Recapping the Ottawa Redblacks’ off-season

In theory, the CFL’s off-season stretches from late November to April, when mini-camps kick off. But while that may be the case for fans, the league’s general managers do their heavy lifting during the long winter months.

Here’s a recap of how Marcel Desjardins has spent the last few months reshaping Ottawa’s roster.

*Denotes a National

Offence

Re-signings:

QB Trevor Harris (1 year)
RB William Powell (1 year)
RB Mossis Madu (1 year)
FB Brendan Gillanders (2 years)*
OL Alex Mateas (2 years)*
OL Nolan MacMillan (1 year)*
WR Brad Sinopoli (2 years)*
WR Diontae Spencer (1 year)

Desjardins clearly prioritized keeping his offence intact, and that should pay off for a group that generated 377 yards per game in 2017 (third best in the league). Another year in offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo’s system along with the opportunity to build on existing chemistry with receivers Brad Sinopoli and Diontae Spencer should equal another big year for QB Trevor Harris. Bringing back Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan will help keep Harris upright and healthy.

Finally, inking American backs William Powell and Mossis Madu to extensions ensures the running game has two talented veterans capable of taking over games. Now they need to prove they can stay healthy.

Departures:

QB Drew Tate
QB Ryan Lindley
FB Patrick Lavoie (traded to Montreal)*
OL Zachary Intzandt*
OL Matt Albright*
OL Jake Silas
OL Tommie Draheim
OL Jordan Filippelli*
WR Juron Criner
WR Quincy McDuffie
WR Kenny Shaw
WR Josh Stangby
WR Austin Reuland*
WR Jake Harty*
WR Lance Evans

While losing your backup and third-string quarterback the same off-season is never ideal, to be blunt, the Redblacks didn’t lose much. In Tate they had a player who while capable, was simply unable to stay healthy enough to play when needed. As for Lindley, although a great locker room guy and team ambassador in the community, he lacked the accuracy needed to play in the CFL.

The thing that truly jumps out in this section is the dramatic turnover in Ottawa’s receiving corps. Last year’s group was deep and while some turnover was to be expected, a wholesale purge caught many in the nation’s capital by surprise.

Allowing Criner (who was incredibly productive when called upon) to walk in free agency makes less sense when you consider the fact that only a month later, the Redblacks cut Shaw, McDuffie and Stangby; any of one of whom could have picked up the slack. National (and special teams) depth also took a hit with the departures of Harty and Reuland.

Additions:

QB Dominique Davis
RB Ed Ilnicki*
RB Cedric O’Neal
FB JC Beaulieu (trade with Montreal)*
OL Tyler Young*
OL Kendall Pace
WR Julian Feoli-Gudino*
WR Richard Mullaney
WR Noel Thomas
WR RJ Shelton
WR Seth Coate
WR Chance Allen

Adding a pair of Canadian backs to the mix makes things in Ottawa’s backfield that much more interesting. Will Hec Crighton winner Ed Illnicki be given a chance to carry the ball? If so, will he make the most of his opportunities? Trading Patrick Lavoie for J.C. Beaulieu left the Redblacks with the less experienced player, but also the younger and more explosive one.

Signing Tyler Young was an under the radar move, yet one that could potentially pay off in a big way. The 6-foot-7 Stittsville native played five years for the Carleton Ravens and started every game at right tackle in 2017. Given that the Redblacks already start a Canadian at that position (Jason Lauzon-Séguin), Young can be brought along slowly.

Coming off a career year with the Blue Bombers, Julian Feoli-Gudino is the only experienced receiver Desjardins added to his roster this off-season. Mullaney, Thomas and Shelton are all new to the three down game but have spent time on NFL practice rosters.

Defence

Re-signings:

LB Tanner Doll (1 year)
DB Jean-Philippe Bolduc (2 years)*
DB Jonathan Rose (1 year)

Keeping Doll in the fold gives the Redblacks a second long snapper (behind Louis-Philippe Bourassa). Bolduc provides depth behind Antoine Pruneau and the ability to play special teams. As for Rose, he’s now the senior statesman of the secondary and will be looking to bounce back after a subpar 2017 season.

