April 4, 2023

Roughriders Offensive Co-Ordinator Kelly Jeffrey Envisions A Green ‘Scoring Machine’ 

Kelly Jeffrey has a six-point plan for the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ offence. 

Touchdowns are the name of the game. 

As for the name of the offence … 

“Explosive, high-tempo scoring machine,” Jeffrey, the CFL team’s newly appointed offensive co-ordinator, says with a smile and with conviction. 

While Jeffrey is new to the job, the label he has attached to the offence is hardly novel. 

“It has been around for a while,” says Jeffrey, a former head coach and offensive strategist with the Mount Allison Mounties. 

“When I was at Mount Allison University, I had a players’ council. As part of our leadership program, I essentially had a contest with our leadership team. It was to basically give an identity to the defence, to the offence, and to the special teams. 

“And I loved the offensive one. The winner was ‘an explosive, high-tempo scoring machine.’ 

“It really encompassed who we were at the time and what I thought about football, so I stuck with it.” 

So what, exactly, is “it”? 

“It incorporates everything I want in the offence,” Jefffrey continues. “I want it to be explosive and to have those big ‘chunk’ plays. 

“When you look at the statistics in football, turnovers are always Number 1. That kind of always dictates whether you win or lose.  

“But there have been a lot of studies where that second stat is ‘explosives’ — where, on offence, you have so many runs or passes over 12 or 15 yards. There are those big ‘chunk’ plays — 20-yard plays. 

“Defensively, if you limit your opponent when it comes to doing that, that seems to be the next stat in line after turnovers and takeaways. So we want to create those big ‘chunk’ plays as much as possible.” 

Jeffrey’s excitement is buoyed by dialogue with defensive co-ordinator Jason Shivers, who is a stakeholder despite focusing on the opposite side of the ball. 

“We have conversations about, ‘Are you comfortable with me having a no-huddle offence?’ ” Jeffrey says. “He’s like, ‘Heck, yeah. When you’ve got a chance, go drop the hammer. Let’s score first. Let’s score as many points as possible.’ 

“I’ve always felt that as well, but to hear the defensive coach say that as well is important to me. This has all got to be one big team effort to move the ball and stop opposing offences, so having everybody on board is important.” 

Ditto for cashing in near the goal line, following a season in which the Craig Dickenson-coached Roughriders scored a touchdown 47.9 per cent of the time after encroaching upon the opponent’s 20-yard line. Saskatchewan’s opponents had a 50.9-per-cent conversion rate in the red zone. 

“The ‘scoring machine’ for me implies that we’re going to be very good in the red zone,” Jeffrey says. “We’re going to score touchdowns, not field goals. 

“However, we have to do that — whether we’ve got to change some personnel or do some quarterback runs or do some gadget plays or whatever we’ve got to do — we’re going to come away with touchdowns. 

“Craig talks about that a lot. We want touchdowns and, if we can get touchdowns, we’ll be aggressive and go for it.” 

Jeffrey acknowledges that there are times when aggression can play into the defence’s hands. 

The tendency in recent years has been for CFL defensive co-ordinators to allow teams to pick away with short passes — the philosophy being that all it takes is one incompletion to derail a drive in three-down football. 

There is something to be said for the “take what the defence gives you” approach, but it can also play into the opposition’s hands. There is little, if any, margin for error when a team attempts to incrementally march the ball down the field, without detonating any explosives. 

“For a lot of teams, the philosophy will be, ‘We’re going to keep the roof on and we’re going to play smart,’ but there are still ways to get big ‘chunk’ plays,” Jeffrey notes. 

“If we line up with two or three tight ends, it’s hard to sit back and say, ‘We’re just going to keep the roof on,’ because explosives can come in the run game.” 

That was an area of strength for the Roughriders in 2022, due to the presence of tailbacks Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson. 

“What’s exciting is that we’ve got some great backs,” Jeffrey says. “I think we’ve got an offensive line that can do well. We’ve got some great blocking tight ends. 

“So we’re going to give some teams some choices. Are you going to blow it up to stop the run? If you do, we’ve got some things in the pass game. If you’re going to sit back, then you’re going to have a hard time with some paper cuts — some big chunks of seven, eight and nine — and defences don’t like that, either. 

“I know what you mean with those defences keeping the roof on, but we’re going to put them in some positions where they’ve got to make some decisions.” 

The “we” includes quarterback Trevor Harris and four other free-agent signees — receivers Jake Wieneke, Derel Walker, Juwan Brescacin and Shawn Bane Jr. 

Harris and Jeffrey were both employed by the Edmonton Elks in 2020, but a season was not played that year due to COVID-19. Jeffrey was to coach the Elks’ quarterbacks in 2020. 

Edmonton traded Harris to the Montreal Alouettes on Oct. 17, 2021. He became the Alouettes’ full-time starter in 2022, a season in which Jeffrey coached the Roughriders’ running backs. 

Now, at long last, Jeffrey can count down the days until he has an opportunity to collaborate with Harris in game situations. 

“His energy, his professionalism and his experience have been really good to have,” Jeffrey says. “He has seen just about every concept. We were meeting the other day and I said, ‘Have you run this concept before?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve probably completed that ball 50 times to that guy on that concept.’ So, yes, you do. 

“Obviously, it’s helpful and important for me as a first-time co-ordinator to have some experience there (at quarterback). I want someone there with a voice in the room. I don’t want maybe a first-year guy who says, ‘Well, it’s your offence. You just tell me what you want to do.’ 

“I need feedback from that guy in this offence to make it the best it can be. I feel like I have a good relationship with Trevor so far. We communicate a lot and we’re constantly talking. 

“He’s fired up. He seems really excited about the offence and where we’re heading with it.” 

Harris arrives with a resume that includes two seasons in which he has thrown 30-plus touchdown passes — a feat that has been accomplished only five times in Roughriders history. 

In his own way, Harris — who turns 37 on May 31 — would also like to turn back the clock. 

“He’s the guy who said, ‘They told me I was slow, so I decided to train with the receivers so I could get faster,’ ” Jeffrey says. 

“At his age, he could say, ‘My arm is fine where it is,’ but he sought out Nathan Rourke’s quarterback guru and flew out and spent some time with him and he can get a few more yards on deep balls and things like that. 

“He is a guy who is always hunting an edge, non-stop. He is a football junkie so it has been really good so far.” 

It has been so far, so good, for Jeffrey in the early months of his dream job. 

“I’m excited about the roster,” he says. “I thought we kicked butt in free agency. I’m really pumped about that. 

“Offensively, it’s exciting to put our own stamp on something. There’s kind of this West Coast Offence tree in the CFL. It’s not mine. I’m not taking anybody else’s offence that has been done. There’s pieces that I’m pulling from it, but it’s really got its own unique stamp. 

“It’s something that I want to be just Rider football. I don’t want it to be a variation of Winnipeg’s or Calgary’s or a West Coast style. I want it to be something that Rider fans can be excited about and proud of.”