January 3, 2018

2017 REDBLACKS: Best of the best

PHOTO: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa REDBLACKS

After 19 games over four months and some 5,500 passing yards and 450-plus points scored, the REDBLACKS season came to an end. And while the campaign to defend last year’s Grey Cup title ended earlier than anyone wanted, there was plenty to get excited about when it comes to the product on the field this season.

It’s been a year full of many highs, some lows and plenty of surprises. Here’s a look at a few of the things that had us taking notice through another exciting year of REDBLACKS football.

Taking the reins

When it comes to filling shoes, those left behind by Henry Burris when the legendary quarterback retired after last season are about as big as they get in sports. But in stepped Trevor Harris, who had the benefit of playing with Smilin’ Hank last season before himself becoming the number one this year, and it has never looked too big for him.

Granted, the year didn’t go exactly how Harris had drawn it up and missing three games with a shoulder injury was a setback, but there’s no denying the numbers he has put up in his first year as Ottawa’s starter. Even with the games missed due to injury, Harris finished the season fifth in the CFL with 4,366 passing yards (he led the CFL before getting hurt) and a league-leading 28 touchdowns.

Diamond in the rough

There are never huge expectations when a CFL team holds open tryouts throughout the United States. Sure, you’re hoping to get lucky and find a solid player or two, but nobody is hanging all their hopes on it. The REDBLACKS – particularly the scouting staff – showed just what can come out of those tryouts when they brought defensive back Sherrod Baltimore to training camp earlier this year.

After some time on the practice roster to start the year, the 25-year-old Maryland native hasn’t looked back. Baltimore played 12-straight games and recorded 46 defensive tackles, tying him for fifth-best on the team. He’s also proven to be a popular guy in the room and an energetic presence in games, whether he’s on the field or standing on the bench to fire up the crowd.

Welcome back, WiPo!

Achilles injuries are a tough beast. The recovery is long and it’s difficult to gauge when an athlete will return and, if they do, whether they will be the same player they were pre-injury.

That gets even trickier when it comes to a pro football running back, a position that involves a lot of pushing off your legs, a lot of quick direction changes and contact. So when REDBLACKS running back William Powell went down with a ruptured Achilles during the pre-season in 2016, no one knew exactly what player they would get back when he was healed.

Those concerns increased early in the year as Powell moved through a slow start. Then a switch seemed to flip and Powell has been tough to stop ever since. He became the first REDBLACK to hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark, clinching the milestone with his fourth 100+ yard game in Week 20. Powell also had three-straight games with at least 100 yards and rushed for a team record 187 yards against Saskatchewan on September 29.

Unsung heroes

There are certain key positions on a football team that don’t get nearly the respect they deserve. Count special team players among them, though that doesn’t make the guys covering kickoffs and punts any less critical to a team’s success.

Take Keelan Johnson, for example.

The 28-year-old defensive back from Arizona has gone from appearing in one game for the REDBLACKS last season to playing in all 19 this year and leading the CFL with 29 special teams tackles. Johnson credits his Arizona State University coach, who made all the starters play special teams, for helping hone his craft and he’s also seen success at the “gunner” position this year, the player running down field after the ball carrier.

Also cracking the CFL top 10 in special teams tackles is fourth-year REDBLACK Nigel Romick, who finished seventh with 19 on the year.

Savvy pickups

There was little doubt the REDBLACKS were getting a good player when they picked up linebacker Taylor Reed midway through the year last season. The 26-year-old Texan had just been released by Calgary after a couple strong seasons in Hamilton and looked like he could be a good fit in Ottawa.

Turns out Marcel Desjardins and his staff were bang on: Reed had 39 tackles and a sack in eight games with Ottawa last year en route to a Grey Cup championship and has stepped up his game even more this season. Reed lead the REDBLACKS with 94 defensive tackles, a number that also put him fifth in the CFL. His four sacks also put him in a tie for third on the team behind Avery Ellis and Zack Evans. Reed’s tackle numbers this year shattered his previous career high of 81, which he set with Hamilton in 2015.

RNation, you’ve had our backs through thick and thin this year and transformed this town into the envy of the entire league over the past four seasons. The atmosphere, the excitement, it’s unlike anything else and we want you there to experience it all with us. Become a REDBLACKS season ticket holder today and don’t miss a moment of 2018! Click here to learn more.