The Canadian Football League season is only in its fourth week, and already, the Ottawa Redblacks have tied a franchise record for their worst start with their 0-2 record. It comes on the back of an offseason that inspired hope and confidence among Redblacks fans, and for many, the start has been a disappointment, but still, time is on their side.
Two losses at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are now 3-0, have added a sense of urgency to the Redblacks, who are searching for their first win when the BC Lions come to town on Thursday night. On both occasions against Winnipeg, the Redblacks had opportunities to win, but came up short in both contests.
One of the offseason’s big additions came with the signing of former Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver, Jaelon Acklin, who has gotten off to a hot start this season. Through two games, Acklin has 13 receptions on 16 targets for 220 yards, but has failed to find the endzone. One of those targets that fell incomplete came in the season opener in Winnipeg, where Acklin dropped a deep pass that likely would have ended up as a touchdown, and he hasn’t forgotten about it.
“[The start to the season has] been alright,” Acklin said. “I would say there’s one play that was a drop that I would want back, but I think besides that as an offence, we have looked pretty good, we just have to get into the endzone. We need to find a way to start scoring touchdowns.”
A drop here and there can certainly stall out a drive, but the Redblacks’ inability to finish drives with touchdowns, particularly when they get into the scoring zone, is a symptom of a larger issue.
“It’s lack of execution once we get down there,” Acklin said. “A lot of these guys are playing with each other for the first time. We know the big parts of the offence, but once it gets tight and you can’t make any mistakes, we’ve made that mistake. That’s from top to bottom.”
With a pair of losses and a bye week in week three, many of the Redblacks, particularly those on offence, stayed in Ottawa to hang out with some of their new teammates.
“I was here, and I know a lot of the guys stayed here,” Acklin said. “We were all chilling together, but we didn’t really do much. We just watched football, watched some film, and try to focus on ourselves more than other teams.”
During the bye, there was no formal practice, and there was no time spent on the field. The time was invested in improving bonds off the field to familiarize themselves even further with some of their new teammates. After all, most of the players on the Redblacks have only been teammates for about five weeks, hardly enough time to form the brotherhood often seen in other locker rooms.
“Communication inside and outside of the huddle on the field is what’s going to help us if we’re bonding,” said Acklin. “If I know a guy’s story, I’m not going to shy away from telling him if I think he’s doing something wrong or something that’s hurting the team. The same goes for me. I’m not perfect, and I want people to call me out on it.”
The path to the first win won’t come easy, however. The Lions have started the season white-hot, outscoring their opponents 103-18 en route to a 2-0 start. Their quarterback, Nathan Rourke, is playing like one of the league’s best pivots right now, and Ottawa will need to find a way to not only slow down their offence, but break their stout defence.
“They are a very good football team,” Acklin said. “They have talent everywhere and they don’t really have a weak spot. You have a lot of people trying to say they went against weak opponents, but those guys are professional football players.”
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