CFL

Redblacks should be rare competitive expansion team

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Ben Fisher, TSN.ca
6/14/2014 1:11:17 PM
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Twelve years ago, it was Dan Crowley throwing passes to receivers Jimmy Oliver, Denis Montana, and Eddie Brown, and handing the ball off to Darren Davis.

That's a quarterback with just 253 passing attempts experience, and who would be out of the league in two years; three receivers with just one career 1,000-yard season combined; and a running back who after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, failed to gain even 300 yards on the ground in either of his two years in Ottawa before leaving the league.

Sorry for the painful trip down memory lane Ottawa football fans.

Flash forward 12 years and it will be an awfully different scene, one with a lot more promise. Instead of a QB with just 1,696 passing yards at the time leading Ottawa's new expansion team, they'll have a 14-year veteran in Henry Burris, a former Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup champion, who has 51,526 career passing yards. 1,696 yards is a good weekend for the former Calgary Stampeder, Saskatchewan Roughrider, and Hamilton Tiger-Cat.
 
The team has some promise in the receiving corps as well and an electrifying running back in Chevon Walker backed up by some solid CFL experience at fullback.

The point is the Redblacks this season will look different than almost any expansion team before them, not just in the CFL or even football, but in all professional sports. They'll look like a team that can compete.

It's a nice change from the Renegades' debut, whose problems ran far deeper than their game day roster week in and week out; having a team that can contend, or at least keep things close when the West Division heavy hitters come to town, is a boon to both the new ownership and CFL fans in Ottawa, who perhaps more than anyone deserve some good fortune on the gridiron.

Using one part updated expansion draft rules that made more players available and one part a little good fortune in free agency, the Redblacks have built a deeper and more talented roster than your typical expansion team mish-mash.

As mentioned earlier, Ottawa will be led by Burris, but they'll have some other veterans sprinkled into the roster to help the roster through their maiden voyage in the CFL. Guys like Walker at running back, receiver Paris Jackson, and offensive linemen John Gott, Joe Eppele, and J'Michael Deane will help Burris run an effective offence that could easily be closer to the middle of the pack than the basement come season's end.

And on defence, former Most Outstanding Defensive Player Jovon Johnson should have enough gas left in the tank to lead the unit alongside veterans Keith Shologan, Anton McKenzie, TJ Hill, and Malik Jackson.

This isn't to say the Redblacks are instant Grey Cup contenders, which in a nine-team league isn't entirely crazy. With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heading West and the Argos, Ticats, and Alouettes all coming off at least decent regular seasons in 2013, the Redblacks will enter the year as favourites to finish in the East Division basement, but a 5-7 win season should keep the fans intrigued, and more importantly, excited about the future.

Notes

Expansion Draft - The Redblacks took their biggest step towards looking like a real team with the Expansion Draft in December. Highlights included picking two quarterbacks in Kevin Glenn and Thomas DeMarco, and other notable names such as Keith Shologan, Chevon Walker, Joe Eppele, and Eric Fraser.

Glenn Saga - Kevin Glenn looked to be the Redblacks' quarterback of the present until Henry Burris became available on the free market and Ottawa pounced. Not happy with the demotion, Glenn was eventually traded to the Lions where he'll instead back up Travis Lulay on his fifth CFL team.

Free Agency - Burris was the big coup in free agency but the team landed several other notable players including LB Malik Jackson from the Stampeders, defensive back Jovon Johnson from the Blue Bombers, and WR Kierrie Johnson from the Roughriders.

CFL Draft - The Redblacks traded the first overall draft pick to the Stampeders for veteran offensive lineman John Gott, but got back into the first by trading Glenn to the Lions, and ended up with defensive back Antoine Pruneau. Other picks included WR Scott MacDonell in the second round, DL Nijel Romick in the third round, offensive linemen Aaron Wheaton in the fourth and Hugo Desmarais in the fifth, DL Stephon Miller in the sixth, and DL Vincent Desloges, LB Alexandre Bernard, and LS Kevin Malcolm in the seventh.

Lansdowne Park - TD Place Stadium has been constructed where Frank Clair Stadium once stood and is expected to be fully ready for the team's Week 4 game against the Argonauts, the Redblacks' home opener.

Henry Burris (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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