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Vets not taking anything for granted as Redblacks head into first pre-season game

Kevin Brown and R.J. Harris are two of those “been there, done that” guys on the Ottawa Redblacks roster.

Both were key contributors to a 2018 team that advanced to the Grey Cup before falling 27-16 to the Calgary Stampeders. Harris, a receiver in his second year in Ottawa, had 49 catches for 697 yards and two touchdowns last season. Brown, in his third year as a Redblacks linebacker, had 55 defensive tackles (with 17 more on special teams), two sacks and an interception.

Neither player is taking anything for granted.

“You come in to compete,” said Harris following Thursday’s practice at TD Place. “Last year was last year, it was 2018. Whatever success you had, you leave that in the past. It’s 2019, you have to put your best foot forward. The people up front – the GM and coaching staff – they bring a lot of new competition in every year to compete. You have to come in ready to compete with those guys.”

The Redblacks will play their first pre-season game Saturday at home vs. the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. There’s another game next Thursday in Montreal. Then, June 15, Ottawa opens its regular season in Calgary.

Said Brown: “One of my daily things I do in the morning – I have a devotional I read, it said something like, ‘A veteran should never lose the hunger of a rookie.’ Every time I come out and see the young guys, it makes me think I came out here and had that same hunger and intensity. When I come out for a pre-season game, I’m still trying to prove myself. You always have to hold yourself to a high standard. Them bringing in great guys to compete every year, it brings me back – every time I come to camp, it’s like the first time I’m here.”

The pre-season game is a chance for the players to show the Redblacks coaches and evaluators what they can do in a real situation.

“It’s a good opportunity to go against somebody not wearing the same colours,” said Harris. “We’ve been butting heads with each another for going on two weeks. It’s a good measuring stick to see who we are as an offence, a defence, on special teams – and as a unit.”

“It’s going to be good,” said Redblacks coach Rick Campbell. “This is our 12th day of practice and our 15th day when you include the rookies. Guys are looking forward to it. We take their whole body of work into account, but you want to see how they do lining up in a game situation with the lights and scoreboard on and another team here. (The Ticats have) got guys fighting for jobs on their side, so do we. That’s what makes pre-season fun.”

“(The Ticats are) one of my favourite teams to play,” said Brown. “People call it a rivalry, but we’re just going out there and playing football. We want to go out there and make a statement – whether it’s pre-season or regular season, we’re playing every snap the same.”

Players like Brown and Harris are proud to represent the city and the team their jersey represents.

“We’re here to play football, but we also have to be good citizens,” said Harris. “That’s what I try to do, keep my nose clean. “We’re representing RNation all the time.”

Harris didn’t make any changes in his off-season routine. He was at home in Maryland, combining his workout schedule with being a father to his daughter Malani Jae, who turns two in September. He was also again a boot camp instructor at Cloud 10, a fitness studio in Anne Arundel County, near Baltimore.

Asked about his daughter, he said: “It’s humbling, it’s teaching me a lot of patience. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“She’s got a great vocabulary,” he added with a laugh. “Her favourite word to me right now is ‘no.’ Yes is no. No is no. Just no.”

WHO WILL PLAY?

While the Redblacks will likely rest many of their projected starters next Thursday in Montreal, look for many of the big names to get playing time Saturday.

Asked about how time would be split between the quarterbacks – in particular, Dominique Davis and Jonathan Jennings, who are battling for the starting job – Campbell said it would be decided before Friday’s walk-through: “We definitely want Dom and Jon to get a significant amount of time. But there are some other factors that go into it.”

DEFENCE AHEAD

It makes sense that the Redblacks’ defence is ahead of the game – 11 of last year’s starters are back and defensive back Rico Murray has been replaced by an all-star, Chris Randle. Said Brown: “We’re picking up our rhythm. It’s a lot easier for the defence to get into a rhythm. A lot of it for the offence is timing and that takes reps – that’ll develop as the season goes along. We’ve got continuity with the (same) defensive co-ordinator (Noel Thorpe) being here, we’ve already got the system. We really feel almost like we’re picking up where we left off. If we hit the ground running, I feel like it’s going to be a good year.”

THE END AROUND

Asked about keeping his team healthy heading into the regular season, Campbell said: “The best way to stay healthy is play fast and play hard. If you let up or you’re trying to protect yourself, bad things happen. We just have to cut it loose, play good football and hopefully stay healthy.” … There were plenty of local connections in Thursday afternoon’s 45-20 Toronto Argos win over the Montreal Alouettes. For Montreal, former Redblacks RB Jeremiah Johnson rushed once for five yards. Former Gee-Gee Ty Cranston had two defensive tackles and another on special teams. For Toronto, QB Michael O’Connor completed 4-of-5 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Crapigna booted four converts. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. returned three punts for 26 yards, including one for 22. Former Gee-Gee Jamie Harry had two tackles.

TBaines@postmedia.com

Twitter: @TimCBaines


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Source: torontosun.com