Ottawa Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins admitted he’s going through the most frustrating time since being hired in the nation’s capital.
“Yeah, absolutely. And I understand everybody else’s frustration as well. It’s not like we’re not trying to get it right,” Desjardins said on TSN radio 1200 in Ottawa.
The Redblacks went 2-16 during the 2014 season, their first playing in the CFL. Since then Desjardins clubs have made the playoffs every year, winning the East Division three times and hosting the Eastern Final at TD Place. Ottawa has made the Grey Cup three of the last four seasons and claimed the CFL title in 2016.
But 2019 has been much different for Desjardins. After losing quarterback Trevor Harris, running back William Powell, receiver Greg Ellingson and left tackle SirVincent Rogers among others during free agency in February, the Redblacks are struggling on offence. Especially at the game’s most important position: quarterback.
“Well obviously it hasn’t been good enough, but there are a lot of reasons for that. Part of it is on the quarterbacks themselves. Part of it is on what we’ve been asking them to do and how we’ve been instructing them,” Desjardins said.
“You can say what you want about what happened in the off-season in terms of players leaving, but it’s not like I control that entire dynamic. I can’t force people to do things. Is it opening up the cheque book and allowing anybody to get what they want? It just doesn’t work that way, it’s not reality.”
Once Ottawa re-signed Dominique Davis for two seasons in January, the writing was on the wall for Harris. He had just put forth the best season of his career and led the Redblacks to a Grey Cup by throwing a record six touchdowns in the Eastern Final. Jaime Elizondo wasn’t happy about losing Harris, the two had become close, and when he was denied the opportunity to interview for the Riders’ head coach vacancy, took a job with the Tampa Bay XFL franchise.
“That’s the reason we did not want to allow the interview with Saskatchewan to take place because we knew if we were to lose our OC we would’ve been in a pretty difficult place in terms of how to go about finding the next person,” Desjardins said.
“When we lost our offensive coordinator in the off-season that really changed our entire dynamic and we’ve had a difficult time adjusting to that – there’s no doubt about it.”
Winston October started the season calling plays, but the Redblacks switched to former CFL pivot and Renegades head coach Joe Paopao. Desjardins believes if Elizondo was still in town the quarterback play would have been better from the get-go.
“Had they had a coordinator in place who was here from day one, going back to 2016, they had a familiarity with one another, I think the dynamic would’ve been a lot different,” Desjardins said.
“Their performance hasn’t been great, but it’s on all of us here. We should’ve surrounded the players better, both in terms of the talent around them and in terms of what we were doing and who they were being instructed by.”
Davis has a 3-5 record as Ottawa’s No. 1 QB and during each of the wins led the offence to 30 or more points. Through eight games Davis has completed 62 per cent of his passes for 1,846 yards with five touchdowns compared to a league-worst 14 interceptions. The turnovers have held the entire team back.
“The most frustrating thing to me is we’ve shown flashes and more then flashes in some cases of being able to do some things offensively,” Desjardins said.
“Whether that be for moments in the first game in Calgary or the game at home here against Saskatchewan. A late drive in Montreal to get us the tie before going into overtime. The first half in Edmonton and then again a late drive in the second half there. There are things there that are positive. But it just hasn’t been enough of it.”
Recently Davis has struggled, including being picked off three times in Regina on just six attempts. So the Redblacks named Jonathon Jennings starting quarterback. Jennings entered Ottawa’s Week 11 game, a 40-18 loss to Saskatchewan, finishing 16-of-26 for 208 yards with one touchdown while avoiding any turnovers.
The offence had a noticeable spark when Jennings took the controls. And the Redblacks are hoping the combo of Jennings and Paopao can be consistently productive as Ottawa chases the Montreal Alouettes for a playoff spot in the East.