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Veteran quarterback Henry Burris praises efforts of Ottawa defence this season

09/17/2014 05:53 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:57 EDT
OTTAWA - The Ottawa Redblacks have just one win through their first 10 games, but in quarterback Henry Burris's view the defence has been a bright spot this season for the CFL expansion squad.

"They've been standing on their head and have done a great job for us," the veteran quarterback said Wednesday. "It gives us comfort knowing that all we have to do is handle our side.

"We know the defence will keep us in the games, but we want to return the favour and score a lot of points and put this thing to bed early instead of having to go out and save the day for us as they've been doing throughout so many games."

The numbers don't necessarily support Burris. Ottawa's defence is ranked last overall in rushing yards allowed (129.1 per game), passing yards (279), total yards (393.8), rushing touchdowns (12), sacks (20) and seventh in points (25.8).

However, those stats only tell part of the story. Ottawa's offence is ranked last in the CFL in scoring (14.1 points per game), first downs (158) and rushing (66.7 yards), eighth in total yards (284.9 per game) and seventh in passing (238.2 yards per game).

That's often put the onus on the defence to keep games close and give the offence a chance to earn a low-scoring victory. That certainly was the case in Ottawa's lone victory, an 18-17 home-opening win over Toronto on July 18 that saw kicker Brett Maher account for the Redblacks' points with six field goals, including the winner from 23 yards out with 28 seconds remaining.

Maher's historic boot was set up by a smart 60-yard, six-play drive engineered by Burris that came after Toronto's Swayze Waters connected from 46 yards out to give the Argos a 17-15 lead with 1:33 remaining.

"The defence has had a good energy and confidence level about them where they just want to go out and play whoever," said Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell. "We've also been trying to have some continuity on that side so we could grow as well."

Campbell said one of his defence's best attributes is its ability to compete no matter the circumstance.

"We've played some low-scoring games which aren't typical of the CFL and they just keep plugging away and doing their thing," he said. "There's a whole bunch of things we still need to get better at, but as long as they have that enthusiasm and they compete like that then they'll always have a chance."

Ottawa's defensive line could be boosted by the return of Canadian defensive tackle Keith Shologan, who has missed two games with a right leg injury. If Shologan does suit up, it would be just in time to face his former team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-3), in Regina on Sunday.

"Practice went well and I'm hoping to get back in, but in the end it's up to the coaches," said Shologan, who helped the Riders win the Grey Cup last season before being selected in the CFL expansion draft.

As a seven-year veteran, Shologan is being counted upon to provide leadership, on and off the field.

"The big thing is you've got to go out there and do things well every play," he said. "So long as you're running to the play and sprinting and doing those extra little things, then hopefully everyone else is doing them with you.

"When stuff needs to be said you're the one saying it because you've seen it. The young guys have been great and doing good things."

Ottawa's ability to defend against the run will face a stiff test Sunday as Saskatchewan's offence is averaging a CFL-best 146.2 yards rushing per game. The ground attack is especially important for the Riders as Tino Sunseri will start just his second game at quarterback in place of injured incumbent Darian Durant.

Saskatchewan begins weekend action tied with Edmonton for second in the West Division, four points behind the first-place Calgary Stampeders (league-best 10-1 record). The game is also important to Ottawa, which despite its record is just four points behind Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal, who are all tied for top spot with three wins apiece.

"It's pretty unbelievable that at this point of the season we're still very much in the thick of things," said linebacker Jason Pottinger. "In my nine years I've never seen it like this. It's still a full race. It's very encouraging for us and keeps us going. It keeps us motivated."

NOTES: The Redblacks practiced with simulated crowd noise Wednesday in preparation for the conditions they'll expect facing the Riders' rabid fans at Mosaic Stadium . . . Defensive backs Eddie Elder and Carlton Mitchell could return to the lineup in time for Sunday's game.

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