Tuesday, June 18, 2024

TSN poll has only three Redblacks among top 50 players in 2024

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After winning just 14 of 68 games over the past four seasons, how will the Ottawa Redblacks fare in 2024 as they celebrate the 10th anniversary of the franchise?

The perception from media outside Ottawa is a mixed bag, ranging from disappointing low to the highest of highs.

First off, the Redblacks have the fewest players on TSN’s annual Top 50 poll — former Toronto Argos linebacker Adarious Pickett (6), defensive end Bryce Carter (42) and offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais (46).

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The Edmonton Elks have four, while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions each have five. The Saskatchewan Roughriders, Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argos all have six and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who will provide the opposition in the Redblacks’ season opener on June 13 at TD Place, lead the way with 10.

Bombers QB Zach Collaros is ranked No. 1 for the third consecutive year.

Redblacks who made the TSN list last season but failed to do so this year are defensive lineman Lorenzo Mauldin IV (7), Dominique Rhymes (11), quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (27) and receiver Jaelon Acklin (30).

And then there’s Grey Cup and individual award predictions compiled by 3DownNation, the “website dedicated to covering all things Canadian football.”

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The consensus pick to take home the Most Outstanding Player hardware is Lions QB Vernon Adams, who was listed as top choice by seven of the 11 experts.

Mauldin, who was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive player in 2022, is picked by two to reclaim his title this season. His teammate Carter received one vote.

Redblacks QB Dru Brown is predicted to be the “breakout player of the year” by two of the 11 prognosticators, while rookie wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton was the choice of one.

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Looking to regain his form, the 31-year-old Mauldin dropped 20 pounds in the off-season with a six-and-six program.

He ate six meals a day and began his heavy workout routine at 6 a.m.

“Last year, I came into the season around 285 (pounds) and it was more of an experiment for me, coming from my 2022 season,” he said of his award-winning campaign, which saw him lead the league with 17 sacks — a number that fell to five in 2023. “I just wanted to see if I added a little bit to my game, if it would change it.

“It changed it a lot, but I just didn’t feel comfortable playing at that weight. So I came in this year during the off-season, basically telling myself like, ‘hey, you got to drop weight,  put on more muscle.’ I just basically just went in and put myself through a program and got leaner. I ate, ate, ate and worked out a lot.”

Mauldin has high expectations of himself and the defence as a whole for the coming season.

“I definitely feel like now I’m moving around a lot better, and I’m feeling a lot faster,” he said, agreeing with the sentiment that improvements made to the roster could take some of the opposition’s focus off himself. “We’ve added Pickett it to the to the defence, and we’ve got depth now, speaking about the D-line alone.

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“The secondary, these guys have been in the system long enough, so now they know the system. Now we’re going to roll on all cylinders,” he added, noted that bringing in former CFL great Greg Marshall to coach the D-line and another year under defensive co-ordinator Baron Miles will also be of benefit.

“I just feel like now we have depth in every position and now that guys have pretty much made a name for themselves in this league, I feel like now the attention is not going to be on me, it’s going to be more so on these guys. And it may be on me, but we’re all going to play together.”

That said, adding another individual trophy to his collection is not Mauldin’s top priority.

“At the end, it’s a team sport,” he said. “It’s good to have an accolade like that but at the end of the day, I’m not worried about the the individual stuff. I’m worried about the guys on the D-line and us figuring out to what we need to do to help the team. If (an award) comes with that, so be it.”

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Which brings us to predictions on the Grey Cup winner.

Of the 11 experts, seven are taking the Lions, while the majority of them have B.C. defeating the defending champion Alouettes in the Nov. 17 marquee game at BC Place.

Santino Filoso, who covers the Redblacks for 3DownNation, has Ottawa completing a full-circle turnaround by edging Saskatchewan 23-20 to win the Grey Cup.

“The pressure of hosting the big game will be too much for the Lions to overcome, allowing Saskatchewan to squeak by,” writes Filoso, an Ottawa native who now lives in Brazil. “In their second full season together, head coach Bob Dyce and general manager Shawn Burke finally get stable quarterback play to pair with their stout defence and electric special teams units.”

GOING DEEP

The Redblacks have signed Canadian defensive lineman T.J. Rayam to their practice roster. The 6-foot, 291-pound Edmonton product played 11 games for the Calgary Stampeders in 2023, recording 10 defensive tackles and one sack. Rayam joined the Stamps in 2022 as a supplemental draft pick with the team forfeiting a second-round selection to secure his rights. In 40 games at Boston College, he registered 66 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, two pass knockdowns, and one forced fumble … The Redblacks will hold an open practice at Mont-Bleu Stadium in Gatineau from 11:30a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Fans will also be able to enjoy inflatables, face painters, balloon artists, and a visit from the Redblacks Cheer Team. Merchandise also will be available for purchase and the day will be capped off by an autograph session with the team. “We know we have a lot of fans over there and we’re super excited to have our practice over there,” Dyce said. “We did it a few years ago and it was well received so the guys are excited to get over there.”

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