While chopping down a roster to meet Canadian Football League requirements heading into the regular season is never easy for Ottawa Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins, players who have been released are the ones who feel the real sting.
The Redblacks announced Sunday morning that they had released 25 players and that rookie receiver Jamal Kett had retired.
Cut before the deadline late Saturday were: receivers Daniel Adams, Tori Gurley, Daje Johnson, Vernon Johnson, Bilal Marshall and Riley Wilson; defensive backs Javier Arenas, Armagedon Draughn, Adrian James and Doug Moss; defensive linemen John Biewald, Mathieu Dupuis, Adrian Hubbard, Darryl Paulo, Greg Townsend and Mike Wakefield; offensive linemen Randy Beardy, Pierce Burton, Jordan Filippelli, Daniel Hayes and Lene Maiava; running backs Shakir Bell and Ed Ilnicki; linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis; and quarterback Austin Trainor.
Assigned to the practice squad were: defensive backs Sherrod Baltimore and Corey Tindal; linebacker Kevin Brown; quarterback Danny Collins; defensive lineman Avery Ellis; receivers Austen Hartley and Dominique Rhymes; linebacker Kevin Jackson; and offensive linemen Eric Lofton and Ryan Schmidt.
“The process of making the decisions wasn’t too, too difficult,” Desjardins said. “We had a very good idea going into the last pre-season game what we were going to do. The tough part is telling guys, certainly players who are vets, that we don’t have a job for them.
“Guys sometimes see it coming, other guys maybe don’t see it coming, but they’re pros, they understand we’re making decisions we feel are right. They may disagree, but at least they’re professional about it.”
Speaking about Bell, who rushed for 1,058 yards in 15 games over two previous seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos, and Gurley, who had 791 yards in receptions with 10 touchdowns with the Toronto Argonauts, when current Redblack Trevor Harris was his quarterback throwing him the ball, Desjardins explained: “In Shakir’s case, I know it’s a small sample, but there were concerns with ball security (he fumbled twice in Thursday’s preseason game against the Montreal Alouettes). Also, how were we going to find a way to get him on the roster? Kind of similar with Gurley. He wasn’t going to be on the roster if everybody else was healthy. So does having him around stunt the development of the younger receivers we have here: (Josh) Stangby, Rhymes, etc. That was part of that decision-making process as well.”
A surprise on the list was Arenas, a former second-round National Football League draft pick who had looked as if he might find a spot as a returner.
“In terms of players in the secondary, we liked Tindal and Baltimore, younger guys with more upside,” Desjardins said. “We don’t know if Arenas would have accepted a practice roster spot anyway.”
Also surprisingly on the list was Daje Johnson, who looked good as a returner in preseason action, but he injured cartilage in his ribs while diving to make a catch in the first pre-season game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Paulo had plenty of playing time with the first-team defence in training camp, but, Desjardins said, “(Against Montreal), it wasn’t a good game for him. That’s the bottom line.”
Because he went on the retired list, Kett, a 2016 draft pick, could return.
“He has a knee issue and needs surgery,” Desjardins said. “It’s not season-ending, but he’ll be out for an extended period of time. Midway through the season or whenever he’s healthy, we’ll revisit things, see where we’re at and see where he’s at. He’s eligible to return later in the year because he retired prior to the first regular-season game. We still own his rights. It’s his decision. We tell him this is what we’d like you to do, but we can’t force him to retire. If he chooses not to go that route and be released, that’s his choice.”
Biewald was a good bet to make the team, but will require season-ending knee surgery after being hurt in the game at Montreal.
“It’s disappointing for everybody. He’s a guy we really liked,” Desjardins said.
Hartley and Rhymes were bright spots in camp.
Speaking about Hartley, Desjardins said: “He started out rookie camp and training camp a little slow, but really picked it up. He did some good things in the first pre-season game not only on offence but on special teams. It’s deceptive; he doesn’t look like he’s 5-foot-10, 5-11, 200 pounds. But he did well on (special) teams, he did a good job. I think he had the one ball thrown to him in Montreal, he made a guy miss and got an extra 10 or 15 yards. The discussion with him had to do with him and his eligibility and going back to school. For now, our intent is to have him here for the season.”
On Rhymes, the GM said: “Of all the younger receivers, outside of Stangby, he was the guy we liked the most going into the game and that just solidified things for us.”
The Redblacks return to practice Monday and then it’s full steam ahead for the regular-season opener: a Grey Cup rematch against the Calgary Stampeders at TD Place stadium.
“I think we’re in a good place. We’re certainly healthier coming out of camp than we were at this point last year, so that’s a positive,” Desjardins said. “We feel OK. We have good depth across the board. Like everybody else, we just have to stay healthy.”