Ottawa REDBLACKS 2018 Season Preview: Trevor Harris Remains Crucial to the Team’s Success

Winter is gone, spring has come and passed, and summer is finally here. That means football is all set to return to Canada and, more specifically, the nation’s capital.

For the Ottawa REDBLACKS, 2017 was a season of inconsistency. They made the postseason for the third consecutive year, but finished with an unimpressive 8-9-1 record. There are a lot of question marks surrounding the team heading into 2018 and seemingly a lot of doubt.

In the first-annual CFL media poll, Ottawa was the only team to not receive a single vote for who would win this year’s 106th Grey Cup. The CFL media members are skeptical when it comes to the REDBLACKS’ odds, but what chance do they really have at contending this season?

It is often the case in football that a team can only go as far as its quarterback. That sentiment will ring true this year with the REDBLACKS and their signal-caller Trevor Harris. 2018 is set to be a make or break year as the star quarterback’s contract expires at season’s end.

Harris was injured in Ottawa’s preseason opener this year against the Montreal Alouettes. Although the coaching staff said it was not serious, it is understandable why fans of the team held their collective breath when he went down. Harris missed nearly a month with a muscle strain in his throwing arm last season, resulting in the REDBLACKS stumbling out of the gate with a 1-6-1 record.

Despite missing three full games, Harris had a career season in 2017. He tied the CFL lead with 30 touchdowns and had career highs in completions, yards, and touchdown-to-interception ratio.

With standout receiving threats like Greg Ellingson (CFL all-star), Brad Sinopoli (East division all-star) and Diontae Spencer, Ottawa should once again boast an explosive passing game. Throw in running back William Powell, who tallied the second most rushing yards in the CFL, and the REDBLACKS offence is poised to be one of the CFL’s most dynamic. The issue with the team seems to be located on the opposite side of the ball.

A major talking point heading into the 2018 season for the REDBLACKS is their lack of X factors on defense. Ottawa struggled mightily in pressuring opposing quarterbacks last season. Ellis Avery led the team with six sacks, the lowest of any team sack-leader in the CFL. By comparison, the Edmonton Eskimos had four players with more than six sacks each.

The defense did excel against the run last season, but were one of the worst passing defenses in the CFL. The REDBLACKS had the most passing attempts against, while tallying the second least amount of interceptions. In the offseason, Ottawa signed all-star defensive back Rico Murray and drafted former Carleton Raven Justin Howell to help insulate a porous secondary. Whether or not it will be the team’s Achilles heel once again will be a crucial factor in the REDBLACKS’ success in 2018.

Noel Thorpe took over defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach duties heading into the season and certainly has his work cut out for him. Only one Ottawa defender, free safety Antoine Pruneau, was selected to the 2017 East division all-star team.

Fortunately however for Thorpe and the REDBLACKS, they are in the much weaker of the two CFL divisions. The East did not have a single team with a winning record last season and only two of its teams qualified for the postseason. The West division on the other hand, sent four teams to the playoffs.

The combined record of the teams in each conference?

East: 26-45-1

West: 54-35-1

Ottawa certainly has room for improvement from last season, but with three straight playoff appearances and only two years removed from a Grey Cup championship, the expectations remain high. The REDBLACKS will start the 2018 season at TD Place on June 21st in a matchup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.