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With a distracting clock ticking in the background — with the CFL and its players association working through Saturday trying to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement — the Ottawa Redblacks will open full training camp Sunday at TD Place.

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Likely. Probably. Hopefully. Unless there was going to be some kind of deal-breaking turn of events in contract talks later Saturday.

Coming off three days of rookie camp, the veterans, including plenty of newcomers, will hit the field after getting sized up for physicals Saturday.

Unlike last season — with teams being extra cautious because of the COVID-19 pandemic — fans are welcome into the TD Place stadium to watch practices from the north-side stands (Sunday’s practice goes from 9:55 am-11:55 am) A week of practices will lead into a fan fest next Saturday (May 21), from 10:15 am-12:15 pm

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The Redblacks are looking to put two disastrous seasons behind them. With three wins and 15 losses in 2019 and three wins and 11 losses in 2021 sandwiching a lost COVID season, it’s hard to imagine there’s anywhere to go but up. How do you get people to stop talking about being a bad football team? It’s simple. Win football games.

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“I try not to look too far into the past — whether it’s a winning season or a losing season,” said Paul LaPolice, going into his second season as Redblacks head coach/offensive co-ordinator. “I’m just excited to be doing football again. The past is the past. The best part of our business is every year is a brand new year. We’re all undefeated — we haven’t lost a game and we haven’t won a game yet, either.”

“What happened here last year was a lot of players got opportunities when maybe they didn’t know the league as well or maybe weren’t quite as ready,” said Redblacks general manager Shawn Burke. “I’m definitely excited to see some of the guys coming to their second training camp. The expectations will be raised for them, they’re not rookies anymore.”

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Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp began Wednesday at TD Place in Ottawa.  Keaton Bruggeling during camp.
Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp began Wednesday at TD Place in Ottawa. Keaton Bruggeling during camp. Photo by Tony Caldwell /POSTMEDIA

Training camp is a coming together of old and new faces, trying to get them working together. It’ll certainly be much different than camp of a year ago, which was delayed into July.

“The biggest difference is obviously COVID protocols and everything,” said LaPolice. “The coaches were quarantined for seven days and we weren’t able to see them until the day before camp. Being able to have the time with the coaches has obviously been a welcome change.”

As for out with the old and in with the new, LaPolice said: “There are possibly 28 new guys here who have some CFL experience. We talked about in our staff meeting that one of the most important things we have to do get these guys to understand what we want and what we think wins football games in the Canadian Football League. We have to get this group to grow together, where they want to be together and don’t want to leave the building. We have to start building those relationships as soon as possible. We want to create an environment where these guys come together as a team as quickly as possible.”

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Ottawa.  Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice at Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp at TD Place in Ottawa, May 11, 2022.
Ottawa. Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice at Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp at TD Place in Ottawa, May 11, 2022. Photo by Tony Caldwell /POSTMEDIA

The highest-profile free agent brought in was quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player in 2018. With some injuries sprinkled in, he struggled at times with consistency and hasn’t reached that level of play since. But, with significant signings on the offensive line and at receiver by the Redblacks, this could be a springboard for the 33-year-old quarterback.

“We know Jeremiah has talent, we know he has tools,” said LaPolice. “We’ve added things he’d been successful with in Hamilton to our system. Now we have to figure out what he does best—within his stuff and our stuff. I’ve got a note on my board: ‘How quickly can we get Jeremiah Masoli to take control of our offence?’ Everybody has said so many great things about the guy, how great he is as a teammate, how hard-working he is. We’ve had great conversations. He comes as advertised.”

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One thing that should elevate the quality of the team is a much higher level of competition — there will be a sense of urgency with guys pushing each other for roster spots.

“Competition will always elevate everyone,” said Burke. “It’s one of the first words I brought up with Coach LaPolice. Constant competition at training camp and practice elevates you — you’re more ready to play on game day. The guys who want to be great pros, it’s my belief they’ll embrace that competition and they’ll buy in. That’ll make everybody better collectively. It’s something we focused on during free agency. We also have some good younger guys coming in to push those veterans. It’s supposed to be about the younger guys trying to take those veteran jobs and the veteran players saying, ‘Young guy, you’re not quite ready to take my job yet.’ ”

After pre-season games against Toronto May 27 (at home) and in Montreal June 3, the Redblacks will open their regular season with two games that are about as tough as it gets — against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the two-time defending Gray Cup champs. They’re in Winnipeg June 10 and the teams will play at TD Place June 17.

“They threw us into the fire right away,” said LaPolice. “We’ll be ready to play, we’ll have a game plan.

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