The Canadian Press
After receiving rave reviews for winning his first two CFL starts, rookie quarterback Dustin Crum was his own harshest critic when analyzing the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last weekend.
“As a competitor you’re always striving to get better and learn from mistakes you’ve made,” Crum said over a phone call after practice this week. “I’m technically 2-1 as a starter, but the way I look at it, we would have won the Hamilton game without the mistakes I made.”
Crum will get his fourth start of the season when Ottawa faces the Saskatchewan Roughriders Sunday in a battle of 3-4 teams at Mosaic Stadium. He sees the game as an opportunity for the REDBLACKS to prove they are East Division contenders.
“Winning teams have that character about them where they don’t let losses stack up,” he said. “They learn from their losses and get getter. If you look at winning teams, what ever the sport, they’re able to bounce back when they suffer a loss like that and get better from it.”
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Crum has been a Cinderella story this season. The Kent State graduate came into training camp third on the depth chart even before veteran Jeremiah Masoli was healthy.
Ottawa started the season 0-2 with Nick Arbuckle starting, then Tyrie Adams suffered a season-ending ACL injury in a win over the Edmonton Elks. Masoli returned to the lineup only to suffer a season-ending injury, opening the door for Crum.
In four games this year Crum has completed 76 of 114 passes for 825 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. The six-foot-one, 210-pound native of Grafton, OH, leads the REDBLACKS in rushing 346 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries. His 12 runs of 10 or more yards is best in the CFL.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster ride for sure,” said Crum. “My role has changed quite a bit over the last couple of months. I’m just trying to take it in stride and lean on some of the experiences of the older guys on the team and the coaching staff.
“I just stick to taking things a day at a time and go about the process the way we know how to.”
Crum’s first two starts were overtime victories that could have been taken from a Hollywood movie script.
He had a highlight reel 29-yard touchdown run as Ottawa rallied from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit to upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 31-28. Proving his name belonged on the marquee, Crum led the REDBLACKS to a nail-biting 31-28 come-from-behind win against the Calgary Stampeders the next weekend.
The 24-year-old got a taste of reality in last week’s 16-12 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 158 yards, threw an interception and was sacked seven times.
Crum views the loss as a learning experience.
“It stings a little more when you come out on the wrong side of it,” he said. “There definitely were a lot of things in those two wins to learn from and try to improve and get better at.
“Win or lose you always have to try to get better and take into account what happened on the field. When you lose, you have a little bit of extra desire to go back out there and right the wrongs.”
Ottawa coach Bob Dyce said it’s part of the process for a young quarterback.
“He had some success early,” Dyce told reporters in Ottawa. “He’s only played a few games. His path to being a top-level or elite starter in this league will take some time. He’ll develop as he goes.”
Crum is still adjusting to the Canadian game, getting used to the extra man on the field, receivers in motion, recognizing the different defences he faces and getting rid of the ball quickly.
“I think I’ve improved from where I was when I first go out there (but) I feel like I still have a long way to go,” he said. “I feel like I’ve taken strides from my first snap.”
The more Crum plays, the more film defensive coordinators have to better scheme against him.
“They’re going to adjust and try to force me to do things that maybe they feel I’m not comfortable with or try to take away some of the things they think I do well,” he said. “You have to adjust to whatever the defence is doing at times.
“That’s just the chess match that football is at the end of the day. Week-in and week-out, no matter who you are, you have to find a way to get it done and get one more point than your opponent.”
Crum’s ability to pull the ball down and run will remain an arrow in his quiver.
“It’s part of my game,” he said. “I prefer passing. It’s easy to create chunk plays through the passing game, especially in this league.
“But being able to keep them honest and have a positive play if something isn’t there, or something goes wrong, is a part of my game that I try to implement when necessary.”
Crum spent most of his first year at Kent State on the bench. He started the final 12 games of his junior year and was named the MVP of the 2019 Frisco Bowl, the first bowl victory in Kent State’s history.
The NFL Kansas City Chiefs signed Crum as an undrafted free agent in April 2022 but he was waived in August. He signed with Ottawa in September that year.
Crum’s early experience at university helped prepare him for this year’s training camp in Ottawa.
“I learned how to take those mental reps and still try to prepare as a starter,” he said. “You really have to kind of soak everything in whether you’re the guy or you’re not the guy. You’ve got to grow and get as good as you can, as fast as you can because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Crum’s early success has come as a surprise to many, but not necessarily to him.
“I felt like I had the ability to be successful in his league at some point,” he said.
“My opportunities came a lot earlier than expected. There’s been challenges and bumps in the last three or four games, a lot of things I have to learn from and get better. That’s why a lot of quarterbacks don’t get huge opportunities early on, because there is such a difference in this league. You have to be able to learn and adapt and get better as you go.”