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Expansion Redblacks move into first place in East without playing a single down

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OTTAWA - The Ottawa Redblacks woke up Monday morning to find themselves in first place in the CFL East Division standings without even lining up for a snap.

They would love to stay there for a while longer.

The Redblacks have yet to suit up for a regular-season game in the short life of the franchise, but because everyone else in the East lost in Week 1 Ottawa sits first in the division by default.

"We're developing a new strategy as to not play so then you get first place," said head coach Rick Campbell with a laugh. "We'll take 18 bye weeks if that happens."

Campbell doesn't put much stock in the fact that the remaining teams in the East struggled in the opening week, but he would still love to see his team break the trend.

The Redblacks open their inaugural season Thursday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and know they have a tough task at hand. The Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts 45-21 last week.

"(Winnipeg) was a hungry team that played fast," Campbell said. "They came to play football and it showed and it also shows that if you're not completely ready to play or you're making too many mistakes you're going to get into trouble early."

While the game will be significant for everyone who has been awaiting the return of football to Ottawa, it will be even more meaningful for Jovon Johnson who spent the past six years with the Bombers.

Johnson, a defensive back and kick returner, signed with the Redblacks as a free agent during the off-season. In 2011 Johnson was named the league's outstanding defensive player.

"I think I had this date circled on my calendar since I left there, but even more so after I made the team," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to this opportunity."

Johnson said the Redblacks will need to keep things simple in order to be successful. Emotions will likely be running high and he says maintaining focus will be the key.

"We need to know our assignments and just do our job," he said. "We can't try to do too much. I think Toronto overthought some things and they made some penalties and left a couple guys open on defence."

This being the Redblacks first game, mistakes are likely to be made, but Johnson believes that if the team can make corrections on the fly they should fare well.

Johnson laughed when reminded that the team sits in first place and said it would mean a lot more when they accomplish it on their own.

"We still have to go out and prove ourselves and we don't want anything handed to us," he said. "Everyone looks to us as an expansion team and a lot of people pick us to finish last so we've got a lot of things to prove and show the world what we can do."

By all accounts the Redblacks see no reason why they can't compete with the rest of the East Division and believe the playoffs are a legitimate goal.

"We're a confident group," said Ottawa native Justin Phillips. "We have lots of guys on this team who have been there and done that and had success in the playoffs, won Grey Cups so we have guys who know how to get the job done. Honestly there's no one here who lacks confidence."

When asked what would consist of a successful season, veteran quarterback Henry Burris said, "playoffs, at minimum."

While the health of the 39-year-old quarterback will be integral to any chance of success, Burris says with the veteran talent acquired through the dispersal draft and free agent signings there's no reason why this team shouldn't compete for a playoff spot.

"We know it's not how you start it's how you finish," Burris said. "If you can get out to an early start and win games early on it definitely helps you out down the backstretch.

"All we have to do is stay healthy and as quickly as we can gel together as a team and get on the same page. We want to make sure we peak at the right time which is going into that backstretch and into the playoffs because we all know anything can happen."

While Phillips would love nothing more than to see the Redblacks advance to the post season he says he's first looking forward to getting the first game underway.

"We've been talking and talking about it and thinking about it that now it's fun to finally get this thing going," he said. "Once we get into a routine it's going to be like any other week, but it will be nice to get that first one out of the way."

Notes: Campbell said the final roster for Thursday's game will be decided following Tuesday's practice as the coaching staff wants to ensure everyone gets through the practice unscathed before making a final decision.

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