Redblacks confident schemes can trump talent, especially for receivers and pass rushers

The Redblacks may not have star names at receiver and defensive end, but the front office and coaching staff believes the current makeup of the roster teamed with creative play-calling can produce a bounce back season.

Ottawa was 3-15 in 2019, the worst record in the CFL.

“Coming off the disappointment of last year, the expectations are going to be that much higher because we need to have that reset. You have to push a little further down on that reset button,” general manager Marcel Desjardins said on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa.

The Redblacks ranked last in the league for pass plays 30 yards or more with 17 a year ago. The Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers had 18 of those connections and still amassed the most amount of points for in the West Division at 508. Ottawa selected Winnipeg’s offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to be the head coach in the nation’s capital.

“Coach LaPo’s philosophy is that we’re not going to invest a lot of money in receivers. He hasn’t done that in other places he’s been. We have that investment in Brad [Sinopoli] and to a lesser extent in R.J. [Harris],” Desjardins said.

“And Anthony Coombs is being brought in to be a receiver not a running back, so we did add a piece there. And we can’t forget a guy like Devonte Dedmon who had a small window to show us what he could do, certainly on special teams, but we think that he could be a key piece moving forward.”

Quarterbacks Matt Nichols and Zach Collaros flourished in the veteran coach’s system, performing well after being cast-off by other franchises. LaPolice’s system is quarterback-friendly, prioritizing ball control and the run game. Desjardins believes to an extent scheme can trump pure talent.

“You still have to have competent players and guys that understand the system and that are versatile and can do a bunch of different things, but as long as you have guys that are smart, can do multiple things, that goes a long way in how he feels he can build an offence,” Desjardins said.

“We have some other young receivers who were here last year, a couple of them played a little bit and some others didn’t. But we have good options and we’re confident we’re going to have a good offensive system and a team that can move the ball, obviously being led by the guy pulling the trigger in Nick Arbuckle.”

Over on the defensive side of the ball, the Redblacks ranked second last in sacks last season, recording 28, which was one more than Montreal who was at the bottom of the pack. Defensive end J.R Tavai tied for the team lead with seven quarterback takedowns, but he left in free agency for the West coast, following head coach Rock Campbell to the B.C. Lions.

“We like some of the guys we have, obviously we re-signed Avery Ellis, so we have a lot of confidence in him. Danny Mason I think would have had a very good year last year had he not been hurt. So those are the returning players. But we have to find somebody else, we’d like to have a rotation of three guys that can do that and we’ll see how that plays out,” Desjardins said.

“We’re not going to invest heavily there either, it’s just not an option for us after all the re-signings that we’ve had and obviously investing in the quarterback. We don’t have that name that everybody thinks we need to have, but we do feel that with what coach Benevides can do and obviously bringing more pressure from the second level and whatnot we should be able to get to the quarterback certainly more regularly than we did last year.”

Desjardins was up front about Ottawa’s salary cap situation. The 2020 limit is set at $50,000 over 5.7 million. The 53-year-old GM stated every year was different and coming out of the Redblacks’ initial season in 2014 and 2015 the team had money left over from the previous year to use, which put the franchise ahead cap-wise.

“Traditionally, what we’ve tried to do is give ourselves a bit of a slush fund. This year we’ve gone to the other extent and we’re kind of a little bit over as to what the cap projects to,” Desjardins said. 

“There are so many moving pieces, it’s very difficult to project exactly how everything will play out, an injury here, an injury there changes that whole dynamic. We’re comfortable with where we’re at and we’ll just have to manage it a little tighter than we normally would.”

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