N.B.: There’s a LOT of ground to cover so I am breaking up this season preview into four parts, this column being the final chapter. In case you missed them, here’s Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Tomorrow is the first official day of training camp; I hope you’re as excited as I am. Enjoy!
The area where the Montreal Alouettes have struggled the most in recent years is on special teams. For any number of reasons, this area of the football always seems to get the short end of the stick. And it has burned this team on numerous occasions. Is there anything more deflating than watching an opposing kick returner dance around your team, dodging tackles and bellyflopped defenders as he saunters towards the end zone?
Sadly, it’s a sight that Alouettes fans have seen far too often. It happened as recently as the last game played, as Brandon Banks of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats laid waste to the Alouettes in the Eastern Final with his speed and the special teamers’ inability to tackle this little ball of fire. Again, I lay blame at the coaching staff for not having a dedicated instructor for this area of the game.
The off-season solved that with the hiring of Kavis Reed, so let’s take a look at some of the men he will be leading. Same as yesterday, each position will be detailed along with who will be competing for a roster spot.
Since 2011 the kicker/punter for the Alouettes has been Sean Whyte, who has worked like a dog to improve every area of his game. Every year he has faced competition and it has only made him stronger as a result. Last year was the first time in a while that the Alouettes carried an extra kicker on the roster, drafting Nick Boyd from the University of Manitoba. Whyte is a fan favourite and is probably not in danger of losing his spot.
However, the Alouettes elected to bring in former Universite de Laval kicker Boris Bede and punter Ricky Schmitt, most recently with the BC Lions. It’s unknown at this time if Kavis Reed is looking to have Whyte focus solely on kicking and having someone else do the punting. As always, training camp will tell the tale.
Since joining the Alouettes, Martin Bedard has been the steady hands that have launched the ball towards the kicker. He’s developed a terrific friendship with Whyte and the two are rarely seen apart during football season. But Bedard has gone down to injury at times, so Jerod Zaleski is his back-up in addition to performing special teams’ duties.
This is one area where the Alouettes have had issues with in recent years. But with the emergence last year of James Rodgers and the addition of Stefan Logan via free agency, perhaps finally the Alouettes can get some decent field position for a change. You also have Mardy Gilyard returning as well, who has had his issues with staying healthy. These guys have speed and can make plays happen, but they will need the blocks down field badly.
As I’ve stated numerous times already, this is where a dedicated position coach will make a huge difference. I think Kavis Reed can be that guiding voice who gets the most out of all his special teamers.
So now that we’ve covered all the facets of the football field, what can we, the fans, expect from this Montreal Alouettes organization in 2015?
I haven’t been shy in voicing my displeasure about the fan experience for the Montreal Alouettes, as I feel they dedicate far too much time and effort towards season ticket holders that are already die-hards who will support the team regardless. It’s the casual fans that will need to be focused on and the Als are promising once again to add to the game-time experience at Percival Molson Stadium.
Starting this year, there will be a full-time game host whose job will be to get the crowd excited at the right times. Alexandre Pelletier worked with the Universite de Montreal Carabins to improve their fan experience and it’ll be his job to do likewise for the Alouettes. This gives me a bit of hope, as opposed to doing t-shirt tosses while the Alouettes offense is on the field.
Seeing as how most of the Alouettes home games are on Thursday evenings in 2015, expect to see the team try to take advantage of the happy hour crowd (known as 5 à 7 in Quebec). Done right, this could be ideal if you work in the downtown core. There’s no shortage of places downtown to grab a cold bevvie en route to the stadium, but if the team can attract fans with some enticing specials, that’s more time and money spent on the team.
Also, the tailgate experience will be bigger than ever on the east side of Molson Stadium. The team will now be providing BBQs on-site for you to bring food to grill up before the game. So while still not the actual tailgate experience that most think of, this is again a positive step forward in increasing the fan experience. I still urge all of you to check out the original Alouettes tailgate, which gets better and better every year.
