By: Santino Filoso
After having a few weeks to digest the Redblacks’ inaugural season, we here at Defend the R thought it was fitting to have a conversation and break down the team’s performance by position.
@RedBlackGade: While Burris certainly didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates or offensive co-ordinator, he simply didn’t live up to his contract and I agree that for 400k, he needed to be better. Burris showed flashes but it seemed like every game there were at least 3-4 massive under/over-throws that just looked horrible. It was also disappointing not to see him run more, he looked hesitant to take off when the pocket broke down, but to be fair to him it broke down nearly every play. On the other hand, it’s hard for any QB to look good when his team has over 50 drops, that’s like two full games of completions, plus he was sacked once every ten times he dropped back. Doesn’t mean he gets a pass for his performance but you can’t ignore those stats, hard to see any QB thriving with dealing with issues like that. Lastly I found it interesting that the only time Burris really seemed to get into a groove this year was when he was in the no huddle, calling plays himself. In terms of other QBs, I don’t think it’s possible to judge DeMarco as he had so few snaps before tearing his knee. O’Brien didn’t impress me. Yes he seemed to make some big TD throws and I do like his willingness to toss the deep ball, but if you go back and look at them most of those long TDs were actually short passes that turned into huge gains when receivers made guys miss. Obviously he didn’t get a ton of reps either but I thought he looked a bit uncomfortable in the pocket when faced with pressure and had a worrying habit or making the wrong read and tossing interceptions at bad times. Maybe it’s just rookie growing pains but his stat line of 2 TDs with 5 INTs and a 53% completion rate don’t scream QB of the future to me.
@ottroughriders: Yes, there are lots of reasons why Henry Burris struggled this year – play-calling, young receiving corps, dropped balls, weak offensive line – but we need to be careful not to deflect all the blame for those reasons. Burris was, quite frankly, a massive bust on the field. The $400k+ future Hall of Fame QB was just plain bad. Over an 18-game schedule, you have to expect a guy with his pedigree would be the difference in a game or two. He wasn’t. While there were decent drives or quarters here and there, on the whole we saw too many over/under-thrown balls and an unwillingness to use his feet. For a 39-year old, he can still move a little bit, but generally seemed unwilling to do so. For everything he does for the team off the field, I’m still ok with the Burris signing. He is an unbelievable ambassador for the league/team/city. But I also don’t think it’s unfair to question whether or not he can still hack it as a starting QB. Lots of evidence this year that perhaps he cannot. Hard to say too much about any of our other QBs, since none of them got much significant time in the field. Thomas DeMarco was lost to an ACL tear early on and Danny O’Brien’s reps were little more than spot duty. What we saw from both was a spark here and there, but nothing to hang your hat on. Since the season became a write-off fairly early, I still don’t understand why the coaching staff didn’t give O’Brien a full game’s reps.
@ottroughriders: Shame how things turned out for Chevon Walker. Not just the injury or the fact he was badly under-utilized, but in some ways also the emergence of guys like Jon Williams and Jeremiah Johnson. Training camp 2015 could be a real dogfight. I harken back to the Redblacks 4th game of the season vs Hamilton at McMaster University (great little stadium, by the way). In taking to a couple of Ticats fans who spoke highly of Chevy, they were also quick to point out that he wasn’t great between the tackles. Perhaps coincidentally, after an explosive start, it was pretty much from that game forward that Walker (and the rest of the offense) struggled. Shame we only got to see Williams play a couple games in a row between injuries, but boy did he make an impression! He pretty much single-handedly got us win #2 vs Winnipeg, showing an ability to get the tough yards and out-run people to the outside. Fingers crossed for a full recovery. The sample size was even smaller on Johnson, but seemed to be some similarities between him and Williams. Wonder if that two-headed monster backfield would work? If nothing else, we’re at least pretty sure we now have one solid offensive position of depth at RB.
@RedBlackGade: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. It seemed like every time one of our backs got into a groove he got hurt. Does R-Nation even remember Chevon Walker? The Redblacks had seven different guys tote the rock this season but the ones who really stuck out to me where Williams, Johnson and Finch…in that order. Jonathan Williams especially won me over with this tough, no nonsense running. Jeremiah Johnson made the most of the few carries he got and Finch seemed to show a burst that the others lacked, despite his small stature. With Walker, Williams and Johnson all moving off major injuries it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the lead dog of this pack next training camp. I also think having a new offensive co-ordinator will work wonders as Gibson had a habit of forgetting to run the ball. In a perfect world I’d like to see Williams or Johnson as our main guys to wear defences down with Walker and Finch subbing in for explosive/passing plays.
