Sunday, June 23, 2024

Positive vibes, but real measure for Ottawa Redblacks will be wins

Must read

Friday’s preseason game was an appetizer for what RNation hopes is a team competitive enough to challenge for a playoff spot, maybe get an opportunity to win another Grey Cup.

Article content

Maybe this is the year for the Ottawa Redblacks.

Maybe.

Maybe this is the season the Redblacks find a way to protect their quarterback and that pass slinger can connect often with a talented group of receivers.

Maybe.

Maybe this is when a group of mostly-Canadian Football League-inexperienced running backs can gain enough yards on the ground to allow that passing attack to blossom.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Maybe.

Maybe this is the season where the Redblacks defence makes more big plays than it surrenders.

Maybe.

Maybe in 2024, kick/punt returner DeVonte Dedmon can stay healthy and do what he does so spectacularly — electrify with a football in his hands.

Maybe.

There are a lot of ifs and buts.

It’s early, but there is a really positive vibe around the team, players that think they can make good on the maybes.

On Friday night, in their second and final pre-season game, the Redblacks tried to fix the fixables, while getting a look at many of their projected starters. It was a 19-13 victory over the Montreal Alouettes, who got many of their second-and third- and fourth-stringers on the field against an Ottawa team that tried to get its starters in sync.

It was far from terrific; too many dropped passes, some sloppy tackling, etc., etc.

But it was still a win, the team’s second of its exhibition-game schedule.

“We’d much rather have corrections after a win than a loss,” said Redblacks head coach Bob Dyce.

It was also a measuring stick a day ahead of the team’s final roster cutdown, expected sometime Saturday.

Advertisement 3

Article content

OK, it wasn’t real. At least not in the points-in-the-standings sense. But Friday’s preseason game was an appetizer for what RNation hopes is a team competitive enough to challenge for a playoff spot, maybe get an opportunity to play in another Grey Cup — just like it did in 2015 and 2016 and 2018. Remember those days?

Soon enough — June 13, following a bye week — the Redblacks will look to deliver for a fan base that’s been dragged through misery for four seasons. That’s what 14 wins going back to the 2019 season will do for you.

The Redblacks insist this season will be different; for the team’s fan base, success will be measured by wins.

Jaelon Acklin Redblacks
“Fans have a right to talk trash. They want to see us win, I want to see us win,” Redblacks receiver Jaelon Acklin says. Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

“If you’re losing, you’re going to have skeptics; if you can’t handle that, you’re in the wrong profession,” receiver Jaelon Acklin said. “Being a Redblack brings great responsibility. We have to figure out ways to win football games. Fans have a right to talk trash. They want to see us win, I want to see us win.”

We’ve heard the positive chatter before.

Each year, teams add players, they subtract players. On paper, they look better.

For the Redblacks, that hasn’t translated into success … at least not lately.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Lorenzo Mauldin IV Redblacks
Lorenzo Mauldin IV, the 2022 CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player, promises a rebound after a down season for him in 2023. Photo by Chris Hofley /Ottawa Redblacks

Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox played 12 games in 2023, battling hamstring and ankle injuries.

“Everybody wants to win,” he said. “The collective goal is being great, doing great things, not taking short cuts. I think we’ve got the right guys in here. We’re led by the right guy (head coach Bob Dyce). You’re going to see a different, motivated, disciplined, physical, fast team out there.”

“Our mindset is different this year,” insisted defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin IV, who has been with the Redblacks for two seasons and was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2022. “For the past two years, we didn’t do what we needed to do.

“Everybody’s a critic. You need to be your own worst critic.

“If you’re losing, you need to figure out how to put away the losses … and win. As we go into the season, with no wins and no losses, it’s important to win early, then keep that going moving forward. We have to hit fast and pull ourselves out of a lull.”

Mauldin wasn’t happy with the way the 2023 season went for him — he went from 17 sacks to five — or for the team. He’s back with a bit of an axe to grind.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“I had a weight problem,” he said. “I tried to come in last year with a bit more weight, it was an experiment. I lost the weight toward the end of the season. Now, I know exactly where I need to be, I’m coming back and trying to put up the same numbers (I did in 2022).”

Money Hunter
Redblacks defensive back Money Hunter went through an injury-plagued 2023 season. Photo by Tim Austen /Freestyle Photography/Handout

Defensive back Money Hunter is another Redblack looking to return to the form he showed earlier in his career. After making 38 tackles with four interceptions in 2022, Hunter (torn pectoral muscle) was limited to just four games a year ago.

“Chemistry is everything for a team; that’s one thing we’ve got,” Hunter said. “Our locker-room makeup is on point. You come together and begin to create those bonds with each other. The brotherhood begins to form.”

“It’s good to have chemistry; it makes a football team a lot better,” Acklin said.

There will be hurdles — injuries, setbacks — it’s all about the bouncing back, the perseverance, the resiliency.

“The best teams I’ve been on have been able to handle the adversity,” Acklin said. “This team is going to handle it a lot better. There will be stuff that comes up, stuff that’s uncontrollable. You have to keep everybody on the same path. If a guy gets injured, it’s a next-man-up mentality. If you mess up on a play, you wash it. Play for the guy next to you, don’t be selfish. It’s all about the team and us getting to the Grey Cup.”

And maybe the maybes go away. 

Article content

Latest article