Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins isn’t one to dwell on the past, even if it involves a stunning Grey Cup victory.
The Redblacks will kick off the 2017 CFL season as the team to beat following last year’s thrilling 39-33 overtime championship win over Calgary. Ottawa begins its title defence June 23 hosting the Stampeders in a Grey Cup rematch.
“I don’t look back,” Desjardins said. “I try to be, and we try and be proactive in what we do day to day and try to have an answer before a question is asked.
“Our goal every year at this time is to get to the Grey Cup and see what happens from there. It’s worked the last two years . . . let’s just hope we’re able to get it done again this year.”
The regular campaign opens June 22 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders visiting the Montreal Alouettes.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Ottawa, which has appeared in consecutive Grey Cups after a 2-16 inaugural 2014 season. Ottawa lost 26-20 to Edmonton in the 2015 title game before upsetting a 15-2-1 Calgary team after finishing atop the East with a 8-9-1 mark.
The Grey Cup win was Ottawa’s first since 1976 when Tony Gabriel’s late 20-yard TD grab earned the then Rough Riders an exciting 23-20 victory over Saskatchewan. Montreal (2009-10) was the CFL’s last repeat champion while no team has won a title on home soil since Saskatchewan in 2013.
But Ottawa will field a much different team in 2017 than the one that finished last season in November at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Quarterback Henry Burris, the Grey Cup MVP, has retired while veteran receivers Chris Williams (B.C.) and Ernest Jackson (Montreal) along with running back Kienan LaFrance (Saskatchewan) were among those who left in free agency. Kicker Chris Milo and American linebacker Damaso Munoz were released.
Desjardins re-signed offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan _ the first player drafted in franchise history _ then added linebackers Khalil Bass (Winnipeg) and Ron Omara (Hamilton), receivers Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer and defensive back A.J. Jefferson (all Toronto), kicker Brett Maher (Hamilton) and defensive back Adam Berger (Calgary) in free agency.
Arguably Desjardins’ biggest move came last year when he signed former Toronto quarterback Trevor Harris, who’s now Ottawa’s starter. Veteran Drew Tate, obtained in the off-season from Calgary, is expected to assume backup duties upon recovering from a concussion.
“I’d say most teams in the CFL are probably similar (in having busy off-season),” Desjardins said. “What’s tough is when it’s change you can’t control like injuries during the course of the year.
“Free agency is a different animal . . . you kind of have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before it happens. But yeah, change is the nature of the game and whoever adjusts the best as those changes are mandated upon them are usually the ones who’ll have more success.”