For the 2018 season to be considered a success, the Ottawa Redblacks will need to overcome the issues that plagued last year’s team; sloppy defensive play, untimely injuries and an inability to win with regularity at TD Place.
To address the former, GM Marcel Desjardins spent the off-season giving his defence a much-needed makeover. In 2017, the Redblacks allowed opponents a CFL high 6.9 yards per first down play, generated a league low 22 turnovers and had just 31 sacks.
In theory, Noel Thorpe’s blitz heavy defensive system should go a long way to curing those woes. Not to mention a slew of free agent additions who boast experience, versatility, and perhaps most importantly, speed. Newcomers Rico Murray, Loucheiz Purifoy, Kyries Hebert, A.C. Leonard and Josh Johnson will all be opening day starters. Each brings a high energy, physical style of play that should make life tough for opposing offences.
Given that last season, the Redblacks were 1-7-1 in games decided by 4 points or less, a defence capable of generating more turnovers should result in fewer points against and more “Ws” in the win column.
As for the issue of injuries, Ottawa’s season got off to an inauspicious start when quarterback Trevor Harris went down on the second series of the team’s first pre-season game. As with any CFL team, Ottawa’s offence is dependent on a healthy starting pivot. Even if Harris starts against Saskatchewan on Thursday, having your quarterback open the year banged up is less than ideal.
Although some would have you believe Harris needs to prove himself and have another big year, the reality is he is already among the league’s elite at his position. The only thing he needs to “prove” is that he can stay healthy. Despite missing three games last season, Harris still tied for the lead with 30 touchdown passes and passed for over 300 yards nine times. Furthermore, since joining the Redblacks in 2016, Harris has thrown 46 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions. With No. 7 under centre, Ottawa can hang with anyone.
Yet Harris isn’t the only offensive player that needs to stay healthy. Running back William Powell finished last season on a tear, rushing for 771 yards in his final seven starts. When he’s on the field, he’s a difference maker singlehandedly capable of taking over games. The issue with Powell is that he’s only managed to suit up for 19 games during his three years in the league.
There’s also offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers. When healthy, Rogers is widely regarded as one of the best blindside tackles in the league. He provides leadership, can be counted on to hold his own against an opponent’s best pass rusher and is a road grader in the ground game. But like Powell, Rogers has fought the injury bug, missing four games in 2017 and six in 2016.
If the trio can avoid missing significant time with injuries, Jamie Elizondo’s offence will be a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, when it comes to winning at home, the Redblacks simply need to be better at turning a sold-out crowd’s energy into wins. R-Nation does its part to create a rowdy and intimidating atmosphere at TD Place, it’s up to the players to do the rest. Since 2014, Ottawa’s averaged four wins at home per season. If the Redblacks could manage to win six to nine at home in 2018, it would go a long way towards securing an East Division crown and a home playoff game.