After three consecutive losing seasons, the Ottawa Redblacks are aiming to be a competitive force in the CFL’s East Division.
A big step toward doing that will be figuring out how to defend their home turf.
Since advancing to the 2018 Grey Cup final, the Redblacks have just 10 wins over the past three seasons and are 1-23 at home since June 2019. Ottawa went an embarrassing 0-9 at TD Place Stadium last season.
Bob Dyce was named interim head coach after the firing of Paul LaPolice last October and lost the interim tag in December, becoming just the third head coach in Redblacks history.
The 57-year-old Dyce has seen the good and the bad of the Redblacks, having served as special teams co-ordinator since 2016.
“This team will be a very physical team,” Dyce said. “A team that plays together, for each other and a team that plays fast and plays to win. That’s what it’s really all about.”
Dyce also wants his team to be mentally tough. Last season, it was evident players were struggling as they faced a 0-4 record early in the season despite some strong performances.
“We’ll be a team that fights not only for themselves but for the guy across the room in the locker room,” Dyce said.
It’s still early into camp, but Dyce has liked what he’s seen from his group of quarterbacks led by Jeremiah Masoli, who is signed through the 2024 season.
Masoli suffered a season-ending broken leg in Week 5 last season, and the 34-year-old spent the rest of the season watching the Redblacks struggle week after week and wondering what might have been had he stayed healthy.
He is now looking forward, and excited for what’s to come with Dyce at the helm.
“Words don’t do it justice,” Masoli said. “He really is a leader of men and everything he talks about. He’s not only holding us to a high standard, he’s holding the coaches to a high standard and you see it every day. It’s been really good and getting lots of great feedback from a lot of the new guys, vets who came from other teams, and they love it.”
Nick Arbuckle and Tyrie Adams will be looking to challenge Masoli, while Dustin Crum is also hoping to insert himself into the conversation.
“I’m really excited to see them when we actually get into mock games and the pre-season games,” said Dyce.
Looking to shore up their offence, the Redblacks hired former Montreal Alouettes’ head coach and offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones as its OC.
There will be competition for players at all positions, as was evident by the Redblacks’ surprising decision to release starting linebacker Patrick Levels on Day 3 of camp.
Competition at the defensive back position is deep, and veterans like Justin Howell expect to be pushed.
“I think this is the deepest room we’ve had to start training camp,” Howell said. “I think it’s really pushing us to be the best we can be.”
Howell believes the competition will benefit the team as it moves forward.
“Having been here in 2018 for the Grey Cup success for the best teams comes from within, it comes from the players, from your leadership and holding guys accountable,” said Howell. “Coaches set the standard, but we as players uphold the standard and hold one another accountable.”
Dyce has set the standard for his players, and it appears they’re buying into the system. All-star receiver Jaelon Acklin dropped 15 pounds in the off-season hoping to be lighter and faster.
Acklin had 75 catches for 1,179 yards in just 15 games last season and is looking to improve on those numbers.
“Sometimes as players you look to others for answers,” he said. “At the end of the day it all comes down to yourself and what you demand from your teammates. It’s good to have (Dyce) around because he demands stuff from each of us and makes us demand it from our teammates and that creates a great energy.”