Riders’ OC Kelly Jeffrey ‘pumped up’ to work with Trevor Harris on ‘quarterback-friendly’ offence

Graphic: 3DownNation (Photos: Andrew Parry | Michael Scraper)

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are hoping to celebrate more victories in 2023 than they did last season, but offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey believes they’ve already won big with the acquisition of quarterback Trevor Harris.

“You’re screaming out loud, you’re pumped up, you’re doing fist pumps, and it feels like you just won a game,” the first-year OC told 3DownNation when asked about the reaction in the room when Harris announced his intention to sign with Saskatchewan.

“It was really exciting and it was that feeling of we know what direction we’re going offensively, organizationally. If we didn’t get Trevor, it would have been probably a wide-open competition.”

The Riders inked the 36-year-old signal-caller to a two-year deal in free agency valued at over $1 million dollars following months of uncertainty regarding their quarterback position. The team underwent an extensive process of evaluations following their decision to move on from incumbent Cody Fajardo, weighing all available options.

According to Jeffrey, Harris’ name was at the top of his wishlist from the very beginning.

“I really liked him, he was in my top tier. Organizationally, I don’t think there was anybody who didn’t have him in that first tier of quarterbacks,” he said. “As we got close and got to that window, he was definitely our main target. We felt that [Bo Levi Mitchell] was probably going to go back to Hamilton and we were gonna do everything we could to make Trevor a Rider.”

Many around the league originally predicted that Harris would re-sign with the Alouettes, formally reuniting with his former Elks head coach — and Jeffrey’s predecessor in Saskatchewan — Jason Maas. However, ownership uncertainty in Montreal caused him to look elsewhere for opportunities, landing him in Saskatchewan’s lap.

Amidst all the celebration for the signing was a distinct sigh of relief, as the Riders would have been placed in a precarious position had they been unable to land the former East Division all-star. Existing backups Mason Fine and Jake Dolegala would likely have entered an open competition with another veteran signee for the starting job, putting the team behind offensively.

“In terms of developing an offence, it would have been a book without a final chapter. We would have started with our base stuff and had to have that open competition, and then finally tailor the offence to whoever won the job in training camp,” Jeffrey explained. “[Signing Harris] was something where you immediately knew — really offensively, organizationally, defensively as well — how are we going to move the ball? How are we going to score? And it really just tied everything together.”

With the right QB in place, the offence is beginning to take shape. The two speak regularly on the phone and via text, supplementing those conversations with organized Zoom meetings as they meld together their ideas into a cohesive system.

Fortunately, Jeffrey has an existing rapport with his new quarterback. The pair worked together ahead of the cancelled 2020 season in Edmonton to hammer out the system that then-head coach Scott Milanovich wanted to implement — an experience that helped lure Harris to the Riders.

“Trevor and I were in on a lot of that process as we met and worked with the offence and I thought I started to build a good relationship, philosophically with the offence and how to move the ball, and probably have mutual respect,” Jeffrey recalled.

“Once we got to the negotiating window and had a chance to talk a few times, it really felt very comfortable. Things were really aligning philosophically and I could feel his enthusiasm through the phone.”

While Jeffrey is entering his first season as a play-caller at the professional level, Harris brings a wealth of knowledge as an 11-year CFL veteran. He’s thrown for 28,610 yards, 154 touchdowns, and 71 interceptions over 161 games with Argonauts, Redblacks, Elks and Alouettes — experience that his new coach is leaning on.

As a result, the offensive system is highly collaborative, focused on Harris’ favourite concepts as well as ideas that the quarterback generates during his extensive offseason training.

“He brings that information back to me and when I get new information, ideas and thoughts, I get it back to him,” Jeffrey explained.

“I very directly tell him: ‘I want this to be a quarterback-friendly offence. I want you to feel comfortable.’ When the ball is snapped I have the worst seat in the house and the quarterback has the best seat in the house, so it’s something he’s gonna have to love and want to work with if it’s gonna work.”

While that flies in the face of the more dictatorial style employed by some other coaches, Jeffrey believes it will be key to adding cohesiveness to the Riders’ attack and adding more wins next season. However, it will only work because the team acquired a player like Harris.

“We had a Zoom meeting with the quarterbacks the other day, there was a pass concept and I said: ‘Do you like this? Do you have experience with this concept?’ And he said, ‘I think I’ve completed that concept 50 times,'” Jeffrey chuckled.

“There’s not a lot of stuff that he hasn’t seen up here, which is awesome to have that experience.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.