REDBLACKS RE­PORT CARD

With the Redblacks’ ti­tle de­fence over, we hand out re­port cards

Ottawa Sun - - FRONT PAGE - TIM BAINES tbaines@post­media.com @TimCBaines

About 11½ months ago, the Ot­tawa Redblacks were spray­ing cham­pagne in a BMO Field locker room that smelled of cigars and beer. They were Grey Cup cham­pi­ons, end­ing 40 years of foot­ball mis­ery that had frus­trated an Ot­tawa fan base that had seen the Rough Rid­ers and Rene­gades dis­ap­pear.

Now, with four teams re­main­ing in the chase for the Grey Cup, fol­low­ing a 31-20 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers in the Cana­dian Foot­ball League East Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal Sun­day, the Redblacks will be clean­ing out their lock­ers Tues­day, many of them pack­ing their suit­cases and re­turn­ing to their homes. Some won’t be back.

Fail­ure brings change. That will lead to a busy off-sea­son for GM Mar­cel Des­jardins and his foot­ball op­er­a­tions peo­ple.

The 2017 sea­son had its ups and downs — the roller­coaster ride be­gan with a 1-6-1 start to the reg­u­lar sea­son. It in­cluded in­juries to quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris, de­fen­sive back/ line­backer Jer­rell Gavins, re­ceiver Brad Si­nop­oli, of­fen­sive line­men Nolan MacMil­lan, Jon Gott and SirVin­cent Rogers, de­fen­sive lineman Con­nor Wil­liams and run­ning back Wil­liam Pow­ell.

The sea­son had plenty of ‘what-ifs,’ games that should have been won, play­ers that didn’t per­form at a level that was ex­pected of them. Here’s how we grade the 2017 Ot­tawa Redblacks:

OF­FENCE

BQB Trevor Har­ris was very good, not great. Maybe it was the sys­tem, maybe it was the of­fen­sive line, maybe he didn’t get rid of the ball quick enough some­times or maybe he just didn’t have the weapons that Henry Bur­ris did. Re­mem­ber Ernest Jack­son and Chris Wil­liams?

Har­ris threw for 4,679 yards, fourth best in the CFL and just 21 yards be­hind Bo Levi Mitchell and ahead of Matt Ni­chols, who each played two more games. Har­ris’ 30 touch­down passes tied him for first in the CFL with Mike Reilly, who played three more games.

So why is he a light­ning rod for crit­i­cism?

The of­fence would be well served if Har­ris, a po­ten­tial free agent, re­turns. We got to see Drew Tate and Ryan Lind­ley, but we’re still wait­ing to see what rookie QB Danny Collins, who has a big arm, can do.

Af­ter he fi­nally got healthy, RB Wil­liam Pow­ell was dy­namic, wind­ing up with 1,026 yards on 173 car­ries, play­ing in just 12 games. That was the Pow­ell the Redblacks thought they had be­fore he got in­jured and missed the 2016 sea­son.

It was an­other great sea­son for re­ceivers Greg Elling­son and Brad Si­nop­oli and Dion­tae Spencer re­ally emerged as a go-to guy. Jake Harty took a step for­ward.

The play of the of­fen­sive line was puz­zling dur­ing the first half of the sea­son — too many sacks al­lowed With in­juries to veteran all-stars Jon Gott, Nolan MacMil­lan and SirVin­cent Rogers, the young Redblacks line­men took it up a notch and that con­tin­ued.

DE­FENCE

C+A lot of faith was put in a young sec­ondary that sprang leaks at times dur­ing the sea­son. There were cer­tainly too many big plays

against guys who were still feel­ing their way around the wider and longer field, with all of that wag­gle and mo­tion tak­ing some get­ting used to.

Rookie Sher­rod Bal­ti­more emerged as a solid op­tion. Safety An­toine Pruneau had his best sea­son as a Red­black, set­tling in nicely to his role. DB/LB Jer­rell Gavins was missed in Sun­day’s loss. He had be­come a steady­ing force for the young­sters.

LB Tank Reed was as steady as they come. The de­fen­sive line forced its share of quar­ter­back pres­sures, but still hasn’t found a guy who can ter­ror­ize quar­ter­backs with the threat of be­ing sacked.

DE Jonathan New­some, brought in early in the sea­son, didn’t seem to have the same jump in his step down the stretch.

An elite pass rusher is needed. The team missed DL Con­nor Wil­liams, who missed nearly the whole sea­son with a con­cus­sion.

The Redblacks were still among the league’s best in points al­lowed. There’s an aw­ful lot of the team’s salary cap sunk into of­fen­sive play­ers — makes you won­der if some of that cash will be spent on up­grad­ing the de­fence.

SPE­CIAL TEAMS B+

Much of the recog­ni­tion for strong spe­cial teams play will go to Dion­tae Spencer (who av­er­aged 13.3 yards per punt re­turn with a touch­down, 24.3 yards on kick­off re­turns and had a 113-yard touch­down re­turn on a missed field goal to go along with 922 yards in catches on of­fence), Kee­lan John­son (he led the CFL in spe­cial teams tack­les with 29) and kicker Brett Ma­her (he was good on 41-of-50 field goal at­tempts and av­er­aged 46.7 yards on his punts), but these guys are well coached by Bob Dyce and the unit was among the CFL’s best this sea­son.

The Redblacks need to bring po­ten­tial free-agent Spencer back, though he may have other op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Quincy McDuffie was brought in to be a punt/kick­off re­turner, but an in­jury didn’t give any­body a chance to see much of what he could do.

COACHES B

First, it’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter group of guys among any coach­ing staff. They’re good peo­ple.

But when the re­sults aren’t there, it’s the guys who are do­ing the teach­ing — the guys who are plot­ting out the X’s and the O’s and schem­ing up a game plan — who have to take their share of the blame.

Tough to imag­ine the Redblacks could find bet­ter po­si­tion coaches, there are some great teach­ers here.

There have been whis­pers of dis­en­chant­ment with of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Jaime El­i­zondo, whose play call­ing some­times wasn’t ag­gres­sive enough, maybe too pre­dictable, for the lik­ing of oth­ers.

Head coach Rick Camp­bell is on solid ground, he’s not go­ing any­where.

MAN­AGE­MENT B

This is a group that has made so many bril­liant de­ci­sions over the four years of the team’s ex­is­tence, but there were a cou­ple of big free-agent whiffs dur­ing the 2017 off-sea­son.

Big sign­ings DB AJ Jef­fer­son and LB Khalil Bass were both re­leased. WR Kenny Shaw never re­ally got a chance to show what he could do. Dion­tae Spencer was bril­liant. The team chose to let Ab­dul Kan­neh go to free agency.

Maybe most frus­trat­ing was the non-sign­ing of for­mer Redblacks DBs Mitchell White and For­rest Hightower, who re­turned to the CFL with other teams af­ter NFL op­por­tu­ni­ties didn’t work out. The Redblacks sec­ondary des­per­ately could have used that ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ot­tawa Redblacks quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris had a great sta­tis­ti­cal sea­son rack­ing up 4,679 pass­ing yards and 30 TDs, but was a light­ning rod for crit­i­cism.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

POST­MEDIA NET­WORK FILES

Clock­wise from left, Dion­tae Spencer was out­stand­ing on spe­cial teams, head coach Rick Camp­bell should be back with the Redblacks next sea­son, but of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jaime El­i­zondo may be out the door; rookie de­fen­sive back Sher­rod Bal­ti­more made an ex­cel­lent im­pres­sion.

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