Thursday, July 18, 2024

Ottawa Redblacks finding answers to questions in CFL season

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With lineup questions heading into the 2024 CFL season, the Ottawa Redblacks may have discovered some answers in a storm-delayed season-opener Thursday night at TD Place.

With threatening flashes of lightning, the game was delayed for an hour. Once the skies cleared up a bit, the Redblacks returned to hold on to a 23-19 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are off to an 0-2 start to their season.

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So, what was on the mind of the Redblacks and their fan base?

How would Dru Brown do in his regular-season debut as Redblacks starting quarterback?

Could the Redblacks establish a ground game with last year’s starting running back Devonte Williams, a 1,000-yard rusher, out long-term with a torn Achilles tendon?


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How would the banged-up defence hold up with both starting cornerbacks, Brandin Dandridge (knee) and Alijah McGhee (foot), on the six-game injured list?

Let’s start with Brown, who the Redblacks acquired in a trade with the Blue Bombers and signed before he hit free agency earlier this year.

The 27-year-old pivot looked comfortable and confident during most of Thursday’s game. Brown completed 20-of-33 passes for 238 yards, with one of the tosses going for a touchdown. A couple of passes that would have added to his stats were dropped. But, most importantly, there were no interceptions.

Asked about his team’s quarterback, Redblacks head coach Bob Dyce said: “He focuses on what he has to do and holds his teammates accountable on what they have to do. When you have a player-led team, that’s when you usually have a successful team and Dru’s a heckuva leader. He didn’t make this about him playing his former team. Our goal was to go 1-0; he wanted to do everything from his end to do that.”

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At running back, the loss of Williams before training camp appeared to be a big blow.

But Armstead, a fifth-round draft pick of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, stepped up big on Thursday.

A quad injury that happened in Ottawa’s first pre-season game May 25 in Hamilton threatened to keep him out of the season-opener — he was listed as questionable and was a game-time decision.

But the guy they call Rock ran around and over Bombers defenders. He carried the ball 16 times for 95 yards, including one romp for 31 yards.

“He’s a helluva back,” Dyce said. “You always talk about being a physical team. You see him breaking tackles and running through guys. It’s not only defeating them physically, it’s defeating them mentally when they know they’re going to get pounded on and pounded on and it pays dividends later in the game.”

“I appreciate how he protects in pass protection and how he runs the ball,” Brown said. “He’s extremely physical and that doesn’t take away from his speed or ability to catch the ball.”

“I was just doing my job, I expect big runs, I expect 100-yard games,” Armstead said. “I’ve been training for the past five or six months. Opportunity is everything. Right place, right time is the biggest thing. I was here for a month last season, a lot of things didn’t work out in my favour. I needed to lose weight and look myself in the mirror. I did that.”

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Asked if he prefers knocking down opponents over running around them, Armstead smiled and said: “Yeah, it’s easier.”

Then, there was the defensive secondary. Money Hunter lined up at the boundary cornerback spot while Deandre Lamont was on the field (wide) side. Webb and Tobias Harris were at halfback and, with Justin Howell (calf) out, Alonzo Addae was at safety.

Addae and linebacker Adarius Pickett had interceptions while Webb made a huge diving knockdown to prevent a Winnipeg touchdown late in the game.

“All Damon does, he make plays,” Dyce said. “That’s the mindset. Everybody has to stand up when it’s time to stand up. Pick and Jovan (Santos-Knox) do a great job of leading the defence. They know what the expectation is; when the game is on the line, these guys are looking for the opportunity to make plays. That’s the mindset we have.”

“I was ready to do anything, lay out, just make sure I made the play and did my job,” Webb said. “I broke on (the route), I was thinking, ‘He’s not going to catch it.’ I should have (intercepted) it.”

As for the performance by the defence, they held Winnipeg’s ground game (which was missing Brady Oliveira) to 42 yards. QB Zach Collaros had 285 yards passing, but 76 yards of that came on a long corner route after a double move by Keric Wheatfall.

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“We had a big emphasis on (allowing) no big plays,” Webb said.

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Up next is a game next Thursday in Montreal against the defending Grey Cup champions. The Redblacks, who won just four games each of the past two seasons and three each of the two seasons before that, will take forward plenty of positives.

“We showed finish, we showed great belief,” Dyce said. “One of the things I was happiest about was (the players’) belief in themselves. They believed they were going to win (Thursday’s game) and they did it, they finished it.

“Outside the room, people talk about the past; we talk about going forward. We can’t control what’s happened here in the past. Our goal was to go 1-0 (this week). We want to win every single week. We’re talking about the 2024 Redblacks and this is who we are. This is a great stepping stone moving forward.”


Spectators on the south-side of TD Place saw Jeremiah Masoli, currently on the Redblacks’ six-game injured list, go down on the sideline during Thursday’s game. Team sources say the veteran quarterback felt dizzy and light-headed. But he was at team meetings and a rundown Friday and felt fine. It was characterized as “not a big deal.”

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