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Ottawa Redblacks look for positives in dismal first season in CFL

11/09/2014 07:54 EST | Updated 01/09/2015 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - The Ottawa Redblacks' season may be over, but the real work is just beginning.

After a disappointing 2-16 inaugural campaign, Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins has a good idea of what the team needs to do in the off-season to be better next year.

"First of all we want to improve at every level," said Desjardins. "What's important for us is to find some receivers that can make a difference, that can make some big plays. We have some of those players, but not enough. It's also important to find a defensive player that can put some pressure on the opposing quarterback.

"We need some difference makers. We need a threat off the edge."

While challenges were to be expected for the expansion team, veteran quarterback Henry Burris admitted not even he could have predicted the number of difficulties the Redblacks went through.

Burris was part of two separate rebuilding teams — Saskatchewan and Hamilton — but Ottawa, he says, was much more difficult.

"We were even greener than those two situations were," said Burris. "We didn't have a lot of experience coming in, but a lot of talent and a lot of potential. But talent and potential only get you so far. You need that maturity to get you over the hump.

"Hopefully through all the growing pains of this year, hopefully that will occur now, but it definitely harped on me."

The Redblacks scored a league-low 278 points.

Burris, who finished the season with his lowest completion percentage since 2009 (60.9), would be the first to admit that he was far from his best this season. But he believes he can return next year stronger and better.

"With only two wins and with us only averaging 19, 20 points, I would never give myself a passing grade," said Burris. "If I'm given another chance I'm definitely going to get this offence to where I would expect it to be, to where fans would expect it to be."

Burris says the Redblacks can be competitive next season as long as players are willing to grow from this year's experience.

"The things I want guys to understand is that the mistakes we made this year, let's understand why we made them and what's going to allow us not to make them again," he said. "The defences won't change. … They're still going to run the same blitzes, they're still going to run the same zones and man-to-man defences, nothing will change.

"The thing that can change is us and how we play."

Desjardins said the organization is in the process of re-evaluating everyone and everything — including Burris, who had been anointed the No. 1 quarterback when signed last season.

While head coach Rick Campbell said Burris did everything that was expected of him, both he and Desjardins were non-commital in naming a starting quarterback for next year.

Some Redblacks players say the team could have been better than what their final record indicated as poor decisions and costly penalties were the difference in more than a few games.

"We obviously didn't win the games that we thought we would and we thought we would be a lot more competitive, but we found out what kind of players we have in the locker-room," said defensive lineman Keith Shologan. "I think the foundations are in the room and we just need a few more highlights and I think we'll be a good football team."

At times during the season, the Redblacks' defensive play was a bright spot, but Shologan said there's still lots of room for improvement.

"At the end of the day we still need to be better," he said. "We did some good things, but I think we'll all agree we need to be better next year."

The Redblacks had nine consecutive sellouts, something Desjardins and Campbell believe won't be lost on potential free agents. Desjardins says players can see what Ottawa has to offer and believes it will make the Redblacks an attractive destination.

"I think our players will be our best salesmen," said Campbell. "Players talk to each other, they trust each other and we're trying to create an environment here where people enjoy working here and we're an up and coming team. We're not a veteran team saddled with a bunch of contracts that are bloated or anything like that."

Despite all the disappointments, the Redblacks can find positives from this season — including the play of Antoine Pruneau, Justin Capicciotti, Jerrel Gavins and Abdul Kanneh — but Desjardins says the team won't be satisfied until it starts winning.

"It's difficult to not win games," Desjardins said. "Where Rick's been, where I've been, where most of the people have been, we've won most of the time. So within the context of the 24-48 hours after the game you just want to rip the walls down, but you focus on what you need to focus on and you know you're going in the right direction and that's what's encouraging.

"That's what makes it fun to come to work everyday to try and find the solutions."

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