Departures:

DL Jake Ceresna (traded to Edmonton)
DL Zack Evans*
DL Arnaud Gascon-Nadon*
DL Mathieu Dupuis*
LB Taylor Reed
LB Serderius Bryant
LB Ron Omara*
DB Jerrell Gavins
DB Keelan Johnson
DB Nick Taylor
DB Winston Rose
DB Dan West*
DB Adam Berger*
DB Marcus Alford
DB Adrian James
DB DaQuan Pace

No position took a bigger hit than the defensive line this off-season. In trading Ceresna to the Eskimos for no immediate return and losing Evans to Saskatchewan in free agency, the Redblacks find themselves without either of their starting defensive tackles. They also lost a productive Canadian rotational player in Gascon-Nadon.

Further widening the hole in the middle of Ottawa’s defence was the departure of Taylor Reed, who wound up signing with the Argos.

As for the secondary, Jerrell Gavins remains a free agent as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL. Taylor and Rose both started a handful of games but neither had great seasons. Losing a pair of Canadians in West and Berger leaves precious little depth behind starting safety Antoine Pruneau. Finally, even if Keelan Johnson wasn’t a regular starter, he was a special teams ace, racking up a league-high 29 special teams tackles in 2017.

Additions:

DL A.C. Leonard
DL Cliff Matthews
DL Cameron Walker*
DL Michael Klassen*
DL Daryl Waud*
DL George Uko
DL Shalon Ogbonda
DL Dayon Pratt
DL Tony Washington
LB Kyries Hebert
LB Rico Murray
LB Avery Williams
LB Sean Walters
DB Loucheiz Purifoy
DB Josh Johnson
DB Brandon Stewart
DB Aarion Penton
DB Damian Swann
DB Anthony Cioffi
DB Jules Dornevil

On the defensive side of the ball, it’s clear that the Redblacks prioritized experience and versatility. To off-set the loss of Zack Evans, Desjardins inked a trio of Nationals in Walker, Klassen and Waud. The latter two have struggled to stay healthy.

The addition of Kyries Hebert brings the last Renegade standing back to the nation’s capital. More importantly, it bolsters the linebacking corps and gives new defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe a trusted voice to implement his scheme. Furthermore, Hebert can still flat out ball, as evidenced by last season’s 110 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and interception.

Rico Murray and Loucheiz Purifoy are a pair of ultra athletic defenders that will play multiple positions, flexing as linebackers or in the secondary. Josh Johnson was out of football in 2017 but has previous stints with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the CFL’s BC Lions under his belt.

Rutgers alum Anthony Cioffi is a worth keeping an eye on. Despite being a CFL rookie, he has college starts at both cornerback and safety under his belt and spent time with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

Special Teams

Departures:

K Brett Maher

With Maher’s departure to the Dallas Cowboys, someone has big boots to fill.

Additions:

K Lewis Ward*
K Sergio Castillo
K Richie Leone

Fresh off a five-year university playing career, Ward handled both the kicking and punting responsibilities for the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Castillo is another player capable of handling punting and placekicking duties and was having a fine 2017 season before tearing his ACL in October. Leone is known mostly for punting but has spent the off-season honing his placekicking skills.

Coaching Staff

Coaches added:

Noel Thorpe (Defensive coordinator)
Winston October (Receivers)
John McDonell (Offensive line)
Mark Nelson (demoted to Linebackers)

Coaches released:

Bryan Chiu (Offensive line)
Travis Moore (Receivers)
Derek Oswalt (Linebackers)
Ike Charlton (Defensive backs)

Following the disappointing end to last season’s Grey Cup defence, changes in the coaching staff were inevitable. Still, it was somewhat surprising to see two experienced CFL coaches in Chiu and Moore let go in favour of coaches new to the CFL game. Although both Winston October and John McDonell have experience coaching in their respective roles, neither has ever coached in the CFL.

Mark Nelson has seemingly accepted his demotion in stride and it’ll be interesting to see just how aggressive new defensive coordinator Thorpe is willing to get. Renown for his exotic schemes and blitz packages, Thorpe will need his young defence to quickly buy in and learn the nuances of his playbook.

