REDBLACKS 2023 Preview: Ottawa’s Star Quarterback Aiming for Comeback Season

The Ottawa REDBLACKS fate last season was pretty much sealed in their fourth game of the year. Their new quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, suffered a leg injury on a dirty, late, low hit by Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Garrett Marino. The Riders simply couldn’t control Marino’s vicious on-field temperament and, a few weeks later, released him because of it.


But the damage in Ottawa was already done.


Masoli suffered a fracture in his leg, and then dealt with an infection following the surgery. He missed the rest of the 2022 CFL season and his team missed the playoffs for a third straight year.


After another long off-season, the REDBLACKS reported for camp last month filled with renewed hope, partly because Masoli was expected back at full strength. But alarm bells began to go off when new head coach Bob Dyce announced that Masoli wouldn’t play at all in the preseason.


Sitting a healthy star quarterback in preseason, just to play it safe, isn’t uncommon. A lot of coaches feel it simply isn’t worth the risk. The REDBLACKS had hoped Masoli would be ready for this Saturday’s opener.


Fast forward two weeks to the present and now he’s going to miss the club’s first two regular season games. After a bye in Week 3, they now hope he’ll be ready for Week 4. That gives Masoli three more weeks of healing and strengthening time. But it’s definitely concerning.


With Eastern rivals like Hamilton (Bo Levi Mitchell) and Montreal (Cody Fajardo) loading up at quarterback and Toronto turning Chad Kelly loose (nephew of Bills legend Jim Kelly), Ottawa will need Masoli at his best this season.


In the meantime, the club will again roll with Nick Arbuckle, the quarterback they acquired from Edmonton last season, right after Masoli’s injury. Arbuckle led Ottawa to 3 of its 4 wins on the year and re-signed here in the offseason. With more practice time, reps with teammates and a full training camp, Arbuckle figures to be an improved QB – even if it’s only as the understudy. Last year was tough to judge him, being airlifted into a brand new situation, learning a whole new playbook on the fly, and playing for two head coaches.


“Nick’s a very experienced quarterback who’s won in this league,” head coach Bob Dyce said “We were excited when he signed with us in free agency. The CFL season is 18 games and it’s not often a team plays the same quarterback for all 18 games.”


Because of Masoli’s injury, the team will carry four quarterbacks to start the year – Masoli, Arbuckle, Tyrie Adams and Dustin Crum. Caleb Evans, who got some starts in Ottawa the past couple of years, will be on the opposing sidelines Saturday night, signing with Montreal in February.


One big change from this time last year is the coaching staff, as Dyce has ascended from running special teams to head coach. With the firing of Paul LaPolice, Dyce took over in the interim last fall and now gets a full-time head coaching gig for the first time in his career. Watch for a full feature on Dyce in the July issue of Faces Magazine.


Dyce has also surrounded himself with good people, including former Alouettes head coach and CFL quarterback Khari Jones, who will serve as offensive coordinator. Barron Miles, another former player, who recently worked with Jones in Montreal, will run the defence.


At running back, Ottawa let William Powell head off into free agency, so the returning Devonte Williams has first dibs at starter, with Canadian Jackson Bennett likely to get plenty of touches also.


The receiving corps is led by Jaelon Acklin who went off for over 1000 yards last season.


The offensive line may get a boost with 6-foot-7, 326 pound offensive lineman Dontae Bull, the CFL’s first overall draft pick. But his development may take some time, as it does for most rookies, and he’s also dinged up to start the year. The really big addition was Drew Desjarlais, the 4th overall pick in 2019, who the REDBLACKS signed in the off-season from Winnipeg, making him the league’s highest paid offensive lineman.


Defensively, last year’s CFL sack leader and the league’s most outstanding defensive player, Lorenzo Mauldin IV, has returned for another year. The linebacker core should be really deep after the REDBLACKS surprise release of 2019 all-star Patrick Levels very early in camp.


The REDBLACKS will be trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and improve upon their league-worst 4–14 record. And with just 10 wins in the last 3 seasons, there’s nowhere to go but up.

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