For those that still prefer driving to the stadium, the parking situation will be improving! With the move of the Royal Victoria Hospital to the new Glen Site in Montreal, there will now be 1100 extra spaces available right beside Molson Stadium. Your best bet though is still to use the free shuttle service provided by STM, starting at the Square-Victoria metro station and continuing on through the downtown core directly to the doors of the stadium itself.
You can also look forward to new merchandise for the Alouettes this season, available exclusively at the Zone Rouge. My sources tell me that they have come up with some really exciting stuff that both male and female fans will love. This Sunday at training camp, you can see a sneak preview of what will be available.
There is a bit of disappointment this year as the schedule doesn’t allow for the annual Fan Train game to take place. But there will be a new experience for Alouettes fans to enjoy, as the Als will play a pre-season game in Quebec City! It will technically be the home pre-season game for the Ottawa RedBlacks, as their stadium TD Place is being used for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. But I imagine that plenty of Alouettes fans will make Stade Telus theirs for the evening!
It will also be a homecoming of sorts for ex-Rouge et Or stars like Luc Brodeur-Jourdain and Boris Bede along with Patrick Lavoie and Vincent Desloges for the RedBlacks (who for that night will surely be referred to as the Rouge et Noir!). Both members of Alouettes Nation and RNation are already making plans for this historic occasion, so be sure to get your tickets soon.
2015 promises to be a football season like no other. The league will be enforcing new rules that are meant to open up the scoring even more. I personally think that this may have been a premature move, as while scoring was down last year, which may have been just a one year aberration. I’m all for more points produced but can’t help but wonder if we’ll see some pretty outlandish scores as a result.
This league also is welcoming a new boss, as Commissioner Mark Cohon stepped down and has been replaced by former CBC executive Jeffrey Orridge. And in very short order, he’s already accomplished quite a bit. Most notable is overseeing the sale of the Toronto Argonauts, which will also see that team start play at BMO Field in 2016.
Much like how the Alouettes were revitalized by the move from Olympic Stadium to Molson Stadium, the Argos will find the move from
Skydome Rogers Centre to the open-air BMO Field a breath of fresh air (literally!). It’s caused a lot of heartache for fans of Toronto FC, the Major League Soccer tenants that call BMO Field home. But this stadium was always meant to be a multi-purpose facility and now finally after much hand-wringing and clearing of red tape, it actually will be starting next season.
The Canadian Football League itself is now starting to shift its focus towards the younger crowd. A move that is crucial, since every major sports league is finding more ways to interact with fans and provide a better overall experience. The CFL is focusing heavily on social media, using forums like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect with fans league-wide like never before. As these and other avenues become stronger, expect to see more from fans as they detail their game experience and the league shares it with everyone.
The CFL teams that best embrace this new medium will only stand to gain in the long run. I can appreciate the old codgers who can remember when “Angelo Mosca wrestled a bear after scoring three touchdowns for the Ti-Cats back in aught six”, but the focus should be on the youth, as they are the ones who will support this league well into the 21st century. I have a feeling that this new commissioner gets it, even as he painfully spits out 15 year old Jay-Z lyrics to appear hip at public events.
And so friends, this 2015 season preview is finally over. I’ve enjoyed getting prepared for this upcoming season but I’m tired of writing and waiting. tomorrow morning cannot come fast enough for this intrepid blogger and surely also for you fans, regardless of the team you cheer for. If you have the means to do so, get out to seeing your team at training camp. It’s free and there really is no better way to get yourself hyped up for the upcoming football season.
This is my fifth season blogging for the Montreal Alouettes and I truly believe that the best is yet to come. Not only for this blog, but for this football team as well. The moves that this franchise has made were done with one single goal: To bring the city of Montreal its eighth Grey Cup championship. I’ve never been one for predictions but it is so, so hard to bet against this Alouettes team in 2015.
I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible at training camp Sunday morning. Be sure to follow me on Twitter so we can share the excitement together. After a six month hiatus, the Birds of Prey are finally ready to take flight!
GO ALS GO!!!