Santino Filoso

Santino Filoso

Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)
Santino Filoso
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Santino Filoso
About Santino Filoso (225 Articles)
Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)

17 Comments on Recapping the Ottawa Redblacks’ off-season

  1. greenenvy? // May 12, 2018 at 12:45 pm //

    Good solid commentary as usual. Ottawa will have a very good offence but I don’t like the defence much especially DL, which is key, & DB’s concern me as well. They’ll be in tough for a playoff spot IMO.

    • I agree very good offense, but I think they have improved their defense from last year.
      I think they will battling the Argos for first.
      The Ticats and Al battling for that final play off spot and probably a west crossover to Hamilton

  2. Edward Leslie // May 12, 2018 at 1:27 pm //

    I agree it’s not a big deal to drop veterans Drew Tate and Ruan Lindley as the backups if the Redblacks had some blue chip college stars stepping into the scene. Well Dominique Davis and Danny Collins definitely DO NOT make Ottawa fans sense the second coming of Condredge Holloway and Tom Clements!
    If Trevor Harris gets hurt again, the Redblacks will be in very big trouble.
    Their best move was getting Noel Thorpe. He’ll improve their defence.
    Kyries Hebert will make up for the loss of Taylor Reed. They’ll have to replace Zack Evans by committee (Darryl Waud, Ettore Lattanzio and Mike Klassen).
    Since Richie Leone is mostly known as a punter and Sergio Castillo is still recovering from a torn ACL, it would be nice to see them give local Gee Gees kicker, Lewis Ward a few games to show if he’s up to the challenge.
    Other than Offensive line where the Redblacks were already strong depth-wise, it doesn’t look like the Redblacks drafted a lot of immediate help elsewhere.
    It will be interesting to see how much action Mark Korte gets on the Offensive line in hos rookie year.

    • greenenvy? // May 12, 2018 at 1:58 pm //

      As usual, very informative. Thorpe eas the biggest add on defence but does he have enough to work with?

  3. bill dehoog // May 12, 2018 at 2:33 pm //

    very good article. Offence will be strong, expect Trevor to have an all star season. Lots of good looking rookie receivers should pick up the gap with Criner gone. Defence will be stronger…only need to make about 2 more stops per game than last year to be effective. Thorpe will bring aggressive defence, new additions are stronger than last year in the backfield.Waud is now healthy and is a stud. Rotate with Klasson,Williams and Lattannzio should make up for Evans. Likely going with 3 down lineman most times. Kicking will be fine with Castillo and Ward.Back up qb has never been strong (except when Henry and Trevor were together), expect Davis will be fine. Once Gavins and Shaw get healthy, they may see them again. Be nice if the DT we drafted last year comes to camp. My prediction is a 11 win season and fighting with Argos and Ti-Cats for top spot.

  4. The formula for building a championship team in the CFL is very simple – – get a good QB and the best possible NI talent that you can. Unfortunately for RedBags Fan, Ottawa is failing on both counts.

    Zack Evans is a quality NI starter and his loss is disastrous to the ratio. The RedBags braintrust essentially did nothing to offset the loss as no Canadian signing comes close to matching the kind of production that Evans will provide.

    I’ve always liked Daryl Waud’s game – – it easy to see why he had legit NFL interest – – but let’s be hinest, the guy just isn’t durable enough to pound in the trenches. Gascon Nadon will never fool anyone into thinking he’s a starting caliber DE but if the braintrust decides to start Connor Williams at DE, Gascon Nadon would have been a servicable back up. The health of WIlliams’ back is also a major concern.

    Casual fans who look at the stat sheet instead of actually watching the games will point to Trevor Harris as a great young QB. But in reality, the guy’s 32 years old and has never won a playoff game in his life.

    Harris gets worse as the season progresses. With Toronto in 2015 when he first became a starter he was getting MVP consideration early on, but regressed so badly that by the end of the season he was unplayable. In 2016, the RedBags did everything they could to hand him the starting job, but he couldn’t manage to outplay Hank Burris. And he was atrocious in last year’s ESF with two brutal INTs and a complete inability to put the ball into the endzone.

