The first step towards an eighth Grey Cup for the Montreal Alouettes began this past Saturday on the grounds of Universite Laval. After nearly two weeks of drills and two-a-day practices, it was time for some real player evaluation in a game-time situation.
The Alouettes took on the Ottawa RedBlacks and soundly defeated them 26-9 for their first pre-season victory in 4 years. This was the RedBlacks’ second pre-season tilt and they too were doing their own evaluations on would be staying with them for their sophomore campaign.
There’s no need to do a complete breakdown of each play from last Saturday (And if you do want one, check out Defend The R’s recap). Instead, I’m going to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly of this first Alouettes game of 2015:
The Good: In a terrific move to really set the tone for Alouettes fans that made the trip, the players came out after they arrived in Quebec City to meet with the fans for an impromptu get-together before they took to the field. For a league that prides itself on the accessibility of the players to its fans, this was a home run. I think the players were just as glad to meet the fans, until they saw the tailgate and then wishes of being able to join the fans for beers and hot dogs came out!
It’s early still, but the special teams unit was on point throughout this game. These past two weeks saw an incredible amount of work put into this area by both ST Coach Kavis Reed and Head Coach Tom Higgins. All that work paid off almost immediately, as Stefan Logan returned a punt for a touchdown on the Alouettes’ very first series. Unfortunately, the TD was negated by a penalty.
But the special teams got plenty of reps due to the several two and outs during the game and Ottawa had a hard time gaining any ground. The shining moment for this group came in the fourth quarter when the Alouettes were able to block a field goal attempt by RedBlacks kicker Delbert Alvarado. Again, it’s still early but that Kavis Reed hire is looking better with each passing day.
Everyone dreams of the day when a Canadian QB will start a CFL game. This year, several young Canadian QBs are in various camps. Montreal is no exception with Brandon Bridge playing under centre. After Jonathan Crompton played the first quarter, it was time for “Air Canada” to take flight.
Bridge had a decent outing, throwing the game’s first touchdown to Brandon Rutley. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the ceiling for this young man is very high. With Tanner Marsh out and Dan LeFevour not playing, this was Bridge’s chance to shine and he had a very respectable outing.
Rakeem Cato also made his CFL debut and was impressive, despite only playing the tail end of the game. He also notched his first CFL touchdown in garbage time, finding Jonathan Bryant late in the fourth quarter. He’s had limited reps in practice but with the Alouettes’ QB situation being what it is, Cato should find himself at the very least on the practice roster when it’s all said and done.
Jonathan Hefney had himself a heckuva game, picking off Henry Burris and setting the stage for Montreal’s first TD. He’s been extremely versatile ever since his invite to the Alouettes’ mini-camp in Florida this past April. With stints in Winnipeg and Calgary a distant memory, Hefney stepped up big and made his case to be kept around.
Boris Bede; Local boy makes good! The former member of the Rouge et Or returned to his old stomping grounds and the crowd in Quebec City let him know that he was appreciated. Every single punt and his 28 yard field goal in the second quarter was met with rousing applause. If Bede had announced after the match that he was running for mayor of Quebec City, he would have been elected in a landslide! His stellar evening also makes for a very interesting situation as far as the kicking game goes in Montreal.
Overall, the Alouettes had a good solid defensive game. They kept Ottawa to a mere field goal until the near end of the game. As I’ve stated before, defense wins championships and Montreal’s is among the elite of the league. If Noel Thorpe can still get this much out of his reserves when camp is done, this team will be sitting pretty.
The Bad: I know it’s the first pre-season game and his job is fairly safe, but Jonathan Crompton had a hard time establishing anything with his receivers. He’s looked calm and relaxed in camp, but didn’t display that last Saturday versus Ottawa. Crompton won a lot of games last year in an ugly fashion but now there’s actual film of him for people to study so he can’t catch anyone napping. I know he can do better and have faith that he will.
Last Saturday should have featured the debut of Michael Sam in an Alouettes uniform, but instead he has left training camp for what has been listed as “personal reasons”. Since news broke Friday afternoon of Sam’s hasty departure, much speculation has come about as to why. There’s talk that one of his Alouettes teammates suggested out loud that Sam wasn’t having the best camp and that upset the former Mizzou star. I have a very hard time believing that someone can leave a potential opportunity to play pro football due to hurt feelings but the longer Sam goes without saying anything, all we can do is speculate.
Contrary to what some media folks have said, I didn’t think he was having too bad a camp. Not an amazing camp, but for a guy who was out of football for most of a calendar year and now having to learn a different style of football, he was hanging in there. Sam even started to get some quality coaching time with Anwar Stewart, who certainly knows a thing or two about rushing CFL quarterbacks.
I do agree with those who believe that if Michael Sam doesn’t return to the Alouettes, that his pro football career is finished. Montreal has stated that Sam would be welcome back with open arms, but that window closes a bit more every single day that he isn’t with his teammates on the field. There’s certainly more than enough capable players on this Montreal defense should Sam decide the Canadian Football League isn’t for him.
The Ugly: As incredible as it was to see this exhibition game played at Stade Telus last Saturday, I can’t help but feel like the actual game experience could have been done a lot better for the fans. I love the idea of playing pre-season games in non-traditional markets to help grow the league, but it’s clear that a lot of golden opportunities were missed in Quebec City.
A stadium that normally can hold 12,500 only managed to fill just a shade less than 5000 for last Saturday’s tilt. I’ve stated numerous times that CFL pre-season tickets shouldn’t cost the same as regular season tickets. Putting that practice into place, especially in an environment where game attendees are used to paying $24/ticket, is completely absurd.
Quebec City has great potential to be a CFL market due to the popularity of CIS football in the region, but asking fans to pony up $80 to see a meaningless game featuring mostly second and third string players is beyond insulting. I hate sounding like a broken record but every pre-season game in every CFL city shouldn’t cost more than $25 a piece, especially if you are playing these games in university stadia like Stade Telus, University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium or UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. While Stade Telus did have some tickets starting at $20, this really came across overall as a cash grab from host Universite Laval and the fans responded in kind by staying home and watching the game on RDS instead. It could also explain why both teams did little in the way to promote this particular game.
Also disappointing was the promise to the fans in attendance of the players returning to the field post-game for a meet and greet. A post-game meet and greet is not unusual, as most teams in the CFL do that for the fans who attend the pre-season match. But which team’s players? After the game’s final whistle blew, both teams headed to the locker rooms and then hopped on the buses back to Ottawa and Lennoxville, seemingly unaware that one or possibly both teams were expected back out.
Perhaps the RedBlacks players assumed that despite this being their home game, the fans in Quebec City wanted to meet Alouettes players instead. In any event, chalk this one up to miscommunication and letting down the fans in attendance that needlessly waited around for ANY football players. Thank goodness the Alouettes did that meet and greet before the game, as stated earlier.
But to have the PA announcer repeat several times that there will be one post-game and fail to deliver looks bad on everyone involved. That said, here’s hoping that this will not be the last pre-season game played away from the traditional venues. Just plan it properly and don’t try to gouge fans on tickets. It’s really not that difficult a concept.
I’ll be back later this week to preview Thursday’s last pre-season game for the Alouettes as they host the Toronto Argonauts at Percival Molson Stadium. Tomorrow is the last day for training camp sessions in Lennoxville and the players are ready to leave this sleepy ‘burg and get this season started already.
As always, follow me on Twitter for more news and thoughts on this pre-season.
GO ALS GO!!!