redblacks hit rock bottom. Going 3-15 and falling to last place in the CFL in 2019 the Redblacks knew they had to improve their team if they wanted to get to another Grey Cup in the near future. Shortly after the season ended Marcel Desjardins and the rest of Ottawa’s front office went out and restructured the coaching staff, then started making moves to improve the roster.
Of all of the transactions by the Redblacks this off-season the best would have to be getting Paul LaPolice as the head coach. He’s coming off a Grey Cup championship as an offensive co-ordinator and given all the success he’s had in the CFL, he was the best option for the Redblacks and he has the chance to make a historic CFL bounce back from 3-15 to Grey Cup champions.
Along with LaPo, the Ottawa Redblacks went and got a franchise quarterback in Nick Arbuckle. At the time there was a list of quarterbacks available and many would’ve thought that Ottawa was going to try and get Matt Nichols, but Arbuckle being 7 years younger has to be the best quarterback available. At 26 years old, Arbuckle has two CFL seasons behind him with Calgary, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and coming to Ottawa with the starting job, he’s shown to have a lot of confidence and Redblacks fans should be thrilled to have him on the team.
To stay on the offensive side of the ball, two of the biggest moves that the Redblacks made this off-season was getting some veteran receivers. Starting with Anthony Coombs, who is a 6 year Canadian receiver/running back. Coombs will mostly be playing slotback for the Redblacks but since he is so similar to Nic Demski who LaPolice has coached for the past two years, fans could expect Coombs to play a hybrid role in Ottawa. Meaning he could line up at both running back and receiver, which is something Timothy Flanders could do as well.
The American is primarily a running back but he’s had success in the pass game in LaPolice’s offense in the past and could make an impact alongside Jalen Saunders. Saunders was just recently signed out of the XFL which folded leaving him a free agent but he does have some time in the CFL behind him. The 27 year old receiver has two seasons with the Ti-Cats from both 2017 and 2018 where he totaled for 1,909 yards in the two years, most impressively his CFL rookie year where he went over the 1,000 yard marker with 4 touchdowns. Saunders, being a former 4th round pick for the New York Jets is known to be a deep-threat receiver and if he’s placed into a good spot on the Redblacks offense with both RJ Harris and Brad Sinopoli he has the opportunity to go over 1,000 yards once again.
Now going to the offensive line. The team released both Philippe Gagnon and Stephane Nembot earlier this off-season. Both started a few games in the 2019 season, which leaves a starting position open for competition. Ottawa has played with an all-Canadian line in the past but if players are given even reps in the 2020 CFL training camp the Redblacks could see one or two Americans suit up on the o-line. Na’Ty Rodgers is a favorite to win the open spot. The CFL experience and familiarity with LaPolice helps him go up on the depth chart but so does his great college career at the University of Houston. With Rodgers are two former NFLers that could steal the job. One being Darrell Williams, who played a significant amount of time with the Los Angeles Rams over his career and the other being Jamar McGloster. McGloster only has been in the NFL for training camp and pre-season matchups but from his time in Syracuse, it’s shown that his 6’7 height could help him win battles against the defensive line. Going into the 2020 season, those are three names to keep eyes on at the offensive line position.
Going up against the offensive line in practice is the front seven, who improved heavily this off-season. Whether it was free agency or the draft, the Redblacks made sure to let people know that defense wins championships. The front seven last year wasn’t the best position on the Redblacks’ roster as they were close to the bottom of the CFL in the sack category but to improve for the future they went out and got CFL veteran Cleyon Laing. Laing, the Canadian all-pro is familiar with the city of Ottawa from his short 2016 stint, but coming back it’ll be a longer business trip for him. Signing a three year deal, it looks like the Redblacks are very invested in what he can do on the field and he will be able to groom younger players like draft picks Michael Hoecht and Reshaan Davis. The two were picked in the 2nd and 7th round of this year’s CFL draft and each could make a large impact as young Canadians in Ottawa.
At linebacker, the Redblacks are set. Coming off a career year, Avery Williams is known to be the starting guy on the defense and with Fernandez coming off his rookie of the year campaign, the Redblacks linebackers are one of the best in the league and they got even better this off-season. In free agency they went and got both CFL veterans Don Unamba and Christophe Mulamba who are two of the biggest moves made by the Redblacks as they both could help groom draft picks Adam Auclair and Dan Basambombo.
Auclair is also able to play defensive back, and Auclair could be among the play makers, Sherrod Baltimore and free agent signee Abdul Kanneh in the defensive backfield. In the backfield, the Redblacks also signed NFLers Corey Moore and David Jones. Looking at the Redblacks “D-Block” they have improved heavily and R-Nation should be excited to see them play this year.