Pres­sure on GM Des­jardins af­ter bad sea­son for Red­blacks

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - DON BREN­NAN

As a full-time Ot­tawa res­i­dent and one of the Red­blacks’ most rec­og­niz­able faces, An­toine Pruneau will du­ti­fully “try to help a lit­tle bit at the events” dur­ing Grey Cup week.

Just don’t ex­pect to see him any­where near TD Place Nov. 26.

“No chance,” the all-star safety said Tues­day when asked if he planned to watch the cham­pi­onship game. “I can’t be in that sta­dium, and not be on the field. It would be too painful.”

Pruneau has played in 76 of the Red­blacks’ 77 games to date, in­clud­ing three play­offs and two Grey Cups. While you’d prob­a­bly be dis­ap­pointed in some play­ers on the give-a-damn me­ter, it’s ev­i­dent he is one of the lead­ers when it comes to car­ing about the team.

With Pruneau, Sun­day’s loss is go­ing to st­ing for a while. “It’s the first year that we had a shot and we couldn’t at least go to the big dance,” he said. “It’s real tough.”

The truth of the mat­ter is the Red­blacks never re­ally had a shot. They de­served their fate. They didn’t be­long in the East Di­vi­sion fi­nal, let alone the Grey Cup game. They were a bad team.

For­get about the lousy start and the “good” turn­around. All you need to know about the 2017 Red­blacks is they were 7-1-0 against non-play­off squads, which, of course, means they were 1-8-1 ver­sus con­tenders.

It was the worst ti­tle de­fence since the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos won the Grey Cup in 2005 and fin­ished last in the West with a 7-11 record in 2006. And those Eski­mos didn’t have the lux­ury of play­ing three games against this sea­son’s Mon­treal Alou­ettes.

Yet ask any of the Red­blacks and they’ll tell you they were con­fi­dent en­ter­ing the play­offs and they re­main so.

“Ab­so­lutely,” Pruneau said. “I just met with a few of the coaches, and I think there’s just a few things we need to tweak. There was a lot of good young play­ers for us this year that are just go­ing to get bet­ter. I’m go­ing to get bet­ter.”

The good young play­ers he refers to are mostly on de­fence, where the de­ci­sion was made to let veter­ans walk and re­place them with rook­ies who, in fact, did show prom­ise. If you don’t gam­ble that guys like Sher­rod Bal­ti­more, Corey Tin­dal and Jake Ceresna will im­prove — if you re­place them with other young play­ers — you’re go­ing to live with grow­ing pains again.

On of­fence, some tough de­ci­sions are needed.

Re-sign­ing Brad Si­nop­oli would be im­per­a­tive even if he were an Amer­i­can. He’s one of the best re­ceivers in the league. His coun­try of birth is a bonus.

Dion­tae Spencer prob­a­bly also needs to be brought back de­spite his short­com­ings. On Sun­day, af­ter drop­ping a ball in the end zone with just over five min­utes left and the Red­blacks trail­ing by 17, he failed to get to the first­down marker when thrown the next two passes. He also showed poor judg­ment by tweet­ing out his touch­down cel­e­bra­tion in the mo­ments af­ter the team didn’t score enough of them.

But Spencer is an elec­tri­fy­ing re­turn spe­cial­ist and a pretty good re­ceiver, so you take the good and hope he out­grows the bad.

Wil­liam Pow­ell will be 30 by the time train­ing camp rolls around, and he’s al­ready go­ing through in­jury prob­lems. He’s also the best run­ning back in the CFL, so you might want to try and get an­other year out of him, but a con­tin­gency plan has to be put in mo­tion.

Then there’s Trevor Har­ris, who throws a nice long ball and has a record of 0-1 as a starter in the play­offs. He will likely be look­ing for a raise on a $450,000 salary that was among the tops in the league. While Har­ris doesn’t de­serve the bump, he will have op­tions. What choice do the Red­blacks have? They can pur­sue Zach Col­laros or James Franklin, but would ei­ther be bet­ter? That’s cer­tainly no sure bet.

And, with­out a ca­pa­ble quar­ter­back, the Red­blacks could turn into the Rene­gades.

“There’s nine teams try­ing to bat­tle to be there, and it can­not be us ev­ery year, even though we’re work­ing in that di­rec­tion,” Pruneau said. “Hope­fully it’s go­ing to be bet­ter next year.”

The pres­sure is on gen­eral man­ager Mar­cel Des­jardins to make it so.

An­toine Pruneau

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