Monday, May 27, 2024

Time for Redblacks to begin turnaround as camp opens on 2024 season

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The Ottawa Redblacks have a record of 14-54 and have failed to make the playoffs in the past four seasons.

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Another round of construction in the Glebe begins Thursday afternoon, when mostly familiar crews set out to build a unit fit for the road to respectability out of TD Place.

That’s right, folks, it’s time once again for the opening of another Ottawa Redblacks training camp.

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The two-day rookie camp that kicks off at 1 p.m. will bridge into Sunday’s opening of the main camp, and nobody can be more anxious to see what shows up on the field than GM Shawn Burke and head coach Bob Dyce, who will be entering their third and second seasons on the job, respectively.

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The onus is on these two men to pull the parachute on the free falling of a franchise that, since playing in the 2018 Grey Cup game, has a record of 14-54 and has failed to make the playoffs in the past four seasons.

If they can’t lift the team well past the four-win hump that has proven to be insurmountable in the past four seasons, dating back to the year before COVID cancelled the 2020 season, it will surely be time to give someone else a shot at the most important jobs in the organization.

The bookmakers clearly have their doubts about Ottawa.

While FanDuel has listed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers the favourites to win the Grey Cup at +200, the Redblacks, Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Elks have the longest odds at +2,000.

Dyce, who took over the job as sideline boss on an interim basis after the four-game mark of the 2022 campaign, will no doubt be clear with his messages from the outset as he presides over his second training camp.

When the rookies take the turf on Thursday, absent will be the Redblacks’ first-round pick, as 6-foot-6 wide receiver Nick Mardner is preparing to attend the New York Giants’ mini camp next month.

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But present will be the six players the Redblacks signed earlier this week from their 2024 draft class.

They are: defensive lineman Daniel Okpoko, a second-round pick out of San Diego State; defensive back Dawson Pierre, a third-round pick out of Concordia; Ottawa-born wide receiver Jahquan Bloomfield, a fourth-round pick out of Prairie View A&M; defensive back Yani Gouadfel, a sixth-round pick out of Bishop’s; linebacker Zachary Phillion, a seventh-round pick out of Concordia; and receiver Russell Dixon, an eighth-round pick out of UConn.

“We are thrilled to add these six players from our draft class,” said Burke. “We are excited for them to showcase their talents at training camp.”

On a team that averaged just over 23 points a game last year when led by Dustin Crum, who started camp as the fourth-string QB but was thrust into the starter’s role by injuries, the biggest camp story will be the anticipated battle between veteran Jeremiah Masoli and former Blue Bombers backup Dru Brown for the No. 1 job.

Also closely monitored will be the battle to replace Devonte Williams after the team’s top running back suffered a torn Achilles tendon while training.

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Competing for that job as of Sunday will be Americans Ryquell Armstead, Kylin Hill and Tyler Hoosman, but don’t be surprised to see others come in for auditions if none of the three distinguish themselves as a dangerous threat.

The Redblacks did announce five signings on Wednesday:

— American receiver Andre Miller, a 25-year-old, 6-foot-2, 224-pounder out of Maine who attended training camp with the Giants in 2022 and saw pre-season action with the Green Bay Packers in 2023.

— Offensive lineman Isaac Moore, a 6-foot-7, 300-pounder from Sweden who was selected sixth overall by the Stampeders in the 2023 CFL Global Draft and, after attending mini camp with the Packers, spent last season on Calgary’s practice roster.

— American defensive lineman Owen Carney, a 6-foot-3, 275-pounder out of Illinois who saw pre-season action with the Cincinnati Bengals last season and with the Miami Dolphins in 2022.

— American linebacker Caliph Brice, a 6-foot-2, 233-pounder out of Florida Atlantic who suited up with XFL’s Houston Roughnecks last season after signing with the Packers as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL draft.

— American defensive lineman Michael “MJ” Anderson, a 6-foot-3, 275-pounder out of Iowa State who attended the Seattle Seahawks’ training camp last year.

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