Whitaker, Tisdale among final 2015 Alouettes roster cuts

Yesterday night at 10pm EST, all nine teams of the Canadian Football League had to submit their final roster of 46 active players, as well their practice roster of 10 players (as well as anyone who is on the team’s 1 or 6 game injured list). Meaning that a number of players were going to get the news nobody playing wants to hear; that they will not be joining the team to start the 2015 CFL season.

For some it’s gut-wrenching, as it means that their football career is essentially over. Other use it as motivation to do better, work even harder and hopefully land with another CFL team (anyone who has been released is now free to sign with another team immediately). Some are released simply because there’s no available spot to them for the time being, but they may be invited back should someone get hurt.

Yesterday, the following men were given that bad news by the team. Besides their names are my thoughts on them throughout camp and what possibly lies ahead for them.

Julian Jones and Jonathan Bryant are good young men that worked hard to join the receiving corps and Bryant even notched a touchdown in each of the Alouettes’ two pre-season games. But both also suffered from some untimely drops and an inability to handle the ball when given kick return duties. Not to mention being an international receiver is extremely difficult, as each CFL team can only carry so many. As I said in previous columns, they would have had to been absolutely perfect even just to land on the practice roster and they were not.

Chris Baker had a really inspirational story to tell, making numerous sacrifices both emotionally and financially just to get invited to this camp and play the game he loves. But this Alouettes defensive line is a very tough nut to crack and though Baker worked his butt off in camp, the established players in front of him were just that much better.

Avery Cunningham was another who was lights-out during camp and even filled in when Chip Cox was late getting to camp due to family matters. But unseating guys like Cox, Kyries Hebert, Winston Venable and Bear Woods is easier said than done. This was another young man who was faced with a very tall mountain to climb. I’m certain another team will find a place for this gritty youngster.

William Latu and Pierce Burton did their very best to try and earn a spot among the all-Canadian offensive line. Both are big fellas that can move well but like many of the others listed here, simply didn’t do enough to best the mainstays on this Montreal team. Not even being Canadian-born was enough for Simon Legare to stay with Montreal. Despite all his community work off the field with the team, he too became a victim of the numbers game.

Drew Basil has one hell of a leg and was easily sailing punts very far and very deep. But he was up against not only the booming leg of Boris Bede but also had to try unseating national kicker Sean Whyte, a very tall task for the former Ohio State Buckeye. I expect that CFL teams in need of a strong leg will be calling Basil soon enough.

Asante Mizan was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Michael Sam’s hasty departure from training camp. With the former Mizzou star gone, Asante was able to get some quality reps in and this former Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawk played really well. Along with former teammate Chris Ackie, the Alouettes scouting team was very high on this young man but as I said before, this is one tough defensive line to try and crack. Provided another team doesn’t scoop him up, I think we’ll see Mizan back wearing red/blue/silver in 2015 should one or two of the starters end up on the injured lists.

Mackenzie Sarro came from the University of Calgary and played alongside Michael Klassen, Jamahl Knowles and Steven Lumbala. After being drafted by Montreal last year and not making the team, Sarro was invited back to Alouettes camp in 2015. Despite carrying a mighty 6’4, 245lb. frame, he simply didn’t have enough to snatch the starting fullback job from Jean-Christophe Beaulieu.

Brian Brikowski’s release came as a shock to me, as the team has been high on him and his versatile play. He had suffered a concussion during training camp and seemed to recover well, but apparently not well enough for the coaching staff to even keep on the practice roster. Last season Brikowski came in for relief and played very well during Montreal’s disastrous 1-7 start. Extremely popular with the Alouettes fans on Twitter, this defensive stud won’t be out of work for too long.

Khalif Mitchell took it upon himself to deliver the news of his release to Twitter this past Friday, one of the first cuts and easily the most surprising to everyone. Mitchell was signed this past off-season and was ready to deliver for the Alouettes. He played very well in both pre-season games but with a younger and more cost-effective option in Corvey Irvin, the coaching staff may have felt the wildly popular former Argo and Lion was expendable. He has a mean streak on the field but you fans will not meet a kinder gentleman than Khalif. This mammoth Rastafarian has a lot left in the tank.

On first glance, the release of Geoff Tisdale is stunning because he has been a superstar on this very powerful Alouettes defense. A premier ball-hawk since joining the Als, I have made several cases for Tisdale being the premier shutdown corner of this league. But with new CFL rules instituted for 2015 that Tisdale seemed to struggle with during the pre-season and with several youngsters at the ready, the Alouettes may have felt that it’s better to release someone a year too soon as opposed to a year too late. Mitchell White & Andrew Lue are the future in Montreal and with Jonathan Hefney having an outstanding 2015 camp, it simply became time for Tisdale to move on.

Brandon Whitaker: For Alouettes fans, this cut is easily the deepest. A member of the back to back Grey Cup championships in 2009-2010, Whitaker supplanted Avon Cobourne and never looked back. The man they called “2-Way” was an absolute marvel to watch, leading the league in rushing in 2011 and cementing himself as the premier tailback for this Alouettes team. Whether it was carrying the rock, being an extra receiver or even blocking for the QB, you had a very hard time finding someone better than B-Whit.

But in subsequent years, he always seemed to suffer a major injury at the worst possible time. Much like Travis Lulay out in BC, no one was simply better at his job than Whitaker when he was healthy. But these injuries have taken a toll not just on him, but the Alouettes as well. With the emergence of Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Rutley in his absence during 2014, I had a feeling that Whitaker was going to have to have a monster camp if he was going to stick around in 2015.

But not even a great camp was enough, as the Alouettes are going with the aforementioned young studs as well as the very speedy Stefan Logan. Late last night, the outpouring of emotion from Alouettes fans came through on social media. Whitaker was beloved in this city and his #2 jersey was always a popular one at Percival Molson Stadium. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with and covering Brandon for this blog from day one and words like “gentleman” and “class act” don’t even do him justice. He is all those things and more. A better football player and man, you will not meet. I personally wish him all the best going forward.

———–

It didn’t take long for Whitaker to find new employment. I don’t think the ink on his release papers had finished drying when it was announced that the Toronto Argonauts had signed the now former Alouette to a contract. With Ricky Ray on the six game injured list, the Argos will need a steady hand to lead on offense and B-Whit can provide that. He’ll block and give his QB plenty of time to complete passes and now 100% healthy, Brandon will be that duel threat for Toronto that he was with the Alouettes.

Thankfully, the Argos won’t play Montreal until Thanksgiving so that will give Alouettes fans a chance to prepare for life sans Whitaker. But change is inevitable and with Tyrell and the other Brandon carrying the rock for Montreal, the future is very bright indeed.

As for the others, some will find work right away as the other CFL teams look to fill possible voids that their camp hands could not. Many players will wait by the phone, staying in football shape in the hopes that injuries will free up some spots on a roster somewhere. Being cut from training camp is only a death sentence if you allow it to be; if you have the talent, someone will find a roster spot for you. Timing is everything!

————

So now the Alouettes will begin preparing for their first game, opening at home this Thursday versus the Ottawa RedBlacks. Daily practices will be returning to Stade Hebert in St. Leonard this week and once again, the public is welcome to attend. For more information and start times, be sure to check the Alouettes web site.

I’ll be back later this week for a game preview. It feels so good to say that a new season is only days away. I know I’m not the only one who’s excited to kick off the summer with some gridiron action!

GO ALS GO!!!

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