Recapping the Ottawa Redblacks’ off-season

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In theory, the CFL’s off-season stretches from late November to April, when mini-camps kick off. But while that may be the case for fans, the league’s general managers do their heavy lifting during the long winter months.

Here’s a recap of how Marcel Desjardins has spent the last few months reshaping Ottawa’s roster.

*Denotes a National

Offence

Re-signings:

QB Trevor Harris (1 year)
RB William Powell (1 year)
RB Mossis Madu (1 year)
FB Brendan Gillanders (2 years)*
OL Alex Mateas (2 years)*
OL Nolan MacMillan (1 year)*
WR Brad Sinopoli (2 years)*
WR Diontae Spencer (1 year)

Desjardins clearly prioritized keeping his offence intact, and that should pay off for a group that generated 377 yards per game in 2017 (third best in the league). Another year in offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo’s system along with the opportunity to build on existing chemistry with receivers Brad Sinopoli and Diontae Spencer should equal another big year for QB Trevor Harris. Bringing back Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan will help keep Harris upright and healthy.

Finally, inking American backs William Powell and Mossis Madu to extensions ensures the running game has two talented veterans capable of taking over games. Now they need to prove they can stay healthy.

Departures:

QB Drew Tate
QB Ryan Lindley
FB Patrick Lavoie (traded to Montreal)*
OL Zachary Intzandt*
OL Matt Albright*
OL Jake Silas
OL Tommie Draheim
OL Jordan Filippelli*
WR Juron Criner
WR Quincy McDuffie
WR Kenny Shaw
WR Josh Stangby
WR Austin Reuland*
WR Jake Harty*
WR Lance Evans

While losing your backup and third-string quarterback the same off-season is never ideal, to be blunt, the Redblacks didn’t lose much. In Tate they had a player who while capable, was simply unable to stay healthy enough to play when needed. As for Lindley, although a great locker room guy and team ambassador in the community, he lacked the accuracy needed to play in the CFL.

The thing that truly jumps out in this section is the dramatic turnover in Ottawa’s receiving corps. Last year’s group was deep and while some turnover was to be expected, a wholesale purge caught many in the nation’s capital by surprise.

Allowing Criner (who was incredibly productive when called upon) to walk in free agency makes less sense when you consider the fact that only a month later, the Redblacks cut Shaw, McDuffie and Stangby; any of one of whom could have picked up the slack. National (and special teams) depth also took a hit with the departures of Harty and Reuland.

Additions:

QB Dominique Davis
RB Ed Ilnicki*
RB Cedric O’Neal
FB JC Beaulieu (trade with Montreal)*
OL Tyler Young*
OL Kendall Pace
WR Julian Feoli-Gudino*
WR Richard Mullaney
WR Noel Thomas
WR RJ Shelton
WR Seth Coate
WR Chance Allen

Adding a pair of Canadian backs to the mix makes things in Ottawa’s backfield that much more interesting. Will Hec Crighton winner Ed Illnicki be given a chance to carry the ball? If so, will he make the most of his opportunities? Trading Patrick Lavoie for J.C. Beaulieu left the Redblacks with the less experienced player, but also the younger and more explosive one.

Signing Tyler Young was an under the radar move, yet one that could potentially pay off in a big way. The 6-foot-7 Stittsville native played five years for the Carleton Ravens and started every game at right tackle in 2017. Given that the Redblacks already start a Canadian at that position (Jason Lauzon-Séguin), Young can be brought along slowly.

Coming off a career year with the Blue Bombers, Julian Feoli-Gudino is the only experienced receiver Desjardins added to his roster this off-season. Mullaney, Thomas and Shelton are all new to the three down game but have spent time on NFL practice rosters.

Defence

Re-signings:

LB Tanner Doll (1 year)
DB Jean-Philippe Bolduc (2 years)*
DB Jonathan Rose (1 year)

Keeping Doll in the fold gives the Redblacks a second long snapper (behind Louis-Philippe Bourassa). Bolduc provides depth behind Antoine Pruneau and the ability to play special teams. As for Rose, he’s now the senior statesman of the secondary and will be looking to bounce back after a subpar 2017 season.

