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Redblacks turn over offensive play calling to Joe Paopao

Ottawa Redblacks running backs coach Joe Paopao during team practice at TD Place on July 29, 2019.
Ottawa Redblacks running backs coach Joe Paopao during team practice at TD Place on July 29, 2019. - Errol McGihon

Trying to inject new life into a wobbly offence, the Ottawa Redblacks have turned to the wisdom of a guy who has called plenty of plays over his long CFL coaching (and playing) career.

The Redblacks announced Tuesday a shuffle in their coaching staff responsibilities that will see Joe Paopao (head coach of the Ottawa Renegades from 2002-05) take over as quarterbacks coach and also call the team’s offensive plays, taking over for Winston October, who remains receivers coach. Beau Walker will become the team’s running backs coach, while John McDonell will remain the offensive line coach. One thing that won’t change: The four coaches will collaborate to prepare the team’s game plans.

“We need to change things up,” Redblacks coach Rick Campbell said. “We have a lot of hard workers and good people trying to do the right things, but we need to inject a different energy into it. I didn’t think we were showing enough progress fast enough. We’re trying to get into some kind of groove. We need to be better on special teams and on defence, but the biggest issue right now is our lack of scoring — particularly touchdowns.”

The Redblacks decided to make the change Sunday — the day after a disheartening 21-7 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at TD Place.

Asked how he reacted when he was asked to take on new responsibilities, the 64-year-old Paopao said: “It’s just ‘Yes, sir.’ I’m a soldier, I’m a team player. If that’s what it takes to help us, then so be it.”

Paopao, nicknamed The Throwin’ Samoan as a quarterback, played in the CFL from 1979-90. He coached with five CFL teams, including from 2002-05 with the Renegades. He had offensive co-ordinator duties for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, B.C. Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was later an offensive co-ordinator, then head coach, with the Waterloo Warriors from 2011-14, then would take on offensive co-ordinator responsibilities at Simon Fraser University from 2015-18.

“Really, this is Rick and the coaching staff trying to figure out what would give us the best chance offensively,” said Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins. “We’ve been pretty ineffective for long stretches. There are degrees of things that need to be better. Across the board, it just needs to be better — the play calling is just one element. (Paopao) has coached the (quarterback) position, he can offer insight and can bring a different approach and mentality to what we’re doing. The proof will be in the pudding, we’ll see what it happens.”

Paopao was brought in late in the off-season — two weeks after offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo left the Redblacks to join an XFL team.

It’s not going to be an easy fix. Starting quarterback Dominique Davis has struggled with timing, so have his receivers. Being a former quarterback, maybe Paopao can help with what the team’s starting QB is seeing and not seeing downfield.

“We’ve shown we can do it,” said Paopao. “Can we do it for four quarters? We played (like we need to) for a half two weeks ago against Edmonton. We think we have the capabilities, we just have to keep believing in that.”

Asked what he sees in Davis, Paopao said: “I see a pro quarterback. This is his first year starting. Everybody has to start someplace. He can only control himself, he has to trust guys around him to do what they have to do. It’s our job guys are in positions to give him a chance to perform.”

Asked about a new guy calling the plays, Davis said: “I’m still going through my regular (routine). It’s a new voice, he’ll give us some different insights. He’s gone through what we’re going through as quarterbacks, he’s played the position — I’m excited to work with him.”

The Redblacks are trimming their play package, making it simpler, and fine-tuning some of the things that have been working. There will also be a sprink­ling in of new plays that Paopao brings with him.

“When things work, it’s really not about the plays because it seems like no matter what you call, they all seem to work,” said Paopao. “We haven’t played solid football for four quarters, that’s the goal for any offence.”

“There are a lot of pieces we believe in, there a lot of phases of what we’re doing that are good,” said Desjardins. “There are good things at the running back position, the O-line is doing a lot of good things and at times — you go back to some of the earlier games — there are things that show we have can be a positive influence on the game from an offensive perspective, it’s just not consistent enough. It’s not just one thing — play calling, guys dropping balls, guys not at the right depth for their routes — it’s a bunch of different things that make it look very discombobulated.

“(The offence) should have been progressing, right now it’s not. If you keep doing the same things over and over again when they’re not working, you’re not doing your job to try and correct things.”

SECOND AND LONG

The Redblacks have signed LB Brandon Calver (Wilfrid Laurier), DB Brandin Dandridge (Missouri Western), Jeff Knox Jr. (California), DL Julien Laurent (Georgia State and a first-round draft pick of the B.C. Lions in 2018) and OL D.J. Sackey (Toronto). Said Desjardins: “It’s a function of more injuries from the last game. We wanted to make sure we had a number of able bodies to practise and have a look at some of these guys to see what they might be able to do for us in the short term or long term.” … RB John Crockett, who missed Saturday’s game vs. the Ticats with an injury, got plenty of reps in practice Tuesday. DL Mike Klassen (back) is one of the guys who’s hurting a bit. Said Campbell: “We have some more guys banged up. It’s kind of frustrating. We’re doing our best to take care of these guys and not overwork them. No one is ruled out yet (for Saturday’s game in Saskatchewan). We have to get some doctor appointments done; once that happens, we’ll know something more.”

THE END AROUND

What do the people who do the Nissan Titan Power Rankings for the CFL think of the Redblacks? In this week’s version, they are ranked eighth, ahead of only the one-win B.C. Lions. In order, it’s Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal, Calgary, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Ottawa and B.C. … In the CFL’s Rockstar QB Index, former Redblack Trevor Harris is ranked first. Ottawa’s Davis is ranked 10th, followed by teammate Jonathon Jennings in 11th spot … In the CFL’s 7-Eleven Player Rankings — Top Canadians of this Millennium — Calgary RB Jon Cornish is ranked first, followed by Montreal WR Ben Cahoon, Winnipeg RB Andrew Harris, B.C. DL Brent Johnson, Hamilton WR Andy Fantuz, Winnipeg OL Doug Brown, and Montreal OL Scott Flory. In any such list, consideration would have to be given to Ottawa receiver Brad Sinopoli, who came into 2019 with four straight 1,000-yard pass-catching seasons … With one former Redblacks player — OL Tommie Draheim — going on the six-game injured list, the Edmonton Eskimos brought in another one — OL Eric Lofton.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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