OTTAWA — Life is not about to get any easier for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Losers of three straight, the Redblacks (1-5) host the powerful Edmonton Eskimos (5-1) on Friday at TD Place. In what seems like a case of piling on, another West Division power, the Calgary Stampeders, comes to the nation’s capital next week.
It’s a pretty bleak picture for the expansion Redblacks, who like other teams in the inferior East have trouble when pitted against their West Division counterparts. Still, coach Rick Campbell said his team can get that elusive second win if it can limit its mistakes.
“Any time you face a good team, like the last three weeks of Saskatchewan, Calgary and Edmonton they’re not going to beat themselves so we need to make sure we keep things positive,” Campbell said. “We can’t afford negative plays, which would include penalties, and we’ve got to limit the turnovers and when we’ve played that way, which we did several games early in the season, then we gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Statistically things don’t look great for the Redblacks.
The team ranks ninth and dead last in the CFL in yards allowed per game (415.8), is seventh in offence (332.7) and eighth in rushing yards per game (79.2).
Despite the disappointing numbers players believe they are coming together as a team.
“Everybody just has to focus on themselves and do their own job and keep their integrity,” said linebacker Jasper Simmons, who had nine tackles and an interception last week.
“Keeping your integrity means you can rely on me, rely on me to be where I need to be and if that happens good things will happen. We have great effort, great will and great power to do what we have to do, but we have to be smart.”
The Redblacks don’t want to use their tough schedule as an excuse, but a stretch of games against Saskatchewan, Calgary, Edmonton and Calgary again would be tough for any team, let alone an expansion team.
The Western teams have proven to be a challenge for everyone in the East, but the tough stretch has also allowed the Redblacks to see how they measure up against the best and determine what improvements need to be made.
The Redblacks face Edmonton for the second time this season.
Quarterback Henry Burris believes they played well against them earlier this season despite losing 27-11.
“We did a great job of taking care of the football,” Burris said. “That helps keep us in games and gives our defence a chance and puts them in the long field position where they have to try and drive the long field.”
Burris believes that if the team can find some consistency in its play, eliminate penalties and mental mistakes then the team will give itself the best opportunity to be successful.
The Redblacks would also like to get off to a strong start, something they’ve struggled with in their last three games. Playing from behind has often led to mistakes and penalties, which in turn seems to change the overall mindset and game plan.
“The start is so important,” added Simmons.
“We need to show that we’re here. We can’t wait until the second half to decide to play. We need to start fast and being home this week you want to get those 24,000 fans yelling for you.”
The Redblacks will be making some lineup changes in hopes of shaking things up.
Dobson Collins will come out of the lineup to make room for Onrea Jones, who will make his debut at receiver.
The other change will see two Americans starting on the offensive line as Nate Menkin comes in at right tackle and Jeraill McCuller will start at left tackle.
Jones, who had been on the practice roster, has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and the Redblacks are looking forward to seeing what he can offer Friday against the Eskimos.
Campbell has had to coach against Jones, when he played in Hamilton, and says he’s a physical, tough player who brings intensity to the game and is excited to see him make the most of this opportunity.
Jones says his main focus is to be able to contribute in a positive manner.
“I don’t want to be the guy that sets the team back because it’s my first week back in the lineup,” admitted Jones. “For me, it’s just to do my part. If we all take care of our own business then the team aspect will come together, but as players we have to battle our own individual battles.”
In Hamilton Jones was considered a reliable receiver, never a star, but dependable, and right now the Redblacks would more than likely settle for dependable as Burris continues to seek out a consistent receiver.
Jones said he hasn’t caught as many balls as he would have liked having missed training camp, but feels that if he can win the man-to-man battle he should be in good position.
“If we all win the individual battle every play then it doesn’t matter who is the number-one guy,” said Jones. “At the end of the day it’s about being successful and winning that play. We want to win those single battles and then Henry is going to make the right decision, but we have to do our job as well.”