Departures:

DL Jake Ceresna (traded to Edmonton)
DL Zack Evans*
DL Arnaud Gascon-Nadon*
DL Mathieu Dupuis*
LB Taylor Reed
LB Serderius Bryant
LB Ron Omara*
DB Jerrell Gavins
DB Keelan Johnson
DB Nick Taylor
DB Winston Rose
DB Dan West*
DB Adam Berger*
DB Marcus Alford
DB Adrian James
DB DaQuan Pace

No position took a bigger hit than the defensive line this off-season. In trading Ceresna to the Eskimos for no immediate return and losing Evans to Saskatchewan in free agency, the Redblacks find themselves without either of their starting defensive tackles. They also lost a productive Canadian rotational player in Gascon-Nadon.

Further widening the hole in the middle of Ottawa’s defence was the departure of Taylor Reed, who wound up signing with the Argos.

As for the secondary, Jerrell Gavins remains a free agent as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL. Taylor and Rose both started a handful of games but neither had great seasons. Losing a pair of Canadians in West and Berger leaves precious little depth behind starting safety Antoine Pruneau. Finally, even if Keelan Johnson wasn’t a regular starter, he was a special teams ace, racking up a league-high 29 special teams tackles in 2017.

Additions:

DL A.C. Leonard
DL Cliff Matthews
DL Cameron Walker*
DL Michael Klassen*
DL Daryl Waud*
DL George Uko
DL Shalon Ogbonda
DL Dayon Pratt
DL Tony Washington
LB Kyries Hebert
LB Rico Murray
LB Avery Williams
LB Sean Walters
DB Loucheiz Purifoy
DB Josh Johnson
DB Brandon Stewart
DB Aarion Penton
DB Damian Swann
DB Anthony Cioffi
DB Jules Dornevil

On the defensive side of the ball, it’s clear that the Redblacks prioritized experience and versatility. To off-set the loss of Zack Evans, Desjardins inked a trio of Nationals in Walker, Klassen and Waud. The latter two have struggled to stay healthy.

The addition of Kyries Hebert brings the last Renegade standing back to the nation’s capital. More importantly, it bolsters the linebacking corps and gives new defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe a trusted voice to implement his scheme. Furthermore, Hebert can still flat out ball, as evidenced by last season’s 110 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and interception.

Rico Murray and Loucheiz Purifoy are a pair of ultra athletic defenders that will play multiple positions, flexing as linebackers or in the secondary. Josh Johnson was out of football in 2017 but has previous stints with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the CFL’s BC Lions under his belt.

Rutgers alum Anthony Cioffi is a worth keeping an eye on. Despite being a CFL rookie, he has college starts at both cornerback and safety under his belt and spent time with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

Special Teams

Departures:

K Brett Maher

With Maher’s departure to the Dallas Cowboys, someone has big boots to fill.

Additions:

K Lewis Ward*
K Sergio Castillo
K Richie Leone

Fresh off a five-year university playing career, Ward handled both the kicking and punting responsibilities for the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Castillo is another player capable of handling punting and placekicking duties and was having a fine 2017 season before tearing his ACL in October. Leone is known mostly for punting but has spent the off-season honing his placekicking skills.

Coaching Staff

Coaches added:

Noel Thorpe (Defensive coordinator)
Winston October (Receivers)
John McDonell (Offensive line)
Mark Nelson (demoted to Linebackers)

Coaches released:

Bryan Chiu (Offensive line)
Travis Moore (Receivers)
Derek Oswalt (Linebackers)
Ike Charlton (Defensive backs)

Following the disappointing end to last season’s Grey Cup defence, changes in the coaching staff were inevitable. Still, it was somewhat surprising to see two experienced CFL coaches in Chiu and Moore let go in favour of coaches new to the CFL game. Although both Winston October and John McDonell have experience coaching in their respective roles, neither has ever coached in the CFL.

Mark Nelson has seemingly accepted his demotion in stride and it’ll be interesting to see just how aggressive new defensive coordinator Thorpe is willing to get. Renown for his exotic schemes and blitz packages, Thorpe will need his young defence to quickly buy in and learn the nuances of his playbook.

About the author

Santino Filoso

Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)

3DownNation is a website dedicated to covering the CFL and Canadian football.




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