August 28, 2014

Campbell: REDBLACKS gearing up for playoff push


OTTAWA — A week ago, Eddie Poole was sitting at home in Belle Glade, Florida, still hopeful that his phone would ring after an unsuccessful tryout at the Washington Redskins mini-camp in late May.

It seems he is a perfect solution for any team constantly looking for help at wide receiver. So the Ottawa REDBLACKS finally placed a call to the Poole household.

The very next day the former standout at Bethune-Cookman University was filling out the paperwork for a passport to get on up to the Nation’s Capital.

Three days later, the REDBLACKS hopeful found himself in the middle of a CFL playoff race, not that the graduate in Criminal Justice could quite comprehend it.

Like many, Poole felt three teams with one win each at almost the mid-point of a season, still competing for a playoff spot, out to be … against the law.

“You know, I looked at the East (standings) and I say ‘What’s going on?’. . . ,”said Poole, who could be a key contributor in a race for second-place in the East that never seems to end . . . or change.

“It’s confusing to say the least.

“But thankfully, because of the system, we’re still in it.

“All (the coaches) told me is football is football and I’m really intrigued by all of it; trying to get it down pat.”

The REDBLACKS like to think the real season; the part than involves teams in the East going head-to-head, begins this week in Montreal against a 1-7 Alouettes team that sits, at least in theory, a half-game back of the 1-6 Hamilton Tiger Cats.

The REDBLACKS think this after a tough 0-5 mark against teams from the West and surmise than with six of their last 10 against East opponents, they could some how do the unthinkable and sneak into second in their very first season back in the CFL.

The accounting department at TD Place just drools at the prospect of a home playoff game in Year One.

The fans, who have not witnessed an Ottawa home playoff game since
1983 and a playoff win since 1982, just wonder, like Poole, how this is all possible.

At the same time, Ottawa football historians have been busy digging up the meaningless fact that the 1982 Ottawa Rough Riders were the last CFL team to start a season 1-8 and still make the playoffs, after going 4-3 down the stretch to finish 5-11.

To put that in some kind of perspective, REDBLACKS quarterback Henry Burris was just five years of age when an Ottawa team last won a playoff game, presumably just picking up a smaller football to toss his first passes in Spiro, Oklahoma.

Of course, Burris has no recollection of that win in ’82 on the road over the Tiger-Cats before getting steam-rolled by Toronto in the East final.

But Burris is feeling the heat to make a playoff game a reality in 2014.

“This crazy Eastern Division is what it is and I see it like a silver lining,” said Burris, now the CFL’s No. 3 in all-time passing yardage.
“Everybody said have patience coming in here. Well I don’t have a lot of patience.

“After the (32-7 loss to Calgary) I was embarrassed. We have to get to the point where our offence is being fear and right now no-one fears us.

“Montreal is going through the same things we are. The defences on both teams are keeping their teams in games and the first of our offences to get over the ‘hump’ is going to win.

“And it’s getting to the point where we have to win.”

The present-day state of the standings in the CFL East should not really be as big a surprise as people are making it out to be.

Exactly one year ago, in a sign of things to come, the four teams in the East (Winnipeg being the fourth) had combined for just 12 wins through eight weeks of play and a combined mark of just 12-20.

This year’s East has just half the number of wins and a combined 6-26 mark and the Division members, weeks ago, gave up on any thought of having three teams qualify for post-season play. This year there will be only two with one very undeserving entrant to the post-season.

The difference in the East being minus-6 is easily explained by the fact the East had eight contests within the division through Week Eight last season compared to just three to date this season.

Still, there’s no hiding the putrid state of the division east of the Manitoba-Ontario border.

It’s also the reason the REDBLACKS dare to dream despite their record and offensive futility that saw the defence register the team’s only points against Calgary last week.

“We have played some pretty good football against some pretty good teams,” said REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell. “A lot of people are doing a lot of good things and it’s nice to know we can compete.

“But as players and coaches we want to win. Our season started really in May and as weeks go by and games go by, all games become big.

“It’s a crazy year in the CFL. I have seen the imbalance before between divisions but we’re not going to make apologies for it.

“The answer is not to bring a whole lot of new guys in. We have a lot of guys right now who will play in Ottawa a long time.

“We are improving. But we have to get to where we have 12 players on the same page. At the same time, we have to be smart of what we’re trying to fix.”