‘BACK WITH MY FAMILY’: DeVonte Dedmon returns as Redblacks look for answers to slide

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“We know what we have in that locker room; it’s just not coming together right now.”

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After an extremely disappointing loss Friday and increasing chatter that the Ottawa Redblacks could/should move on from head coach/offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice, there was some very good news Saturday.

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The Redblacks are bringing back electrifying returner/receiver DeVonte Dedmon. How big a deal is that for a team that’s struggled to a 1-8 start to the 2022 Canadian Football League season? Last season, the 26-year-old was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player — he had 2,841 return yards and with three touchdowns, became the fastest player in CFL history to record five return touchdowns in his career. Terry Williams has been fantastic as the Redblacks’ returner, but Dedmon has proven he’s the league’s best. 

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You know how you go to summer camp and you meet new people,” said Dedmon, who was recently released by the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins. “Then the school year starts, and you are back with your Day 1 crew? I’m back with my family.” 

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OK, that’s the good news; now let’s deal with the bad. The Redblacks are coming off back-to-back bad efforts, the most recent Friday’s 30-12 loss to the Edmonton Elks at TD Place. Emotions ran high on the sideline, with at least one heated exchange between players. The Redblacks are now 1-19 in their past 20 home games.

When asked what the message is to the players, linebacker Avery Williams said: “Stay together. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a challenge for me and a lot of the older guys and leaders. We’ve got coaches and players who have been through situations like this and been in Grey Cups. We know what we have in that locker room; it’s just not coming together right now. You see the big-time plays our offence is making, you see how dynamic our quarterback (can be) with his arm and legs. You see how our defence can shut things down when we’re working together and not getting penalties. We have to keep it going. We can’t have a big play, then a targeting penalty, we can’t have a big play and a pass interference penalty.”

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The Redblacks led 12-9 at halftime on Friday — with very little passing yardage. Offensively, the only thing they really had going for them was the running of quarterback Caleb Evans. Ottawa imploded in the second half. It was embarrassing and unacceptable.

Will LaPolice be fired? Should he be fired? It’s a situation that’s more complex than it seems. Has LaPolice lost the confidence of his players, maybe even members of his coaching staff? As of Saturday, the head coach still had his job.

It’s not just that the Redblacks have played uninspired football for two games — something that goes back to 2019 — it’s that fans are being bored into submission. Fifteen points in the last two home games? A Coach’s Challenge on Friday was a mistake, and play calls have come under question. A bad play call becomes a worse play call when the players fail to execute it — there’s at least one missed block when you call a jet sweep and lose yards on it.

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Going into Friday’s game, LaPolice defended his decision to give Evans another start coming off a plenty-less-than-stellar effort (10-for-21 for 66 yards with an interception and a fumble) in a 17-3 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on Aug. 5. Completing 10 of 16 passes for 111 yards (inflated by a 50-yard catch by Darvin Adams), Evans wasn’t much better against the Elks, though he rushed for 82 yards and didn’t turn the ball over. For the second straight game, the Redblacks were too stubborn to make a change at QB — finally turning it over to Nick Arbuckle with a bit more than six minutes to go Friday.

The Elks, mostly, rushed three defenders and dropped nine players back into coverage. The Redblacks tried to exploit that by running the ball. With tighter windows to throw into, the Redblacks never really got the passing attack on track.

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“In that first half, I felt we were doing a really good job on the field. If you were just watching the game and not the scoreboard, you would have probably felt we had a pretty good lead,” Arbuckle said. “We weren’t finishing drives. We know we can be a lot more successful, and that’s why it’s frustrating. We know how good we can be.”

Asked about the message the players should be hearing as they try to find traction after a 1-8 start, Arbuckle said: “Keep going. It’s not a time to hang our heads. We still have a chance to make the playoffs. The season’s not over. We play a lot of these (East Division) teams — we play Montreal three more times and Toronto and Hamilton twice. We still have a good chance of controlling our own destiny, but we have to start really soon.”

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Up next for the Redblacks is another date with the Elks: next Saturday in Edmonton.

“We’d love to put up more points, we’d love to win,” Redblacks receiver Shaq Johnson said. “I don’t know what to tell you right now. It was frustrating, but I have trust in our coaching staff and players that we can try and get this going in Edmonton.”

THE REPORT CARD

Offence F: Missed opportunities in the first half and few opportunities in the second half. It was a dud, a disaster. Caleb Evans completed 10 of 16 passes for 111 yards and ran for 82. Nick Arbuckle completed seven of 13 for 85 yards. Play-calling and execution were both at fault.

Defence D+: Really good first half. Edmonton’s offence looked very weak. But bend, don’t break just plain broke in the second half. The Redblacks were also playing shorthanded, with both Sherrod Baltimore and Justin Howell leaving with injuries.

Special Teams C-: Mr. Consistent Lewis Ward missed two of his three field-goal attempts. It wasn’t one of Richie Leone’s better games — his net punting average was 39.6 yards. But we’ve come to expect awesomeness every game from the CFL veteran.

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