CFL Pass

It's all about opportunity for Ottawa Redblacks pass catchers

Wondering how good the Ottawa Redblacks receiving corps will be in 2019 without Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer?

Redblacks receivers coach Winston October is anxious to find out, but believes there are a few guys who can step in and make an impact alongside returning starters Brad Sinopoli and R.J. Harris.

“We have the same expectations we set last year,” said October. “Just do your job when the ball’s thrown to you. Just know that we trust you to be out there. If you’re one of the five guys out there, take advantage of it and catch the ball.

“I go back to my playing days (primarily as a kickoff/punt returner from 1999-2004). When I first got into the league, Montreal was looking to replace Chris Wright. No one knew how hungry I was to play the game. Then when I left Edmonton, they were looking to see who could replace me. I think it was Tony Tompkins who set a Grey Cup record the next year (in 2005, with a record for the longest Grey Cup kickoff return, 96 yards). You never know the hunger of a guy who comes in and how they take advantage of opportunities.

“The great head coaches, the great quarterbacks out there, they were given opportunities. If Drew Bledsoe doesn’t get hurt, do we even know who Tom Brady is? These guys are pros. As long as they play as a team, understand that great plays come out of the execution of regular plays and just do what they do in practice, everything else will take care of itself.”

Caleb Holley, signed as a free agent out of Saskatchewan, has been very good through training camp. Dominique Rhymes, Noel Thomas and Seth Coate were all here last year and have a good handle on the system.

“Even though we have names many people don’t know about, the system and Ottawa Redblacks is not new to them — that’s a big-time plus. Caleb’s done a good job. You look at R.J. Harris, then you look at Caleb, it’s, ‘Whoa, are they the same?’ That gives us options on how to run the offence.”

Asked if Harris can go beyond his 697 yards in catches of a year ago, October said, “I hope so. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. First time playing last year. He’s a guy who’s hungry. He has to remember that hunger from last year and keep it going.”

When offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo told the team in early April he was leaving to take a job in the XFL, the Redblacks decided to give the playcalling duties to October.

“Before anyone becomes a play caller, they’ve done it many times in the mirror,” said October. “I can’t tell you how many times in a game over the last few years I’ve been calling plays in my head. When Coach (Rick) Campbell and (GM) Marcel (Desjardins) made that decision, I was excited and honoured that they thought about that. With the help of Coach (Joe) Paopoa (running backs coach), Coach Mac (offensive line coach John McDonell) and Beau (Walker, the quarterback coach), we work well together.”

HOME SWEET HOME: Michael Klassen can’t wait to get home and try to beat a team he grew up watching.

From Calgary — he also played college ball for the hometown Dinos — Klassen played four years in Montreal with the Alouettes before getting signed by the Stampeders and playing there in 2017. Signed by the Redblacks before the 2018 season, the defensive lineman had a career-best 28 defensive tackles and four sacks.

“It’s a big game for us,” said Klassen. “It’s not only a rematch (of last year’s Grey Cup), it’s the one game a year I get to play in front of all my friends and family. I literally lived across the street from the stadium. So it’s a big game for myself as well as for the team.”

Sidelined early in training camp after tweaking his back in off-season workouts, Klassen was anxious to get back on the field.

“You’re just itching,” he said. “The guys out there, grinding and doing the two-a-days — they’re looking at me like, ‘Oh, man, that guy’s got the fresh body.’ I’m on the sidelines thinking, ‘I just want to be out there with the boys running around.’ I’m feeling good. I’m at the point of the career where the fresher and healthier I am, I think the better football player I am. I have high expectations of myself and I think the coaches have high expectations; hopefully I can prove them right.”

STARRING ROLES FOR DBs: The Redblacks’ defensive back corps of Chris Randle, Sherrod Baltimore, Corey Tindal, Jonathan Rose and Antoine Pruneau could be one of the best units in the CFL. Said Baltimore: “We watch film every day with each other, we’re real focused, we’re really dialled in and we want to prove to everyone that we’re the best unit out there. It’s like a college team where you come in as a freshman and you finish as a senior. The longer you play with each other, the better you get.”

THE END AROUND: The Redblacks’ team captains (voted on by the players) will be Brad Sinopoli, Dominique Davis, Antoine Pruneau, Brendan Gillanders and Richie Leone. … Asked about his longevity as a head coach — he’s going into his sixth season — Rick Campbell joked: “It means I’m getting old, I guess. I’m proud to be here and I hope I’m here a long time. It’s amazing that much time has gone by.” Asked how he’s grown as a coach, Campbell cracked: “I’ve got more grey hair and probably less hair.” … The Redblacks have  never won in Calgary, going 0-5. Asked about things like that and the fact that, across the board, prognosticators are picking Ottawa to finish with a sub-.500 record this season, Campbell said: “It’s good that people care. But we talk to our guys about what can be helpful or hurtful to our performance. I don’t know if it’s really helpful to even think about any of that stuff. We don’t really focus on that, we just get ready to play.” … Saturday’s game in Calgary is an early start (7 p.m. Ottawa time).


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