Noel Thorpe will have his work cut out for him in Ottawa, but he is relishing the challenge.
The Redblacks’ new defensive co-ordinator was one of three additions to head coach Rick Campbell’s staff introduced Monday, along with receivers coach Winston October and offensive line coach John McDonell.
Thorpe inherits a Redblacks defence that surrendered 384.8 yards-per-game, the fourth-highest average in the league, and had just 31 sacks, compared to league-leading Calgary and Toronto who tied with 50.
“We want to come in with a physical style, an aggressive style in attacking the quarterback and getting after people in coverage and being as disruptive as possible,” said Thorpe, who spent the last five seasons with the Alouettes as defensive co-ordinator and assistant head coach. “A defence is built on team speed and I think the players that they brought in help address those.”
Ottawa lacked some experience last season on the pass-rush, but the knowledge gained by Jonathan Newsome, combined with the addition of A.C. Leonard, should reap huge benefits for Ottawa.
Thorpe, who takes over from Mark Nelson, is also excited with the off-season additions of defensive backs Rico Murray and Loucheiz Purifoy as well as linebacker Kyries Hebert, who played under Thorpe in Montreal.
The Redblacks parted ways with four of its coaches following the 2017 season, while Nelson was re-assigned to linebackers coach.
Ottawa is coming off a second straight 8-9-1 season, and while the Redblacks were able to win the Grey Cup in 2016, things didn’t go quite so well in 2017 as their season came to an end with a 31-20 loss to Saskatchewan in the East Division semifinal.
Campbell said making changes to his staff was difficult but in the best interest of the team.
“I think having a few new additions is a good thing for us,” said Campbell. “We have a lot of continuity, but getting some new faces in here brings some new energy to the thing.”
Jaime Elizondo enters the final year of his contract as offensive co-ordinator, and his players should have no trouble putting up points. The offensive core returns nearly intact as general manager Marcel Desjardins was able to re-sign quarterback Trevor Harris and receivers Brad Sinopoli and Diontae Spencer.
Elizondo was thrilled to know Harris would be returning. Last season Harris finished fourth in the league going 398-for-572 for 4,679 yards and 30 touchdowns.
The numbers were impressive, but at times it seemed like Harris was still looking over his shoulder for Henry Burris, who despite being retired, seemed to have a lasting presence on the team.
Elizondo believes that pressure is gone and that Harris will be even better this season.
“The biggest thing for him is this year he can truly say this is my style, this is my platform, this is the type of leader I want to be without any outside distraction from the past or what I need to be or who I need to replace,” said Elizondo. “I think he’ll be more comfortable.”
The Redblacks open the regular season June 21 as they host the Saskatchewan Roughriders.