The new CFL season has just kicked off with two games already in the books, but the Ottawa Redblacks hit the field tonight for their opening matchup in Edmonton against the Elks. There has been plenty of change, and with a long offseason paired with training camp and practice being closed to the public, not many people know who to keep an eye on. Here are five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2021.
Daniel Petermann (WR, #81)
You might remember seeing Daniel Peterman in a very recent article about who was going to be catching the football for the Redblacks this season. For many of the same reasons that he was on that list, he is on this list too. I talked about him in comparison to Brad Sinopoli and how they both specialize in being a sure set of hands capable of good yards after the catch, that is still the case and makes him a candidate to be one of the Redblacks’ top receivers this season.
Don’t let his lack of CFL experience fool you, this is a young player that is going to make an impact in the CFL for years to come. In 36 career CFL games so far, Petermann has 25 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns. This will be his first chance to be a starter in the CFL, but Head Coach Paul LaPolice clearly likes what he sees considering he was in part responsible for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers drafting him 26th overall in 2018. That point is only underlined when you consider that LaPolice likely had a big say in bringing him to Ottawa this offseason.
Fans love the underdog with the great work ethic, bonus points if they are Canadian in this league. That’s exactly what you get with Petermann. He won’t jump off the page in anything, but he will certainly outwork you on every given down. Sinopoli may be gone, but the Redblacks may just have found his replacement in very short order. This young man is only going to get better and better as time goes on.
Jordan Smallwood (WR, #18)
Jordan Smallwood, like Petermann, appeared in a recent article about the Redblacks receivers. In that piece, I mentioned that he has little to no professional playing time with most of what he does have coming in the XFL in 2020 with the Los Angeles Wildcats. Despite that, he looked phenomenal in training camp and in week one practice and will head into the game as a starter and will likely see quite a bit of the football early in the game.
It won’t be long before CFL fans start scratching their head asking who this Smallwood guy is. He’s six-foot-two weighing around 220 pounds. He adds some size that the Redblacks would otherwise be missing after Sinopoli retired just before the start of training camp.
It might sound a little bit crazy, but if this was a full 18 game season, I would be very confident that Smallwood would hit 1,000 yards receiving. With this only being a 14 game season, however, it might be a tall order for him, although I wouldn’t be completely surprised if he did manage to be one of the team’s leading receivers. He has been very impressive so far with the team and looks like he could have a promising CFL career considering he is only 26.
Matt Nichols (QB, #16)
Matt Nichols is the most obvious answer imaginable when you think about newcomers to watch for the Redblacks. As he goes, the offence goes. The Redblacks’ new signal-caller comes to Ottawa with more CFL experience than you can shake a stick at after spending the last five seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and three seasons prior to that with the Edmonton Elks.
Nichols has been one of the better quarterbacks in the CFL when healthy competing for the right to be called third-best with Trevor Harris according to most, but health has been an issue for him in the past. He was off to a great start in 2019, and through nine games, he had thrown for 1936 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but he was a candidate for MOP early in the season.
If fans are concerned about one thing with Nichols, it is the injury problems. There doesn’t seem to be too much worry about what he is capable of doing on the field, especially considering he has shown time and time again that he can get the job done in this league despite never being able to get over the hump and win the Grey Cup.
Those injury concerns have continued to worsen before the season. Nichols didn’t see considerable playing time in training camp and has been listed as a limited participant in every injury report leading up to tonight’s game. He is officially listed as questionable.
No one knows what will happen with Nichols on the injury front this season, but let’s assume the best-case scenario for a second. He is a quarterback capable of taking the Redblacks deep in the playoffs, especially with the defence they have assembled for the 2021 season.
Don Unamba (DB, #0)
The last two players are on the defensive side of the ball now. First up, former Edmonton Elk, Hamilton Tiger-Cat, Montreal Alouette, Saskatchewan Roughrider, and Winnipeg Blue Bomber, Don Unamba. Unamba has been on a tour around the CFL so far in his career, but the Redblacks have secured themselves one hell of a football player for at least 2021.
Unamba signed with the Redblacks fresh off of a dominant 2019 season with the Elks where he was credited with 46 total tackles, six sacks, one interception, and two forced fumbles in just 12 games. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done in a full season, and hopefully, he will have that chance in 2021.
Unamba is listed as the Redblacks’ starting sam linebacker, a position that is essentially another defensive back. He’s a versatile player as you can tell from his sack totals in 2019, and I expect the Redblacks to be creative in how they use him. He stands a chance to not only become a fan favourite before the end of the season but also be a massively important piece to the defence.
Micah Awe (LB, #24)
Micah Awe has already spent three years in the CFL, two with the B.C. Lions and one in 2019 with the Toronto Argonauts. He has spent that time getting better and better each and every season, and he has earned a starting spot with the Redblacks’ defence. It was an overly crowded linebacking room that could have just as easily seen Jerod Fernandez on the opening day roster, but he will start the season on the practice squad.
Awe will play alongside Avery Williams who Redblacks fans know all about by now. Williams is a player that would easily be in the NFL if he was three or four inches taller, but he is punished for his small stature even though he can ball. With all of the big names surrounding Awe, offences will be looking to find a weakness. If they zero in on Awe as that weakness, they will quickly find out that he isn’t someone you want to try and pick on too often.
The key for Awe this season, like too many others on this team is going to be staying healthy. In the past two seasons, he has only played 17 games and only has one full season under his belt so far in his career, If he can stay on the field, he allows the Redblacks more freedom, something that Mike Benevides will definitely take advantage of.
Please note, Micah Awe will be wearing #24 this season but wore #46 in training camp
This Team Will Surprise Many People
With the season kicking off tonight, the Redblacks have been ranked towards the bottom of every odds list imaginable except for who will finish last in the league. That just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen to me. There is far too much talent on this team for another terrible season. They might not be the best team in the league this season, but they shouldn’t be all that bad unless the offensive line really lets them down.