Friday, June 14, 2024

Dedmon could add to return duties by lining up in Redblacks backfield

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The Ottawa Redblacks employ arguably the most explosive player in the CFL, yet in two pre-season games they have used him only as a return specialist.

That, however, could soon change.

DeVonte Dedmon, who primarily has been a receiver, when part of the offence, since joining the Redblacks in 2019, has been taking reps as a running back in practice.

That could be as insurance, in case the quad injury that has bothered starter Ryquell Armstead of late becomes more of a problem — or a Plan B if they want more production from the position.

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Armstead, a 27-year-old rookie, has carried the ball 11 times for 25 yards in the team’s tuneup games against Hamilton and Montreal.

For his part, Dedmon is content returning kicks and punts while being an option if one of the four starting American receivers goes down.

But he’s also happy to line up in a backfield that suffered a serious blow prior to camp when Devonte Williams, who rushed for 1,002 yards last season, suffered an Achilles injury while training for the 2024 campaign.

“It feels good,” he said of getting some work in as a running back, the position he played growing up in West Virginia before becoming a quarterback in high school then a receiver in college. “I’m very comfortable in the backfield. Obviously, I’m learning the speed of the game is different from outside receiver, and everything in the box is compact. So I’m just doing what Coach Tommy (Condell) wants me to do and trying to be the best player I can be for the team.”

With the Redblacks’ season opener coming up Thursday night at TD Place, Condell, the Redblacks offensive coordinator, was coy about plans on how Dedmon will be utilized.

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“He’s a returner first,” said Condell. “That’s what he is. He’s a DI (designated import) guy. He’s an explosive returner.”

Do you like the potential he could have as a running back?

“I like any type of player that can go in there and be explosive,” said Condell. “I think everyone knows … shoot, I’ll play him at quarterback if he’s there. But ultimately, he’s a DI returner. That’s what his job is and his role is. Anything that comes from an offensive standpoint comes off of that.”

One thing for sure, Dedmon appears ready to resume the role as the Redblacks’ most dangerous weapon.

After a standout season in 2019 that saw him bring back both a punt and a kick to the end zone, he cranked it a notch the following season with 2,841 total return yards that included three touchdowns.

In the process, Dedmon became the fastest player in CFL history to score five TDs off returns.

But then he became hit with a run of bad luck.

In 2022, a torn quad limited him to just six games.

in 2023, after being cut by the Miami Dolphins, he turned to Ottawa but played just two games before a shoulder injury ended his season.

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Dedmon had a minor injury that kept him sidelined for a few days at the start of this season’s camp, but then came back to star in the two pre-season games.

In Hamilton, he has a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 37-yard kick return that set up what proved to be the game-winning score.

And then at home against Montreal in the pre-season finale, he had a kick return up the gut for 48 yards and a scoring punt return of approximately 108 yards that was called back by a holding penalty that had nothing to do with Dedmon’s dash.

“I feel like I’ve been myself,” he said. “Coaches believe in me and my teammates believe in me, so I’m just doing what I got to do to do my job.

“I’ve been through a lot in the last two , two and a half years. It’s been tough, but like the guys told me all the time, God doesn’t give his strongest soldiers easiest battles. So I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to try to be successful.”

Dedmon said he almost cried when he scored in Hamilton.

“I know I felt like last year that I let the team down a little bit with my injury,” he said. “It was nothing I could control but I felt like that was something we were missing, a little bit of explosiveness.

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“I hope D-Will’s recovery is going well but with him out, we need somebody to step up. I just want to be able to do what I can to try to fill that role.”

Dedmon says he’s comfortable as a return specialist.

“I just feel at home back there,” he said. “I don’t think anything, I just focus on catching the ball and just hitting it as hard as I can.

“That’s why it translates better to running back. See the hole and get through it.”

The Bombers were beaten 27-12 at home by the Alouettes on Thursday, but nobody is taking the lopsided defeat as a sign of things to come.

Defensively, they held five Montreal running backs to a total of 73 yards on the ground, and their pass defence was exploited only by Tyson Philpot, who pulled in 10 Cody Fajardo passes for 141 yards and two scores.

Winnipeg did shuffle some coaches around in the off-seaon, with Richie Hall, the defensive coordinator for eight seasons, becoming a defensive assistant while Jordan Younger, the DB coach for five seasons, moving to the DC role.

But a unit that was the backbone of Winnipeg’s four straight Grey Cup appearances should still remain a team strength.

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“Mr. Younger has done a great job and put his own twist on that, his own attitude and you can see it,” said Condell. “They’re a quality defence like they always had been. A lot of their main players are still there, and  I know they they put a lot of the younger guys around them, but they’re still hitting hard and running to the football. So they’re certainly going to be a big challenge.”


The Redblacks’ first official injury report of the season came out late Sunday afternoon. Here’s what it looked like:

DB Alijah McGhee (ankle) did not practice.

DB Justin Howell (calf) did not practice.

DB Brandin Dandridge (knee) did not practice

LB Tyrone Vrede (ribs) limited

DL Deshawn Stevens (calf) did not practice

DL Bryce Carter (quad) limited

DL Kene Onyeka (knee) did not practice

DL Daniel Okpoko (knee) limited

WR Bralon Addison (illness) did not practice

RB Devonte Williams (Achilles) did not practice

RB Ryquell Armstead (quad) limited

QB Jeremiah Masoli (illness) did not practice

QB Tyrie Adams (knee) limited

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