O’Leary: REDBLACKS start the journey back to competitiveness
One of the best things about the CFL is a team’s ability to rebound after a bad year or two.
You can’t say outright in February when the days are still cold and short if that’ll happen when the games start being played in June, but that’s the path that the Ottawa REDBLACKS are hoping to go down. It’s certainly not an impossible one. Edmonton went from a four-win team in 2013 to a 12-win club in 2014, then won the Grey Cup the year after. Toronto suffered through a five-win campaign in 2016 and hoisted the Grey Cup a year later.
It’s a tough journey, but one that the REDBLACKS are hoping to make this season.
“I think our club will be pretty active,” REDBLACKS’ GM Shawn Burke told reporters on Tuesday, providing perhaps the biggest understatement of this year’s free agency period.
In total, the REDBLACKS made 13 signings on Tuesday and lost just three players. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s signing headlined the lot of them, but when the former Hamilton Tiger-Cat gets into training camp in the spring, he’ll see that there’s plenty of talent sprinkled through the roster.
Darvin Adams and a re-signed R.J. Harris headline the receiving corps and William Powell returned to Ottawa and will serve as an excellent option for the run game. They’ll all benefit from a rebuilt offensive line that will work to erase last year’s group that surrendered a league-worst 53 sacks.
Defensively, Ottawa’s QB pressure should be ramped up this year, with Kwaku Boateng making the move from Edmonton, Lorenzo Mauldin IV jumping over from Hamilton and with the re-signing of Davon Coleman.
Burke, head coach Paul LaPolice and the rest of the REDBLACKS’ front office knew, though, that locking Masoli into a contract was the key to starting down this path.
“It’s definitely helped speaking with other players,” Burke said. “Jeremiah’s credibility across the league as a football player, with his colleagues is second to none.
“We never talked to another quarterback in the process. We had plans just in case, but we had our target, we knew the guy that we wanted.”
Once Burke was hired in December, LaPolice had approached him about the possibility of getting Masoli. When it came time for the team to talk with pending free agents on Jan. 30, the coach was more than prepared when he made his pitch to Masoli.
“Part of this process for me was when I started evaluating the film with Jeremiah, making video cut ups for myself — you know, I was believing we were going to get him — so I have 120, 150 clips of him, since I watched every game in 2008 season,” LaPolice said.
“Now I have a building block. It’s not my system. It’s not the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ system. It’s our system. Some of the things he did very successful in ’18, we’ll put back, we’ll put in and install.
“I hope the players understand they’re a part of the process. That’s what I think makes it an attractive place.”
For Masoli, the move was as easy as possible. A Ticat for the past eight seasons, Masoli knows Burke well, as he’d been there for 15 years before taking the Ottawa job last month. He’s not the only Ticat to make that move and as the signings continue to roll out this week, he likely won’t be the last.
“To me it was just the right fit, from talking to some of the players on the team currently, even some of the ones from my old team that played here as well. So I definitely did my research. Tons of players and even some former quarterbacks that coach LaPo was able to coach and they all came with shining recommendations,” Masoli said.
“Just being here in this short amount of time, you can definitely feel it around here. There’s a buzz happening, for sure. I know everybody else can feel it, we’ve got a lot of momentum. I’m here to win and I want to win with these guys.”