2018 CFL Season Preview: Ottawa Redblacks need-to-know

Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

This is a pressure-packed season for the Ottawa Redblacks. After they failed to defend their Grey Cup championship in 2017 and were upset by the crossover Saskatchewan Roughriders in the first round of the playoffs they have made wholesale changes. Don’t believe me, look at the number of good football players on the departures list below in this article. What was a talented roster was ripped apart. New systems and higher accountability will be in place as Ottawa got rid of four coaches and demoted one. The Redblacks looked breathtaking at times and lost in others during an underwhelming 2017 season.

Aggressive to change that in the off-season, Ottawa had a great draft and wasn’t immune to spending in free agency.

Quarterback Trevor Harris suffered a lower-body injury after just six minutes in his pre-season opener against the Montreal Alouettes. Luckily their first game isn’t until June 21 against visiting Saskatchewan and Harris is determined to make it back for the first start in what is a contract year for the 30-year-old. Harris has MOP talent but has been injury prone. Last year Ottawa struggled when he suffered an upper body injury and missed three games. What side of the health ledger Harris falls in will likely determine how far the Redblacks go in their quest to get back to the Cup.

General Manager: Marcel Desjardins
Head coach: Rick Campbell
2017 Result: 8-9, lost in the East semifinals
Starting QB: Trevor Harris

Key Departures: Brett Maher, Adam Berger, Jake Ceresna, Zack Evans, Drew Tate, Juron Criner, Quincy McDuffie, Kenny Shaw, Josh Stangby, Jake Harty, Ryan Lindley, Patrick Lavoie, Zachary Intzandt, Matt Albright, Jake Silas, Tommie Draheim, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Mathieu Dupuis, Taylor Reed, Serderius Bryant, Ron Omara, Jerrell Gavins, Keelan Johnson, Nick Taylor, Winston Rose, Dan West, Marcus Alford, Adrian James, DaQuan Pace, JC Beaulieu and Jordan Filippelli

Key Additions: Kyries Herbert, A.C. Leonard, Loucheiz Purifoy, Domonique Davis, Noel Thomas, Kieren Duncan, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Rico Murray, Cliff Matthews, Cameron Walker, Daryl Waud and Tony Washington

Expected team strengths: The Redblacks aerial attack should be strong again. Harris led the league with a 103.6 passing efficiency and tied for the lead with 30 touchdown passes. He put up nine 300-yard games to end the season and get Ottawa in the post-season. He has familiarity with his offence and his top receivers. Since coming to Ottawa he’s had a great connection with his No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. Last year, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli were the league’s most productive duo, combining for 187 receptions for 2,869 yards and 15 touchdowns. The most explosive player on the team is Diontae Spencer who could lead the league in all-purpose yards and the offence boasts a 1,000-yard rusher in William Powell. Scoreboard operators will get a workout when Ottawa is in town.

Expected team weakness:

Defence is a point of emphasis as they weren’t explosive on that side of the ball last year. Ottawa created a league-low 22 turnovers last year. Only the Alouettes had fewer interceptions than the 11 produced by the Redblacks. That is going to change under Canadian defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe from Montreal. The defence may or may not be better but it will certainly be more aggressive as Thorpe looks to blitz often and hopefully improve upon the 31 sacks the team produced last season.

2018 Schedule Quirk:

The Redblacks’ first bye week is in Week 1. It’s an odd schedule quirk but a necessary evil in a league with an odd number of teams. Last year Ottawa had two bye weeks in the last month of the season. The Redblacks have been very vocal about how unfair the scheduling gods have been to them in recent years but this scenario actually is beneficial as the unintended consequence of starting the season later is it gives Harris more time to get healthy.

What a successful season would look like:

Getting back to the Grey Cup. In a season where they made lots of changes an improvement is expected. Ottawa could have blamed the having the CFL’s toughest schedule and a boatload of injuries as to why it started slow last season. Instead it made hard choices internally and with that self-imposed scrutiny comes a higher level of expectations. Anything short of a Grey Cup appearance will be seen as a disappointment as the team is built to win now.

What a disappointing season would look like:

Ottawa has the best home atmosphere certainly in the East. Failing to at least host a playoff game and/or losing again to a crossover team would be disappointing. In the weaker East, another below .500 regular season record would activate further changes.

Pre-season Grey Cup odds (Via Oddshark):

+950

Notable findings/quotes from CFL Media Poll:

• Surprisingly R Nation and TD place got zero votes for “which CFL Team has the biggest home-field advantage.” Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group prides itself on its in-game atmosphere and activations. Because of that fact a Redblacks game has become the hottest ticket in town and the place to be among millennials so to not make the list will feel like a slight to the football fans in the nation’s capital.

• They also were tied for last with the Edmonton Eskimos getting just one per cent of the vote for teams who had the best off-season (one vote). Not a good return considering how active they were in both free agency and the draft.

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