Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Money Well Spent, Ottawa

Redblacks' receiver and member of the fab-five, Brad Sinopoli has been a major contributer to Ottawa's early season success. Photo via Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS)
They didn't come easy, nor did they come cheap, but the Ottawa Redblacks' off-season signings have so far proven to be worth every penny they've been promised in 2015.

The Redblacks, who missed the playoffs in their inaugural season with a 2-16 record, had no choice but to overhaul their passing-offence, acquiring five prized receivers- Chris Williams, Maurice Price, Brad Sinopoli, Ernest Jackson and Greg Ellingson- as well as a stout left tackle in SirVincent Rogers, formerly of the Toronto Argonauts. General Manager Marcel Desjardins identified those two positions as the team's weakest links and addressed them in the best, but most expensive way possible: free agency. 

Not every General Manager is a believer in using free agency to build a team. Many teams have sustained success by finding their own talent south of border and either re-signing or replacing them with a new diamond-in-the-rough player once their contracts are up; not by paying a high price for an established free agent replacement and/or upgrade. 

The Redblacks will one day boast a team deep enough to do that, although they had to start somewhere, much like how Kent Austin had to when he re-built the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after joining them in December of 2012. 

Austin signed numerous free agents in his first-offseason at the helm including DE Brian Bulcke and LB Marcellus Bowman. He then inked S Chris Butler, DB Brandon Stewart and WR Cary Koch to contracts the following off-season in 2014. Having successfully used free agency to kick-start the rebuild and put together part of the team he originally envisioned back in 2012, Austin is now aiming for year-to-year continuity now that something like only six players remain from the team he took over three seasons ago.

After literally and figuratively starting from scratch, this seems to be the approach Desjardins is taking with his own team. And while they didn't come cheap, Ottawa is absolutely getting their money's worth as this version of R-Nation has never seen better days after two wins in two weeks of regular season action.

The Redblacks looked good during their 20-16 win against Montreal, however injuries to Alouettes' quarterbacks Jonathon Crompton and Dan Lefevour undoubtedly helped matters. But any doubts regarding Ottawa's offence were erased in their impressive week two victory over the re-budding BC Lions, as Henry Burris and co. put up 437 total yards of offence while spreading the ball around to seven different receivers on route to 296 yards passing with three touchdowns and one interception. 

Ottawa's remarkable turn-around, having already matched their win total of their first season in the CFL, shouldn't be all that surprising given the amount of talent they brought in on offence to balance out what was already a solid defence on very a competitive team in 2014.

See, this Redblacks offence is totally night-and-day compared to last year. While having a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in Jason Maas and Byran Chiu have been huge, I still don't think the results on offence would be anywhere close to as good as they've been so far in 2015 without the additions of Rogers or
 any of the fab-five. Having numerous dynamic and experienced receivers have been huge, and they've all been contributing. 

Ernest Jackson was the go-to guy in week one, amassing 7 catches for 74 yards and the game-winning touchdown. National receiver and former Ottawa Gee-Gee star quarterback Brad Sinopoli was that guy in week two, hauling in 9 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown during his homecoming game at TD Place against BC.

The most highly-touted of the five, Chris Williams, has been Mr. Consistent, totalling 149 yards as the teams leading receiver while often piling up his yards in chunks as the big-play target, much like he was with the Tiger-Cats in 2011 and 2012. Rounding out the bunch have been former Stampeder Maurice Price (6 catches for 52 yards) and former Tiger-Cat Greg Ellingson, who has 5 grabs of his own for 74 yards with his first touchdown coming in the second half of Saturday night's game against the Lions.

The ball is being spread around evenly and everyone is making plays in this pick-your-poison system. As a result, quarterback Henry Burris appears to be turning back the clock and finding success, proving to everyone that a 40-year old quarterback can still be effective in professional football.

After tossing 14 interceptions versus 11 touchdowns last year, Burris has looked far more comfortable being able to trust his receivers and the scheme he's playing in. While he's already thrown four picks in 2015, much of last year's offensive-woes that resulted in Burris' worst statistical season of his career can be attributed to the poor group of receivers and offensive lineman he was surrounded with. 

Not anymore, however, as Burris is re-gaining his stride with five receivers who can actually catch, run the correct route and read defences at a fast pace. It's all coming together for Ottawa, and much of the credit has to go to Desjardins for going out and bringing his signal-caller some playmakers that make the job of Burris, and everyone else, much easier. 

So just how vital have Ottawa's off-season acquisitions been to the team's success thus far in 2015? 

Well, had they not opened up their chequebook and spent big money in free agency, there's a far better chance the Redblacks are staring at an 0-2 record rather than sitting undefeated atop the East Division. 

Rogers and the fab-five have just been that good. Money well spent, Ottawa. 

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