Thursday, July 18, 2024

Jaelon Acklin just has to laugh at overturned calls

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Does the CFL’s command centre really hate Acklin? He doesn’t think so, but officials’ calls keep getting changed in favour of opponents.

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It’s because he’s blessed with a sense of humour to go along with his pass-catching ability that Jaelon Acklin was able to laugh off the frustrations he had to deal with both in and around his big game against his former team on Sunday.

The 28-year-old Redblacks receiver wasn’t even sure he was going to face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats when he spent most of last week in concussion protocol following a late-game hit by Montreal’s Darnell Sankey on June 20.

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But he was able to pass the final “impact” test, as well as complete the mandatory 300-yard shuttle in under a minute to get the green light.

Acklin said the latter, which he hadn’t done since his days with the Baltimore Ravens in 2018, is always tough.

“It was a little a little weird because I didn’t feel I was concussed,” Acklin said Wednesday, before joking that “I was just as stupid as I was before.

“I was kind of frustrated. Whenever you take a hit like that they usually give you about seven days to just see how you’re feeling. Luckily, we had 10 days in between and I was able to make it to the next game.”

Acklin would go on to lead all Redblacks with seven catches for 90 yards in the 24-22 victory.

He should have had more.

In the last minute of the opening half, a pass interference call against the Ticats on a deep ball thrown to Acklin had the officials putting the ball down on the Hamilton one, but coach Scott Milanovich challenged the flag and the call was overturned.

The Redblacks had to settle for three points instead of what almost certainly would have been seven.

Milanovich went 2-for-2 on challenges in the third quarter when Acklin caught a 36-yard pass to the Ticats 14.

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The completion was overturned when Milanovich’s contention that Justin Hardy was guilty of an illegal block — on the other side of the field, nowhere near the play — got the thumbs-up from the command centre.

“It was frustrating in the moment,” said Acklin, who half-kiddingly expressed his feelings on social media. “I like to make jokes that the command centre doesn’t like me, but it would seem that way because I’m 0-for-7 on command centre calls … I’ve never got a pass interference (challenge), but it is what it is. If they think that like, that’s the rule, I can’t change it, as frustrating as it is. We got the win, so that’s all that matters.

“I’m not going to view it actually like the command centre hates me …. I don’t really think that,” he added, before adding with a laugh: “I just think that their calls aren’t very good sometimes.”

Redblacks head coach Bob Dyce probably would agree, if not exactly saying so for public consumption.

In the second quarter, Dyce challenged a pass interference penalty on defensive back Deandre Lamont.

He lost the challenge, and with it a timeout, while the ball was moved 19 yards in the Ticats’ favour, from their 17 to the 36.

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The week before in Montreal, Dyce lost a challenge moments before Alouettes coach Jason Maas won one, a couple of rulings that added to help the home team score the game’s first touchdown.

“I have great faith in the people we have upstairs,” Dyce said about his staff when asked about the process of deciding when and when not to challenge. “I will tell them: ‘Hey, let’s take a look at this’ and if we get a replay they’ll tell me (what they see) and I make the final decision. Sometimes I’m with what they say, sometimes I’m against, and go from there, you know, looking at the one, one from the game.”

About the failed challenge against the Ticats, Dyce said “I make the final call on that, and I’m prepared to live with the final call.

“At the end of the day, the command centre is doing the best that they can,” he added. “You’ve got to live with their call, move forward. No different from the players, right? Doesn’t work for you, you move forward and you’re on to the next play.”

Since starting his CFL career with two seasons in Hamilton, Acklin has done well moving forward.

In 2022, his first season in Ottawa after signing as a free agent, he had an outstanding campaign with 74 grabs for 1,169 yards and two touchdowns in only 15 games.

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Last season, he caught 67 throws for 892 yards and one major.

“I don’t have any animosity towards them, because most of the people that were there, that told me to leave, aren’t there anymore,” Acklin said with a chuckle when asked if beating his former team gives him extra satisfaction. “It was nice, though, because my girlfriend is also from there, and her whole family grew up Ticats fans and she went to Ticats games. So it was nice to get the win, but I didn’t shove it in their face.”

Like the rest of Ottawa’s strong group of American receivers other than Hardy, Acklin has had a slow start to the 2024 campaign.

In the opening win over Winnipeg, he caught just three passes (on six targets) for 18 yards, then followed that up with four catches for 42 yards against Montreal.

Along with a new quarterback in Dru Brown, Acklin spent most of camp at a new position, lining up at inside slot with Bralon Addison sidelined by an injury.

He didn’t line up on the outside, his normal post, until the week of the season opener against Winnipeg.

“We’re still trying to figure out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses route-wise, concept-wise on the offence, and even on  the O-line,” he said. “It always takes time to gel. Every year it’s a totally different team, a totally new quarterback. But we’re building chemistry as an offence.”

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That offence will have to be running smoothly on Friday if the Redblacks are going to escape Winnipeg with a win.

The 0-4 Blue Bombers will be doing everything they can for that first win, and the defence should feel some pressure to raise its game if star quarterback Zach Collaros is unable to go.

Collaros suffered a thorax injury on Saturday during Winnipeg’s overtime loss to Calgary, and hasn’t practiced this week.

If he can’t go, Chris Streveler, who has been a NFL backup for the last four seasons, will make his first start in a half-decade.

Not knowing for sure which QB they’ll face is even more reason for the Redblacks to focus on themselves, said Dyce.

“Both those guys play different styles, but we have to be sound in what we do and what we’re trying to stop,” he said. “If Chris is in there, they’re going to play a little different style, probably more (run-pass option) stuff and (sprint draw out of shotgun), play to his strengths. You have to be cognizant of that and cognizant that if he does drop back, you have to be disciplined in your pass rush right, not leave open lanes for him to get vertical.

“So I’m totally confident in Coach (Barron) Miles and those defensive players no matter which quarterback plays.”

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