@RedBlackGade: The receivers this season were easily the most disappointing aspect of the team. Though they finished the year on a strong note, Ottawa lost a number of close games due to drops and guys who didn’t know where to line up or who ran the wrong routes. Losing Kierrie Johnson to injury was a big blow as he seemed to be the only guy with real deep threat speed. I thought 2nd round pick Scott Macdonell excelled every time he was called upon, which was rarely. I really didn’t understand why he sat on the bench while a guy like Matt Carter kept getting starts. Carter had some nice catches but it seemed like every catch was followed up a drop. Marcus Henry was pretty frustrating too. Though he led the team in receptions, aside from one big game against the Ticats he disappeared for long stretches, where was he the last three games of the year? Wallace Miles is another guy who was incredibly exasperating to watch as a fan. Miles seemed to have multiple drops per game, yet always hauled in at least one deep circus catch every game. I don’t know if it was an attention issue or what but if he could catch half the passes thrown his way he’d been an all-star. Lastly guys like Jamill Smith and Dobson Collins didn’t do much to impress though they didn’t have a ton of opportunity either. Eddie Poole only played the last game of the season, despite being on the practice roster all year, and looked very good, but it’s hard to judge him based on a single start.
@ottroughriders: The receiver position has been identified by many as the weakest position on the 2014 Redblacks. In particular, the WR corps took a lot of heat for an abnormal number of drops, especially in the first half of the season. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some people to be excited about. An arm injury in Hamilton ended Kierrie Johnson’s season after 3+ games. To that point, Johnson was the closest thing to a game-breaker among receivers, notably hauling in the Burris long bomb that made the game-winning field goal in our magical home opener possible. Khalil Paden, added to the active roster around mid-season, quietly put together a strong year. Paden showed an ability to make the easy catches and the tough catches – something few others did. Don’t think there’s any question he’ll be back in 2015. Canadian Scott MacDonnell showed quite well in his limited opportunity in 2014. Among his 13 catches was a memorable catch-and-run first career TD at home against the Alouettes in October. Big body with nice hands. Hope to see him get more looks next season.
@RedBlackGade: If the receivers were the biggest let down, the offensive line is a close second. Led by Jon Gott, the offensive line struggled in pass protection all season, allowing the QB to be sacked once every ten drop backs, a dismal stat for the group in charge of setting the tone. It routinely seemed like a jail break when Burris or O’Brien dropped back to pass and heavy pressure normally resulted in incomplete passes, sacks and turnovers. It’s hard to ask any QB to be accurate when he never gets a chance to set his feet. Nate Menkin was brought in to help anchor the line but ended up being a bust. Ottawa native Nolan MacMillan was thrown into the fire as a rookie but had the chance to play through his growing pains, hopefully the experience he earned helps improve his game going forwards. Late season addition Colin Kelly looked like a good fit at tackle and will probably be back next year. For all the struggles the offensive line had passing, they thrived on running plays, routinely knocking defences back on their heels as they pounded the ball between the tackles. Unfortunately the run game was often abandoned which meant that the hogs up front didn’t get a chance to tee off on defenders as much as they probably would’ve liked. Along with WRs, you’d have to think GM Marcel Desjardins will put in a call to every quality OL on the market this off-season.
@ottroughriders: No doubt, this group took a beating this year – both on the field and among the fan base. The key to any championship-calibre CFL team is a strong offensive line, and that means Non-Import/National/Canadian depth – something the Redblacks simply do not have yet. O-line weakness had to be a known concern coming into the season. And knowing that, one would have expected an offense designed to limit the damage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and cost Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line coach Mine Gibson his job. Far too much of the playbook had Burris flat-footed in the shotgun as opposed to moving his feet and improvising. Have to think Ottawa will add 2-3 OL pieces via the draft or free agency.
@RedBlackGade: Maybe the backbone of the team. The defensive line was very good on most nights, both at containing the run and putting pressure on the QB. Keith Shologan, Zack Evans and Justin Capicciotti all had break out years and being Canadians, were ratio breakers. Mid-season addition Kalonji Kashama came on strong and is another Canadian who seems poised to be an impact player. Fan favourite Moton Hopkins is a free agent and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s brought back. This already strong group figures to get a boost with the return of Justin Phillips, who was lost very early this season. Though this group is already very deep, don’t be surprised if Desjardins brings in a pass rush specialist.
