CFL Pass

Foul poll! Are the Ottawa Redblacks that bad? They sure don't think so

Antoine Pruneau finds it weird, even a bit funny, that nobody’s giving the Ottawa Redblacks much of a chance to succeed in the 2019 Canadian Football League season.

Pre-season polls, projections and rankings aren’t kind to the Redblacks, who are coming off their third Grey Cup appearance in the past four seasons. The first edition of the CFL’s Nissan Titan Power Rankings puts the Redblacks eighth out of nine teams, with only the Montreal Alouettes ranked lower. (From 1-9, it’s Calgary, Winnipeg, B.C., Hamilton, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal.)

Pruneau, going into his sixth season in Ottawa, says the Redblacks aren’t getting the respect they deserve, but that’s nothing new.

“Maybe it’s good for someone’s Instagram account to pick us there,” Pruneau said. “I don’t really get it. As many changes as there have been for us — some new players have come in — we’re still a winning organization. There are a lot of things that would have to go wrong for us to not have a good season. How have the other teams proven they’re better than us? It’s weird to me.

“It’s the CFL panel, the CFL writers, social media … it’s always been like this. We only had one huge regular season (12-6 in 2015). Maybe that’s part of it. But, when the heat is on and it matters the most, we perform, we come out strong. We’re just a young organization. Maybe in a couple of years, if we stay on top of the CFL East, we’ll get the respect we deserve.”

Asked if Redblacks players paid much attention to how they were ranked in any polls or rankings, offensive lineman Jason Lauzon-Séguin said: “If you look back, every year we’re kind of the team that the league looks down on. It’s a ranking that really means nothing to us. We think we can compete with any team in the East.”

There have been plenty of changes on the Redblacks’ offence. Quarterback Trevor Harris, receiver Greg Ellingson and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers all left as free agents to sign with the Edmonton Eskimos, running back William Powell went to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, receiver Diontae Spencer signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League, and offensive lineman Josue Matias retired.

“It’s funny they give that much credit to the players that we had last year and brought us to the Grey Cup,” Pruneau said. “It’s funny they look at Edmonton and see (the Eskimos) as being great because they have so many of our players. An organization is a lot bigger than a couple of players. People are only looking at the top layer of the cake, dig deeper in the cake and you will see who we really are.”

Almost everywhere you look, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are being picked to finish atop the CFL East. But, asked if the Ticats were a better team, Pruneau said: “How many times did they beat us last year (Ottawa won all four games)? They have a lot of things to prove. They’re a pretty good team. We’ve always had good battles with them, but we’ve always been on top.”

While Ottawa’s defence returns nearly intact — all-star cornerback Chris Randle replaces Rico Murray — the offence has a new look, with Dominique Davis taking over as starting QB. Pruneau lines up against the unit each day in practice and says the talent level is still high.

“Dominique is a great quarterback,” he said. “A bunch of these receivers were here last year, they were in the rotation, and, when their name was called, they performed really well. I think there will be a lot of new fan favourites. People forget: Last year we had a lot of changes on our defence and look at how we performed. I don’t see any reason why our offence can’t perform this year.”

THE SURVEY SAYS: In the annual CFL Media Poll, Redblacks defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe was the top vote-getter as up-and-coming coach who should be hired as a head coach, with 11 of 45 votes. Other than that, the Redblacks were not mentioned a lot (for the sake of transparency, I did not vote). Ottawa’s Rick Campbell received the third-most votes (five) as the head coach you’d want coaching your team (Calgary’s Dave Dickenson received 31 votes and Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea received six). Receiver Brad Sinopoli got 11 of 50 votes as the player likely to be Most Outstanding Canadian (Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris got 28). Former Redblack Greg Ellingson got seven votes as the player who will get the most receiving yards (B.C.’s Bryan Burnham got 20 votes). B.C. was listed as the team that had the best off-season (with 24 votes). Calgary receiver Reggie Begelton got the most votes (eight) for player most likely to have a breakout season. (Ottawa QB Dominique Davis got five votes and receiver RJ Harris got two.) QBs Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly each got 14 votes for likely Most Outstanding Players. Former Redblacks William Powell and Trevor Harris each got a vote. Calgary and Winnipeg tied with 14 votes each as the team most likely to win a Grey Cup. Ottawa got just four of 50 votes as the team most likely to win the East (Hamilton got 43 and Toronto got three).

ROSE COULD PLAY: It had been speculated that Redblacks DB Jonathan Rose would miss the first game of the regular season against Calgary on Saturday night. The CFL announced last November that Rose would be suspended for the Grey Cup game for shoving an official in a sideline altercation during the East Division final against Hamilton. Rose appealed the suspension and played in the Grey Cup loss to Calgary. The expectation, though, was that the suspension would carry over to this season. Maybe not. “He should be good to go, It’s my understanding that he’s playing,” Campbell said Tuesday.

THE END AROUND: The Redblacks have never won in Calgary since entering the CFL in 2014. Campbell is hoping that changes Saturday. “It’s a box we would certainly like to check. We’ve done a lot of good things and accomplished a lot, but we haven’t won in Calgary,” he said. “That’s not the burden just on these players, but just for our franchise. It would be great to find a way to win in Calgary.” … If what we see in practice is any indication, the Redblacks will line up with Brad Sinopoli, Dominique Rhymes, RJ Harris, Caleb Holley and Seth Coate at receiver (J.C. Beaulieu will also be in there as tight end in some formations) … Following roster cutdowns, at least three Redblacks players have changed uniform numbers. Running back John Crockett now wears No. 32, linebacker De’Andre Montgomery is now 41 and receiver Guillermo Villalobos is 85.

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