The Ottawa Redblacks face many questions as they head into their sixth season.
After making a trip to the Grey Cup last season, where they lost 27-16 to the Calgary Stampeders, the Redblacks now have the daunting task of proving they can remain a contender after losing some of their veteran players to free agency.
The most notable change will be at quarterback as Trevor Harris opted to sign with the Edmonton Eskimos, leaving the Redblacks to take a gamble on the unproven Dominique Davis.
The 29-year-old served as Harris’s backup last season and made appearances in all 18 games, but mostly in short-yardage situations. Davis was 24-for-39 for 373 yards passing and three touchdowns. He also ran in for six majors.
Coming into camp, Davis was in a duel with Jonathon Jennings for the starting job.
“It’s one of the best feelings ever,” Davis said of earning the No. 1 role. “This is something I’ve been waiting for my whole professional career and I’m just excited for the opportunity and I just want to win some games.”
Working in Davis’s favour was his familiarity with the Redblacks playbook.
“He has a good command of the offence and the players believe in him,” head coach Rick Campbell said. “He’s going to be our guy. He can run the show and feel comfortable with it.”
That being said, Davis will have to prove he can handle the responsibility, or the Redblacks will have no qualms turning to Jennings.
Jennings understands the pressure of the top job as he threw for more than 5,000 passing yards as a starter with the BC Lions in 2016.
Offensively, the Redblacks will have a different look after the losses of running back William Powell (Saskatchewan) and receivers Diontae Spencer (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Greg Ellingson (Edmonton).
Despite the departures, the Redblacks have confidence Mossis Madu can get the job done at running back and the group of receivers led by veteran Brad Sinopoli should be solid.
The biggest question mark might be with the Redblacks’ offensive line. Veteran left tackle SirVincent Rogers also headed to Edmonton and the Redblacks are toying with the idea of starting five Canadians.
Jason Lauzon-Séguin, who played right tackle, struggled at times last season, but the Redblacks could look to newcomer Stephane Nembot, an international, as he’s looked good in camp.
“I’m really happy with the unit we have right now,” offensive lineman Alex Mateas said. “A lot of us have been here a while playing together and we’re ready. We know a lot of people have some question marks from the outside, but we just need to execute our position and our job the best we can and we’ll be good.”
Defensively, the Redblacks should be operating from a position of strength with 11 of last year’s starters returning. The addition of veteran defensive back Chris Randle will also add stability and leadership to the group.
OTTAWA REDBLACKS AT A GLANCE
HEAD COACH: Rick Campbell, sixth season
LAST YEAR: 11-7-0, lost Grey Cup to Calgary Stampeders
KEY PLAYERS: QB Dominique Davis: Davis is getting his first shot at being a starter in the CFL. How will he handle the pressure?
WR Brad Sinopoli: The veteran receiver has posted four consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons for the Redblacks, but can he get a fifth surrounded by a younger, less-experienced group of pass-catchers.
DB Chris Randle: After spending five seasons in Winnipeg, Randle was released by the Blue Bombers and signed by the Redblacks. Ottawa has high hopes for the veteran, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the change of scenery.
THE BIG QUESTION: Can the Redblacks offensive line provide Davis with the protection he needs to have success as a starter?