Friday, June 14, 2024

Redblacks need big improvements on D after allowing 507 points in ’23

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For his third season with the Redblacks, it can accurately be stated that Alonzo Addae is coming in hot.

The 26-year old defensive back, a product of Pickering who the team selected 13th overall in the 2021 CFL draft, had two interceptions in the 2023 season finale, a 27-23 loss to the Argos.

That matched the number of picks he had in his previous 82 college and pro games combined.

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Addae’s stats line last season – four picks (second most on the Redblacks behind Brandin Dandridge’s five) along with a pair of forced fumbles that tied him for the team lead with Bryce Carter – is even more impressive when you consider that, while playing all 18 games for the second year in a row, he only started six.

“My only goal is to make plays,” said Addae, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder. “That’s the name of the game. I’m trying to take the ball away and give it back to the offence, so our high powered new weapons can go out there and put some more points up.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to run a few back this year too. You know, I’m trying to get in the end zone as well. So definitely, when I’m out there, I’m trying to take that ball away. I’m a playmaker. That’s what I’m built to do.”

Addae has plenty of swagger, which is an essential ingredient to the makeup of a player with his job.

“It’s vital,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, bad things are going to happen. We’re all professionals, and they’re getting paid too. So if you don’t have confidence in yourself, when something bad happens and you get down on yourself, it’s a downward slope. You got to be able to brush that off, have confidence in yourself and go back out there the next play,  ready to step up.”

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Addae is in a battle for the starting safety job with fellow Canadians Justin Howell and Ty Cranston, while the incumbent, Howell, has been sidelined by an injury.

Defensive coordinator Barron Miles likes what Addae brings to the table.

“Young athlete, twitchy. Good range. Eager to play the game,” Miles said. “He’s looking for his opportunity and he’s getting his shot, and he’s taking advantage of it. And he has two guys behind him that are just as good if not better, Howell and Ty Cranston.  Young Canadian guys. It’s a great room, and they cheer each other on but at the same time, they compete. And that’s the first and foremost. We like it.”

(Miles’ definition of twitchy: “Agility, fast twitch stopping start, things like that. Having that ability as a DB is a plus. When a receiver tries to shut down and restart, our feet have to be faster than theirs. DBs have better feet than receivers.”)

Although he was a soccer player as a kid, it was only a matter of time before Addae switched sports.

Among his family members who played football was Willie Bethea, his grandfather.

Bethea, who passed away in January at the age of 85, was a three-time Grey Cup winner with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 1960s.

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When fans voted for their all-time all-star team a decade ago, Bethea and Troy Davis were the two running backs.

“I didn’t get to actually watch him play, but I saw the hardware around the house with my mom,” said Addae. “She kept one of the rings and then my two other aunties have the other two. And whenever I would go to Hamilton and be in the community with him, he was really respected out there. So definitely, his knowledge and his tutelage guided me throughout my younger years, definitely played a big role. Being able to look at family members and know that it was attainable as long as I put the work in. It was definitely a big influence on why I’m here today.”

Also clear is that Addae is very much a team player.

“More than anything, it’s all about competing,” he said of training camp. “You know, we’re not going to get better if we’re not competing. So, yes, there’s jobs open, but at the end of the day, if we’re not competing for them, then each of us isn’t getting better, so I’m definitely enjoying competing against everybody.

“My mindset more than anything is just to be the best player I can be for the team. Wherever the coaches want me to be, wherever they want me to play. If it’s going to be in a starting role, then it’s going to be in a starting role and I’ve got to be prepared for that. More than anything, I’m just trying to bring my versatility and help everybody around me. With this being my second year in the defence under Coach Miles, just understanding the concepts and really helping guys flow.

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“This is our second year so it’s going to look a lot better.”

That is a must.

The Redblacks allowed 507 points last season, most in the East and second most in franchise history.

For now, Miles wants to see his players “learning the process, learning the system, making sure they’re doing the right things the correct way all the time. Just being consistent. That’s the biggest thing, trying to be consistent and play at a fast level.”

But he also can’t make any promises about improvement until he sees the defence in “the high pressure situations” of a game. The first pre-season test is Saturday in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats.

“The clock on the scoreboard, the score is on the scoreboard … those things change people’s body language and mindset, so you don’t know until the game starts,” said Miles, who has specifics he wants to see against the Tiger-Cats. “Energy, physicality, guys understanding the system, playing playing man-to-man coverage. Guys need to be able to play man, guys need to play zone, but first and foremost, when it cold in November, they’ve got to be able to play man-to-man football.”

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Playing in November means the Redblacks would be in the playoffs, something that they haven’t done since 2018.

For that to happen, new quarterback Dru Brown will have to be who they think he can be, and the defence will have to be much better than it has been.

The Redblacks are going to need some playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Guys like Alonzo Addae.

GOING DEEP

The Redblacks have added three American DBs and released three American DBs. The incoming are 6-foot, 196-pounder Dishon McNary, who won a Grey Cup with the Alouettes and spent time with the Stampeders last pre-season; 5-foot-11, 195 pounder Kalon Gervin, who is coming in from the Green Bay Packers minicamp; and 6-foot-1, 174-pounder Jordan Jones, who is coming off a stint with the Argos. Outgoing are Jaquan Amos, D.J. Stirgus and Dillon Thomas. Also released was American receiver Mike Harley … Expecting to be without suspended QB Chad Kelly for at least the first half of the season, the Argos have signed former Redblack Nick Arbuckle. The 30-year-old started two games for Ottawa in 2023 and four for Toronto in 2021.

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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