OTTAWA — After weeks of preparation, the expansion Ottawa REDBLACKS will finally get to see how they stack up against CFL competition.
Their first opponent is none other than the defending Grey Cup champions.
Ottawa will take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium in a pre-season game Saturday. It will be the first ever game for the REDBLACKS as the CFL tries to make a go of it in the nation’s capital for a third time.
“We definitely are excited,” said Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris. “We want this to count. It means something finally and that’s what we all practice towards. You get tired of practising against the same guys and now we get to play against some new faces.”
Head coach Rick Campbell said the team will be travelling with 70 players, and added anyone who travels to Regina can expect to see playing time regardless of the score.
That includes getting a look at all four quarterbacks in action, Burris, Thomas DeMarco, Danny O’Brien and recently signed Alex Carder. O’Brien and Carder will likely be battling for the third-string spot.
“We are going to determine how many reps, but all four will end up seeing action,” said Campbell. “We’re not going to run everything that we’re going to do [this season], but we’re going to go out there and play football. The scoreboard’s on and we’re going to try to win. Our two things are we want to evaluate players and we want to try and win the game with everybody.”
While Burris will be the REDBLACKS’ go-to guy under centre this season, he understands the coaching staff’s need to get a look at everyone.
Despite having played in countless pre-season games Burris admits this one will be special because it will be the REDBLACKS’ debut. He believes players are as excited as fans to get things underway.
“We’re definitely ready for the challenge,” said Burris. “In the past week and a half I’ve seen our offence take unbelievable strides. You’re starting to see the young guys make plays and letting their athletic ability show.
“In the beginning guys were out here thinking and only going 80 per cent where they should be going 100 per cent as far as speed of the game. Now they’re not thinking they’re just playing and that’s the type of guys we want on this field and that’s what we’re looking forward to seeing on Saturday.”
The players were in agreement that training camp can get a little monotonous at times, and having the opportunity to get some game experience will be good for everyone.
“We’re looking forward to it because you get to hit someone else, but realistically the pre-season is to fine tune and figure out what you’ve got from a football team,” said defensive tackle Keith Shologan. “It’s the first test run of this football team, which is big. It’s going to be a nice test and a nice run through to figure out what this team has on and off the field.”
Shologan, who spent five seasons in Saskatchewan as a member of the Roughriders, says the atmosphere of Mosaic Stadium will be a good introduction for a number of Ottawa’s players.
“It’s the toughest place to play in the league, it will definitely be a test.”
Campbell agrees that playing against the defending Grey Cup champions offers a great challenge to the REDBLACKS.
“It’s going to be a tough test,” he said. “They’re a good team and it’s a tough place to play. I think it’s going to be good for us in the long run to be thrown into the fire early.”
The coaching staff anticipates some nervousness, but is confident the team has enough veterans on hand to offer guidance.
Burris acknowledged there are likely to be some butterflies, but says Saturday’s game is all about seeing how individuals can execute under pressure.
“Each and every time we step on the field, wherever I’ve been, we’ve only had one mindset and that’s to be the best and that’s what we’re planning on doing here,” said Burris. “My focus is to make sure that our offence, every time we step on the field, we show people that we are to be reckoned with. Let the work begin now.”