@ottroughriders: Very encouraging and the Canadian content is huge. Capicciotti was the biggest revelation of the group, taking home the top Canadian of the week award not once but twice in 2014. Nice to see that both of our 2013 red shirt DL draft picks – Kashama and Connor Williams – saw action this season. Props to Desjardins on that. Wonder if Kashama might be that future specialist to put the fear in opposing QBs?
@ottroughriders: Some amazing stories out of this group: Brown was found at an open tryout prior to the season, Simmons started the season on the practise roster, and “Crazy Legs” Pruneau was so good as a rookie he made veteran TJ Hill, a key free agent signing and then-defensive team captain, expendable by early August. If there was an award for the CFL’s top Canadian rookie (and shouldn’t there be?), Pruneau would have a new trophy for his collection. His performance has definitely made Desjardins’ draft day wheeling and dealing look like the work of genius.
@RedBlackGade: Losing veteran Anton MacKenzie during the pre-season should have been devastating, but thanks to a strong play from a group of young players, (Travis Brown, Jasper Simmons and Antoine Pruneau) a perceived weakness was actually a strength. I loved watching all of these guys play, especially Pruneau who seemed to always be around the ball and Simmons with his knack for making the big play when it was needed to get the defence off the field. It’s telling that Simmons was the Redblacks choice for team MOP and I really thought Pruneau had a shot at being the Eastern Rookie of the Year. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next season with a healthy MacKenzie and guys like Damaso Munoz and David Hinds pushing for more playing time. With a glut of talented LBs and only so many snaps to go around, it’ll be tough to keep them all happy but that’s a good problem to have.
@ottroughriders: An up-and-down year for this group that featured a pile of CFL rookies, including Eddie Elder, Brandon McDonald, Abdul Kanneh, Jermaine Robinson and Brandyn Thompson. Inconsistency was to be expected for players getting their first taste of the nuances of the Canadian game. Gavins was maybe the best example of feast or famine – great some nights, pretty awful a few other nights. Seemed to get called for an unusually high number of penalties. Kanneh came on strong late in the season, pulling down 3 INTs. Sick dreads, too. Veteran Jovon Johnson had a solid, if unspectacular year. His leadership will be an increasingly important asset. A year’s experience will do this squad well. I expect to see lots of familiar faces back in 2015.
@RedBlackGade: Agreed that this group had a roller coaster kind of year. Brandyn Thompson was the most consistent guy in the group and showed a nose for the ball. Once he became a regular in the line up I thought Abdul Kanneh played well for the most part, though did he did often get flagged for PI. I loved Jermaine Robinson’s game, he was aggressive and lowered the boom a few times on guys coming over the middle, but for some reason was a healthy scratch for a number of games. As you said Gavins had an up and down year. After being torched his first game he responded nicely and had a good stretch where he made a number of plays, though late in the season he seemed to regress. As for Jovon Johnson, I was honestly a bit underwhelmed. While he certainly did bring leadership to the group and was great with fans off the field, he didn’t make any big splash plays. On the other hand you could easily argue that if you don’t notice a DB it’s a good thing as he’s not being torched, so there’s that too. The main thing to keep in mind with this group is their youth, the experience they gained in their first year in the CFL should pay off in shades next season.
@ottroughriders: For GM, positives were the impact of 2013 & 2014 draft picks in the first season – if Desmarais dressed/played, that would’ve made 7 that saw action. Acquiring Gott and drafting the best rookie (Pruneau) at #4 is a major coup as well. The negatives were not signing a significant WR (although partial credit for chasing hard at Dressler) and not jumping at Messam when he came available. Some argue that the team gave up on Paris Jackson too soon but I don’t think I agree, he obviously didn’t impress the coaches either.
@RedBlackGade: I think Desjardins did a fantastic job this year. At the time I was skeptical of trading the 1st overall pick away for Gott but in hindsight I think it was a good move. Also how can you not love swapping the perennial under performing Kevin Glenn for Pruneau? It’s not often that a GM gets the better of Wally Buono in a trade but Desjardins can brag that he did. I don’t fault Desjardins for not bringing in a top WR because there simply wasn’t anyone available. Plus, when one did hit the market, he offered the farm. The only thing that confused me a bit was the constant transactions bringing in more defensive linemen and linebackers, you’d have thought we’d have brought in more offensive lineman and receivers for looks as that was where we were weak but maybe there just wasn’t anyone out there.
What do you think? Who stood out to you and what positions need to be upgraded?