In a normal year, the Redblacks may have been relaxing at home with their families during a well-deserved break from football in their bye week, but these aren’t normal times. With COVID-19 still front of mind, sending players home for a week is a luxury teams don’t have.
The Redblacks took to the field for two days of practice this week as they look to correct some of the issues with the offence. The bye week may have come at the right time for the Redblacks too as Matt Nichols continues to recover from whatever injury has been plaguing him through training camp and early in the season.
Nichols Back Throwing
Heading into this week of practice, I didn’t anticipate even a single throw from Nichols with how banged up he looked in Edmonton last week, but I was quickly proven wrong. With no game this weekend, I figured it would give Nichols and the Redblacks a good chance to allow him to heal and be ready for another full week of practice before heading to Saskatchewan next week, but that wasn’t the case.
By no means did Nichols look completely healthy in the Redblacks’ two practices this week, but he didn’t look terribly injured either. I was shocked to see how banged-up Nichols looked against the Elks considering he really didn’t look that bad all week in practice and I’m hoping that isn’t the same now. He says that he is feeling better, but it’s anyone’s guess how he is going to be feeling come game day next week.
Nichols did sit out some drills this week in practice including throwing deep balls with those reps being soaked up by Dominique Davis, Caleb Evans, and practice-squad quarterback Taryn Christion. Despite sitting out the deep ball drills, Nichols did throw a couple of deep ones in team drills and looked okay doing it. I expect that he will be ready to go in week three, but who knows at this point.
More Banged Up Players
Nichols was far from the only player the Redblacks are hoping can heal up before the flight to Regina next week. One of the more notable players not participating was fan-favourite defensive back Sherrod Baltimore. Baltimore left Saturday’s game against the Elks after delivering a hit but was back on the practice field this week without a helmet. He was a non-participant, but it was good to see him back on the field rather than resting at home.
Running back Brendan Gillanders spent the week in a walking boot taking no reps along with Anthony Coombs who was injured very early on in Saturday’s game. Fans hope that Gillanders can have a shot as the team’s starting running back and Coombs figured to be a large part of the offence at the start of the season, but both have been battling their fair share of injuries to start the season.
One of the more interesting spots however is Tyler Catalina missing the week and being replaced by Juwan Bushell-Beatty for most of the reps.
No other changes were made to the offensive line in this week’s practice, and assuming Catalina is healthy enough to play, all indications are that the same crew who started in week one will make the start again in week three.
Turning Up the Noise
When teams head to Saskatchewan, they understand that the 13th man takes things to the next level. It’s nothing new that teams will practice with the noise turned up a level or two more than normal, but the noise at Redblacks practice on Thursday was crazy.
Think less along the lines of crowd noise and more like a jumbo jet firewalling the throttles just outside of TD Place Stadium. Despite the noise, the offence seemed to be able to move the football nicely and Nichols looked much better than in last weeks’ game. The defence has a tough task without pads, but they were in a good mood even trying to hype up the fictional crowd a couple of times.
Saying Goodbye and New Faces
Over the week, the Redblacks released both offensive lineman Brandon Hitner and receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes. Araujo-Lopes comes as quite the surprise. He looked promising in his short stint with Ottawa in 2019 picking up 57 yards on six receptions. I thought there was a chance he would make the opening-day roster, but the Redblacks decided to go elsewhere.
During the week, the Redblacks added three new faces to the locker room. Defensive lineman Chigozie Nnoruka (transferred to the suspended list), defensive back Jordan Beaulieu (transferred to the suspended list), and receiver Wesley Lewis (transferred to the suspended list) who was cut by the team in training camp.
All players were transferred to the team’s suspended list in correspondence with the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
A Much Needed Bye Week
It might only be the second week of the CFL season, but the Redblacks shouldn’t be too upset about the early-season bye week. There are certainly some bumps and dings that they will be able to heal up and it should allow them a chance to re-group offensively and come out with a solid game plan in Regina.
As for what can be learned from this very brief week of practice, essentially nothing. Next week is much more important for this football team.