April 23, 2018

O’Leary: Thorpe Ottawa’s biggest off-season pick up

Chris Hofley/Ottawa REDBLACKS

When Trevor Harris spoke about the outlook for his team this season, his thoughts went where you might not expect them to go.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS quarterback listed some of the people he sees when he’s on the field: Diontae Spencer, Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and SirVincent Rogers. He perked up though, when he started talking about the other side of the ball.

“Coach Thorpe, he’s going to be a big addition,” Harris said last month at Mark’s CFL Week in Winnipeg. “That’s probably one of the biggest off-season moves that no one is talking about, is getting Noel Thorpe here.”

» Campbell: Mini-camp all about ‘getting young players up to speed’
» REDBLACKS return to the field in the nation’s capital

Thorpe was relieved of his duties with the Alouettes in September of last year (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

With his first day of on-field work with players in the books after the team’s first day of mini-camp, Thorpe sounded elated to be back on the field.

“Back to where you feel you belong? Absolutely,” Thorpe, the REDBLACKS’ defensive coordinator said on the phone from Ottawa.

It’s been more than six months since Thorpe has been on a football field, constructing a defence that brings mayhem to the other eight teams in the CFL. Fired in Montreal in mid-September, he joined Ottawa on Dec. 4. Mini-camps are always a shell of an actual practice, but they’re that important first step into training camp and the regular-season.

“I think the day went well. As good as first days are,” he said. “They’re not going to be perfect. Guys are going to make some mistakes, guys are playing hard and they want to do things right.

“Defensively we’ve been able to bring in some of the free agents that Marcel (Desjardins) and Rick (Campbell) brought in and I was happy to get them on the field and see them play. As we said to them in the meeting, ‘This is setting the standard for 2018.’”

Desjardins and Campbell are hoping that Thorpe can help redefine the standard for the REDBLACKS defence. While they had the third-most productive offence in the league last year, the REDBLACKS struggled defensively, giving up an average of 384.8 yards per game, which had them sixth in the league. The bulk of their trouble lay in making stops on first downs (they were last in the league, allowing 6.9 yards per play).

“I think the overall philosophy of how we will play defence, we’ll be a lot more aggressive,” Desjardins told TSN 1200 on Monday morning.

“At the same time we’ll have more experience certainly in the back end and more versatility, meaning guys that can play multiple positions. Therefore you can line them up and move them around and try to throw the offence off a little bit.”

While Thorpe and the rest of the coaching staff were using the camp to introduce their new players to the team or the CFL game, he said that these three days are about building a relationship with the coaching staff as well.

“Chemistry and camaraderie and for me being the new guy, fitting into what they’ve established here,” Thorpe said.

“They do an outstanding job here and have done an outstanding job, so for me it’s about feeling my way through some of the things they’ve done very well organizationally and structurally coaching-wise. Building a rapport, I have a high level of respect and appreciation for what Jamie Elizondo has done as an offensive coordinator.”

Defensively, there are some familiar faces. He’s worked with Campbell in Edmonton, knows Desjardins from his time in Montreal, and worked with Mark Nelson with the Als as well. Ottawa’s defensive assistant, Patrick Bourgon, was a rival of his at McGill, when Thorpe was coaching at the University of Montreal.

“(D-line coach) Leroy Blugh is the one I haven’t worked with but I’m very familiar with,” he said.

“That was part of taking this job, is the familiarity with the people that are in place here. That was really important and getting to see these guys operate and work is going to be really good.”

Through a very long offseason, Thorpe has studied the REDBLACKS’ roster and thought about the possibilities that could come with a new team,


“From a players standpoint, Antoine Pruneau, I coached at the University of Montreal, so being reunited with him and getting an opportunity to coach him as a professional was exciting. I’ve seen his development,” he said.

“I’ll say this, Kevin Brown, another young linebacker that I think has the opportunity to develop into a good one in this league, has all the traits and attributes that we look for at the will linebacker position.

“As for returning players, there are a few of the guys that aren’t here for mini-camp. (Defensive backs) Jonathan Rose, Corey Tindal, Sherrod Baltimore…from that standpoint, I’ll see when it comes to training camp.”

Harris, back in March, looked at the 2017 season and knew what his team was capable of offensively. It’s not often a coach is the key offseason acquisition, but Harris could be right. If the REDBLACKS can lock teams down and reel off points like they’ve grown used to?

“We’re really excited about this team,” Harris said. “It’s going to be really fun to roll it out and see how we do.”