If there’s one thing Marcel Desjardins can’t be accused of, it’s resting on his laurels in free agency. Over the years, Ottawa’s general manager has, with varying degrees of success, always been active in terms of procuring players he’s believed were capable of improving his team.
This year has been no different, with Desjardins adding nine players (eight new) with CFL experience to his team since the start of free agency.
The additions of Loucheiz Purifoy, A.C. Leonard, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Rico Murray, Kyries Hebert and Daryl Waud all address needs. We’ll get to the re-signing of Tanner Doll, Cameron Walker and Andrew Lue in a minute.
In Purifoy and Murray, the Redblacks gain a pair of experienced defenders capable of playing multiple positions. Both possess excellent speed, solid cover skills and the ability to quickly diagnose plays. The fact that duo can play as defensive backs and also at the SAM linebacker position will allow Noel Thorpe’s defence to challenge opposing offences with various looks.
Purifoy, 25, arrives in Ottawa after two productive years on the West Coast that saw him rack up 92 tackles, five sacks, four interceptions, a defensive touchdown and four forced fumbles in 36 games with BC.
The 30-year-old Murray had 60 tackles, a sack, a touchdown and a forced fumble in 20 starts in 2017 as a part of the Argos’ Grey Cup-winning defence.
The playmaking ability of the hybrid DB/LBs should replace (if not surpass) the impact plays made by the now departed Jerrell Gavins.
As for Leonard, while some may argue that his reported $145,000 is an overpayment, the reality is the Redblacks haven’t had a legitimate rush end in the franchise’s existence. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end should provide Ottawa’s defensive line with balance as he lines up opposite Jonathan Newsome and Avery Ellis.
Every season Desjardins seemingly adds a defensive end to the roster that is hyped as being the game-changing disruptive force the team has been missing. So while Leonard’s signing may be met with skepticism by some in R-Nation, given his athleticism and skill set, he should flourish in the nation’s capital.
Although Purifoy, Murray and Leonard each address a need on the defence, there are still holes to fill. After trading Jake Ceresna for seemingly next to nothing and watching Zack Evans head back to Saskatchewan, the Redblacks are without both of last season’s starting defensive tackles.
On top of that, even with the three aforementioned defensive additions, Ottawa lacked a proven middle linebacker to quarterback Noel Thorpe’s new defence.
Enter linebacker Kyries Hebert. Not only is his return to the capital an interesting “homecoming” story (he was a member of the Renegades his rookie season), he also fills a need. Fresh off an all-star campaign in 2017 (he had 110 tackles, two sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles in 18 starts), Hebert’s reunion with Thorpe will prove to be a massive asset when it comes to implementing his new defensive scheme. Even if Hebert’s 2017 numbers were a bit inflated (Montreal’s defence was on the field for a ton of snaps), he clearly still has gas in the tank. The fact that he can play both the MLB and WLB positions is another boon.
Following Hebert’s signing, the main thing still missing from Ottawa’s defence was a big-bodied defensive tackle. The 24-year-old Waud is a partial solution to that problem. Given his athleticism, it’s a low risk, high reward type of signing. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Waud has only suited up for 25 games over three seasons in the CFL. Injuries have plagued his entire career and he only played a single game in 2017. Waud provides Ottawa with another Canadian defensive lineman and if Desjardins can ever convince Mehdi Abdesmad to come North, the Redblacks will have replenished their Canadian defensive line depth.
Moving to the other side of the ball, Julian Feoli-Gudino’s addition to the receiving corps serves a dual purpose. With Zack Evans out of Ottawa’s equation, the Redblacks are suddenly down a Canadian starter. Feoli-Gudino could provide Ottawa with another starting Canadian receiver and make the Redblacks’ ratio look something like this; four offensive linemen, two receivers and Antoine Pruneau on defence.
Even if the Redblacks don’t make Feoli-Gudino a full-time starter, he provides depth behind Brad Sinopoli with fellow nationalreceiverss Austin Reuland and Austen Hartley.
The Laval product is coming off a career year (45 catches for 462 yards and three touchdowns) and should fit right in with Ottawa’s “French Mafia”.
As for the re-signing of LB/LS Tanner Doll, I’ll admit to being a bit puzzled by the move. On one hand, having depth at such a crucial special teams position doesn’t hurt, but on the other, fourth round 2017 draft pick Louis-Philippe Bourassa handled the majority of the long snapping duties last season and looked great doing so.
Last but not least, there is Cameron Walker and Andrew Lue. Barring emergency the 25-year-olds figure to feature exclusively on special teams.
Overall, the Redblacks have used the opening days of free agency to add experience and versatility to their defence and depth to their offence and special teams. It’s a solid start, but there’s still work to be done.
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