Brendan Taman, the Ottawa Redblacks’ new director of pro personnel, wasted no time identifying the two most important areas to address on any CFL roster.
“If you don’t have good Canadians and a quarterback, you don’t have a chance. So that’s your main ingredient right there — those two things,” Taman told TSN 1200, referencing the back-to-back Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers as a team with a strong core of experienced players.
“The one thing that seemed to be consistent when we won football games at a high level and won a Grey Cup in Saskatchewan was we had proven veteran guys that were winners.”
The Redblacks threw for a league-worst 194.6 yards per game in 2021, which was 39.2 fewer than the eighth-place Saskatchewan Roughriders. Ottawa’s quarterbacks also had the worst completion rate in the league (59.2 percent), the shortest average gain per pass (6.4 yards), and the lowest combined quarterback rating at 67.8.
Matt Nichols and Dominique Davis started the first six games of the season, though neither of the veteran passers is under contract for 2022. Caleb Evans, Devlin Hodges, and Taryn Christion are slated to return, while Tom Flacco finished the year on the practice roster.
“It’s such a key position. I don’t know if you ever have enough. My motto — and I obviously would share this with (new general manager) Shawn (Burke) and everyone in the organization — is one’s great but you almost have to have two,” said Taman.
“When I went through my reign throughout several teams, I rarely went through a season with 18 games with one quarterback. So not only is the starter important, the No. 2 is as important because you’re probably going to need him to win games at some point during the year.”
Ottawa’s roster needs a lot of work following a second consecutive three-win season, but that’s not to say there’s no talent under contract. Taman questioned whether or not there’s a better player in the CFL than star return specialist DeVonte Dedmon, who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player in December.
“There’s pieces there that you can work with. Obviously when you’re 3-15 you gotta make changes, too — I mean, that’s not a secret. They didn’t score a lot of points for a lot of different reasons, so I’m sure that’s an area where they’ll look at,” said Taman.
“They’ve got good coaches in place, there’s some players there that are good, there’s some that are gonna be moved from. As for time and everything — the team changing around — it’s the CFL. Everybody starts back at 0-0 every season that it begins, so there’s a lot of work to do, no question, but I’m pretty optimistic that things can start to turn in the right direction soon.”
Taman believes his experience as a general manager in Winnipeg (2004-08) and Saskatchewan (2010-15) will allow him to assist Burke through his first year in the role. The pair have not previously worked together, though Taman felt that they have a lot in common regarding how to put a team together.
“When you’re a general manager like Shawn is now and that I was, that title really replicates what it is: you’re general managing people. And you could be worrying about travel, equipment, field, coaches’ feelings, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera as you go throughout your days,” said Taman.
“I was very clear with Shawn that I’m coming there to do whatever you need me to do to help you put your team together. I’ve been through the ranks and files of several positions in this league and GM was one of them. I’ve been there, done that and right now I just want to be in a franchise where I can just contribute and help put things together. I don’t want to necessarily be the one in charge — frankly, I don’t — but I wanted to be able to help Shawn and he understood that.”
This is Taman’s second stint in Ottawa after serving as the team’s manager of football operations for four seasons (1989-92). He called it his favourite CFL city to work in — along with Vancouver — even though the team struggled during his tenure in the nation’s capital.
“It’s a great football city, it really is. We were bad when I was there in the late ’80s, early ’90s. We were pretty bad, but the thing I really remember the most is the fans,” said Taman.
“We were so bad (general manager) Jo-Anne (Polak) had to pull out so many tricks in her marketing bag to get the fans there and they seemed to be enjoying it even though we weren’t competitive for a number of years.”