N.B.: There’s a LOT of ground to cover so I am breaking up this season preview into four parts, this column being Part 3. In case you missed them, here’s Part One and Part Two. Tune in tomorrow for the final chapter as we lead into the first official day of training camp this Sunday. Enjoy!
Ever since he was hired immediately after the 2012 season ended, Defensive Coordinator Noel Thorpe has completely re-invented the persona of the Montreal Alouettes. For years, they were known as an offensive juggernaut with Anthony Calvillo and a slew of talented receivers at the helm. But these past two seasons, the offence hasn’t quite been the same with the absence of pro football’s all-time leader in passing yards.
So instead, Thorpe put together a winning formula for the defensive side of the football. That has now become the bread and butter of the Alouettes while they seek to carve out a new offensive identity. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who will be on defense for the Montreal Alouettes this 2015 season. Same as yesterday, each position will be detailed along with who will be competing for a roster spot.
The captain of this defense is John Bowman. Always plays with an edge and has been difficult to stop year in and year out. Beside him you’ll find Alan-Michael Cash and the newly acquired Khalif Mitchell, both known for doling out punishment thus making this line even more deadly. You also have Gabe Knapton and Aaron Lavarias bookending this fearsome group. Those names alone will strike fear into opposing lineman. If your quarterback doesn’t have the protection from his O-Line and any of these defensive guys get their paws on him, fuhgeddaboudit! But the Alouettes don’t stop there; the hits keep on coming.
Just to keep the offense guessing, you also have Michael Klassen lining up with Scott Paxton and Brian Brikowski. Last season all three made the league sit up and take notice with their stellar defensive play, creating several turnovers. And finally, youth will be served with Jeff Finley, Jesse Joseph and Michael Sam, making his CFL debut this season. Finley made a tremendous impression during the Eastern Semi-Final, nailing the Lions’ Kevin Glenn with some bone-jarring hits. Joseph is still unknown but the native of Laval, QC played his football in the NCAA and is ready to be a star for his hometown team.
And so much has been written about Sam already, but he’ll have to get up to speed quick as he hasn’t played professional football in nearly a year. Sam will also have to work extra hard to learn the different nuances of the CFL and get as much knowledge as he can. He is a true rookie in this sense but he’ll be given a much better chance to succeed in Montreal as opposed to languishing on any old NFL practice roster.
If that first group of players didn’t strike fear into opposing quarterbacks these next few players will be occupying the middle of the field, ready to tackle should a running back manage to squeak by the defensive line or daring the QB to throw the ball in their direction.
The two biggest stars in this area of the field are Chip Cox and Kyries Hebert. Their speed and ability to punish are second to none. Cox has turned in year after year of award-winning defense and signed yet another contract to stay in Montreal. While every day on Instagram, you can find a video of Hebert working out like a madman so you know “The Angry Bird” is just itching to get on the field and inflict some punishment!
Also lying in wait is Bear Woods, who had himself a monster season in 2014 by disrupting plays, laying out the opposition and even sacking QBs with authority. Last season also saw him nominated for Most Outstanding Defensive Player and that won’t be his last. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, Don’t Poke The Bear (Woods)! Winston Venable also made life difficult with his ability to jar the ball loose from the other side. Just like his father did when he played for the Montreal Expos, this stud swings for the fences every chance he gets.
Last year Nicolas Boulay made his presence felt on special teams and this punishing young Quebecer will look to take his game to the next level. Alouettes Nation already had one outstanding Boulay and Nico will be looking to join Etienne (no relation) in that group. Rounding out the linebacking corps are Kyle Norris, Kyler Elsworth and this year’s second round draft pick, Nick Shortill. These youngsters will have to really show out during the pre-season if they hope to beat out the aforementioned superstars. Once again, there`s no shortage of talent here.
These are the guys who truly make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. If guys like Zach Collaros, Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell want to score touchdowns on the Alouettes, they and their receivers will have to find a way to beat out the following players. Good luck in advance to those QBs, you`re gonna need it!
Down the middle in the safety position you have Marc-Olivier Brouillette ready to pounce, eyeing the QB like a starving dog eyes an unattended steak on the picnic table. Backing him up is turnover machine Mike Edem, who hits like a linebacker and loves getting his hands dirty. Also looking to make a bigger name for himself is Daryl Townsend, who’s been a beast on special teams but is ready for more action.
When you hear the names Billy Parker, Jerald Brown and Geoff Tisdale, three initials come immediately to mind: INT. These gentlemen have been responsible for so many defensive touchdowns due to their ability to read the quarterback and catch receivers napping. They all still play at an elite level, but they have some young pups nipping at their heels. Second year pro and special teamer extraordinaire Andrew Lue will factor heavily into the equation, as well as Mitchell White and Dominique Ellis. These three came into form as the Alouettes started winning big late last season and will want to prove that their exceptional play in 2014 was no fluke.
Waiting in the wings are Jamahl Knowles, Anthony Coady and Jamaan Webb. This is likely a make or break year for Webb, as he’s dealt with injuries and questionable play when he was healthy. But Webb can be a game changer, thus filling out a strong secondary with plenty of depth. That’s what coaches like Thorpe dream about at night if they even sleep.
One name that hasn’t been mentioned here is Montreal’s first round draft pick Chris Ackie, a player whose skill set can easily be compared to a Geoff Tisdale. As of this post going viral, he is still not under contract yet as his agent is still trying to come to terms with the team. Ackie claims that he is ready to get to camp, but not without a proper contract. There’s no questioning the level of talent in this young man, hopefully he’ll be on the field wearing blue/red/silver before too long.
So that will do it for the Montreal Alouettes and the defensive side of the ball. I have no doubt that Jim Popp will find the offensive magic needed to bring the Grey Cup home, but it’s reassuring to know that he hasn’t forgotten about the old adage of defense winning championships. This group has the talent and while they can’t keep all the points off the board, you know they will keep a lot of points off and make life miserable for the other team.
There’s only one thing this particular group needs from you, Alouettes Nation; When you see any and all of these players mentioned here today on the football field at Percival Molson Stadium, MAKE A LOT OF NOISE!
I’ll be back tomorrow to quickly look at special teams and finish up with what you can expect this season from the Montreal Alouettes organization as well as the rest of the Canadian Football League. Summer is just around the bend which means we’re all about to be a lot happier. Starting this Sunday, football is back!
Until tomorrow, GO ALS GO!!!