One-third of the 2015 Canadian Football League season is done. And statistically, the Montreal Alouettes are more or less in the same position that they were at this point last season.
Last season after six games, the Alouettes were 1-5. During their five losses, the average total of points that games were lost by sat at 19. Nineteen! And there were some UGLY losses in that span too. The annual trip to BC Place to get destroyed immediately comes to mind. And the Alouettes’ debut of Chad Johnson was memorable in many ways, but not for the Alouettes’ stellar play on that day in Calgary. Even the Toronto Argonauts had a field day with the shoddy play of Troy Smith and the gang, putting the Alouettes over their knee and spanking them at Percival Molson Stadium.
However, there is a world of difference between this season and last. Most notably, the losses haven’t been by more than 4 points this season and there’s less confusion as to who is running the show.
This season the losses sting not because the Alouettes were listless and played without direction but usually because had one play or series gone the other way, that loss would be a victory. I can look at every single 2015 defeat and point to one play or one series that had the tide turned in another direction, the Montreal Alouettes would be sitting at 6-0 and be the class of the Canadian Football League.
A look at the remaining games in August and it’s easy to have doubt that Montreal will be able to climb out of the Eastern division basement. You have Edmonton tomorrow, who’s been on a tear and is the defensive powerhouse of the West. Then next week is the 2016 edition of that dreaded annual trip to Vancouver’s BC Place to face the Lions. And to finish the eighth month of this year, it’s Montreal’s only scheduled trip to Tim Hortons Field, where the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still have yet to taste defeat while playing in their refurbished barn.
You’ll never hear me say that the Alouettes have no chance of winning any of these games. But even the most optimistic person will say that this is going to be a very tough stretch of games to play. And with the rest of the Eastern division teams also playing lights-out football (Another sharp contrast from last season!), keeping pace will not only be crucial but it will be easier said than done.
The Alouettes made some personnel changes this week and as a result, a very popular figure was shown the door. In addition to Dobson Collins and Bryn Roy, Montreal released fan favourite Sean Whyte this past Monday.
Anyone who saw his only game versus Calgary knows why Collins got the ax. He worked like a dog during training camp and was able to secure a practice roster spot this season. But in his only game action versus Calgary, the journeyman receiver fumbled a sure touchdown score and his overall play was a contributing factor as to why the Alouettes are still winless in Calgary since 2009.
Roy has had a hard time getting on and staying on the playing field. It’s not easy to cut loose a National player but constant injuries and lack of actual game play since being drafted led to this young man’s dismissal. When healthy, Bryn’s a solid hand to have for special teams. Hopefully for him he can land on someone else’s practice roster and be able to contribute.
Ever since coming over to Montreal from his hometown BC Lions in a trade, Whyte has been a favourite with many Alouettes fans. Always smiling and never too busy for a fan request, he’s been a mainstay in this lineup until this season. He’s faced a ton of adversity and yet kept shining through. Sean has worked year in and year out to improve every facet of his game, even living in Montreal during the off-season at times to train and maintain his connection to the city.
But with Boris Bede coming in and playing like he has, Sean became expendable. As per usual with the Alouettes, there’s no desire to have two people handling both the kicking and punting duties. Despite being a rookie, Bede has done a great job with punting and until last Friday, was perfect with his field goal attempts. Being a National player, Whyte will get another opportunity down the road with another club. He’s been a great soldier for this Alouettes team and I personally wish him all the best going forward.
Tomorrow, the Alouettes will host the Eskimos. Since losing their first game against the Argos, Edmonton had been on a tear, winning four games in a row and nearly a fifth last week versus the BC Lions. They too have had injury woes, most notably losing their starting QB Mike Reilly in that first game. But what has kept them going has been their defense. They’ve taken advantage of some weakened teams and simply dominated.
The Alouettes catch a break and don’t have to face Adarius Bowman, the team’s leader in receiving yards. But they will have to face former Alouette Kenny Stafford, who has played some great football and been a preferred target for Eskimos QB Matt Nichols in recent weeks.
Acquired in a trade with Montreal for Fred Stamps during this past off-season, Stafford has made a name for himself in Edmonton, making plays and catching touchdowns. As glad as I am to have a veteran like Stamps in the receiving corps for the Alouettes, it came at a high price in having to part ways with a young man who is only going to get better with time.
It was my belief after last season that Stafford would have filled the void for the Alouettes that Duron Carter left when he went to the NFL. Instead, Kenny’s doing all that for Edmonton. I wouldn’t bet against Stafford continuing his touchdown streak tomorrow on the field that he used to call his own.
Tomorrow is also the White-Out game, so if you plan on attending the game at Percival Molson Stadium, make sure you are wearing white! If you happen to forget despite my constant reminders, the team is selling special white Alouettes t-shirts at the souvenir stands for only $10. It’s still my hope that in subsequent years, a sponsor will step up and provide white t-shirts to all fans who attend this game so that the team can get the desired “whiteout” effect they are looking for.
Be sure to swing by the original Montreal tailgate, where there will be a corn roast going on before the game. Last week in Ottawa, this great group made their 2015 road debut and welcomed both Alouettes and RedBlacks fans as they show love for the entire CFL community.
And be sure to give the Eskimo Empire Podcast a listen for a preview of tomorrow’s game, lots of great content there as well.
As usual, enjoy the game tomorrow regardless of where you watch it.
GO ALS GO!!!