OTTAWA, Ont. — When Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer hit the CFL free agent market, they were looking for the right fit. A couple of familiar faces and the chance to join a top receiving corps led them to Ottawa.
Shaw and Spencer will be counted on this season to fill two big holes in the Redblacks offence left by departing star receivers Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson. But the defending Grey Cup champions are betting that the former Toronto Argonauts’ familiarity with offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo and quarterback Trevor Harris will pay dividends.
Having the two 25-year-olds join the Redblacks was exciting for Elizondo, who coached both while working as the Argonauts receivers coach in 2015.
“Diontae and Kenny bring a dimension of speed, it’s hard to replace Chris Williams’ speed, but Kenny’s got some jets and (so does) Diontae,” said Elizondo.
“They’re also very detailed guys. Kenny’s one of the best route runners in the league in my opinion and they’re young and that’s the exciting part.”
While Shaw is best known for his route-running ability, Spencer was coveted for his return ability.
Elizondo, who joined the Redblacks last season, maintained a relationship with both players after leaving Toronto and admits he spoke to Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins and head coach Rick Campbell about both players when he learned they were available via free agency.
“I think it helps knowing the personality, the way they like to be coached and the way they need to be coached,” Elizondo said.
“For me it’s also understanding their skill set, what they’re good at and then it’s my job to put them in the best position to maximize their skill set.”
Last season Shaw led the Argonauts with 1,004 yards and five touchdowns on 77 receptions, while Spencer, who played 12 games, had 706 yards and three TD’s on 71 catches.
The past two seasons the Redblacks have boasted four 1,000 yard receivers — Williams, Jackson, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli — and while it’s not out of the realm of possibility for this new group to do the same Elizondo says the focus is to improve each week and find a way to win games.
While jealousy among receivers can often be an issue for teams there was a mutual respect with Ottawa’s group the last couple years. Elizondo is confident things will be much the same this year.
“That was part of the process in bringing them over here is knowing who they are and what kind of guys they are in the locker room,” Elizondo said.
“I think that’s really important because that’s a dynamic that can be an issue, but those guys they understand. They’re a humble group and they know we’re going to spread the ball around and they know they each have a unique skill set.”
The two players will also benefit from their familiarity with Harris, who spent four seasons in Toronto and remained a close friend.
“Trevor’s a really good guy and we stayed in touch last season and him being here played a big part in my decision,” Spencer said. “Coming into my third year in the CFL it was all about being comfortable and around good people, because that’s when I’m at my best, and they said it’s a good environment and the locker room and the culture here is great.”
Reuniting with Elizondo was equally beneficial for Spencer.
“In my first year he was great, he knew how to push me,” said Spencer. “I know he’ll be on me, but he’ll get the best out of me.”
Shaw left Redblacks practice Wednesday, but Rick Campbell said he spoke to him briefly before leaving the field and the receiver told him he’d be all right and was going to see the trainers.