    Further concern for the RedBags is that they have BY FAR the worst OC in the league in Jaime Elizondo – – the former college tennis player. I had a front row seat in Toronto for two years to watch this guy’s bumbling antics. It got so bad that midway through the 2011 season, Jim Barker finally had to take the playbook away from Elizondo and step in as the OC. The only reason Elizondo is in football is thanks to the NFL’s ridiculous affirmative action program.

    • But to be fair on Harris he was injured and then the backup gets injured in the next game.
      Ottawa finished one half game back of the ARgos, if Harris hadn’t been injured no doubt they would have taken the first place bye. He can march up and down the field and with the receivers he has and with Powell and Madu they can score at will.
      But the failure last year was not on offense but on defense, the DBs and no pressure. They would score but then couldn’t prevent the other team from coming back.
      I disagree about the importance of NI, it’s about the importance of your Internationals/Imports, the talent players.
      But Ottawa does have Sinopoli, Gillanders, Beulieu, Figoli-olie etc some good Canadian O linemen.

      • I agree it’s about the talent, import players.
        The importance of your Canadians is way over rated, 3 Canadians on offense and 3 on Defense??
        Look at the All-star team from last year – the only Canadians on the team were some O-linemen.

        Look at the Canadian draft, way over rated. Look at the top draft picks of the last 4 seasons, only a couple of starters.
        It’s funny that the Ticats have ONE starter who has come out of the draft – Ravenberg 2 years ago!!
        It’s about your import talent and you build a team out of the FA, NCAA players, NFL cuts. A gem like Sinopoli comes out of the CIS once in a decade.

  5. bill dehoog // May 13, 2018 at 8:25 am //

    Sounds like Area 51 just hates the Redblacks, cannot agree with too much of his rant

    • I think he was an Argo fan and was upset that they let Harris go to Ottawa.
      But time will tell, we an sit back and blame QBs for all teams that don’t make it to the Grey Cup but it is about the team effort. Ottawa still had the best offense in the CFL last season and if Harris had not been out for a few games with injury he would have set records.

      • How do you define the “best” offence in your mind? The RedBags didn’t score the most points, nor did they have the most rushing yards or passing yards.

        The offence completely disappeared in the playoffs when they needed it the most. Aside from the meaningless TD in the last two minutes of garbage time when the game was long over, the RedBags put up a meagre FOURTEEN (14) points against Regina.

  6. I’ve read a lot of dumb comments on various CFL forums, but the proclamations above that Canadian talent isn’t important in the CFL is the absolute dumbest statement ever.

  7. bill dehoog // May 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm //

    I agree with Area 51 on the canadian content. But getting back to the Regina game, if you analyze it the difference was 2 or 3 plays. The interception at the Rider 5 was more on Criner for not coming back to the ball and not the pass from Harris.May I remind you that Henry is a Hall of Fame QB

    • The goal line INT was badly telegraphed – – that why the route got jumped. Harris stared the receiver down so hard he might as well have pointed directly at him before making the throw.

      And the INT on 3rd down was even worse. Throwing a halfassed rainbow pass into triple coverage.

      Aside from the INTs the offence just couldn’t put it into the end one. The ST fumble at the beginning of the 2ndH that gave them a drive start in the red zone was completely squandered. Two passes resulting in a 2-and-out. Totally wasted the opportunity to make it a one score game.

      No question Burris is a HoF QB but he was 41yrs old. And was being pushed into retirement by the braintrust. The only way for Harris to lose the job that year was for him to totally screw up. And he did just that.

      • Bill deHoog // May 14, 2018 at 8:08 am //

        I will take a closer look at the game tape before I comment further
        The plan was for Burris all the way in 2016, and Harris to learn from Henry.Henry decided 2016 was his last year, not a management decision. Injuries caused Trevor to swing into action. Last year was a learning experience for Trevor as it was his first year as starter and still had Henry in the background. You will see a much different QB this year

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