After five years of doing this blog for you good readers and following this league as closely as I do, I often think that you can’t be taken by surprise. But throughout this off-season, I found myself absolutely bemused by the thoughts and opinions of not just the fans of this league, but media members as well.
There seems to be one prevailing thought from these people as the Montreal Alouettes celebrate the 20th anniversary of their return to the Canadian Football League; this team doesn’t have a prayer.
This seems to be based on the fact that the Alouettes put together their worst season since that return in 1996. The highlights were few and far between plus this off-season certainly had its fair share of tumultuous activity for the Birds of Prey. They do say it’s darkest before dawn and this Sunday, the light will break through and a new season begins, full of hope for the members of Alouettes Nation.
So let’s take a quick look at what happened since the Alouettes were last on the field and look forward to the 2016 CFL season.
2016 Coaches: The More Things Change…
After Montreal limped off into the sunset by posting a 6-12 regular season record and missing the playoffs for the first time in their current history, the decision was made for stability. It took approximately 48 hours to settle any potential controversy concerning the coaching staff of this team.
Alouettes General Manager / Head Coach Jim Popp announced at the end of year presser that he would be staying on as head coach of this team for 2016. This was a move that has polarized a lot of fans throughout this league. Many people have lauded the move, as this is the fourth time that Popp has assumed control of this team on the field to varying degrees of success. A move that was thought to be temporary after relieving Tom Higgins of his duties mid-season, Popp opted to have some stability for a change and will call the shots for at least this season.
By his side will be two familiar names to fans of this league; Defensive Coordinator Noel Thorpe and now full-time Offensive Coordinator Anthony Calvillo. Both of these coaches will be unofficially vying to be the next leader of this franchise. There are many that were surprised not to see Thorpe named as Alouettes head coach but as these past few seasons have shown, it’s only a matter of time before he’s leading a team of his own. If it’s not succeeding Popp as this team’s leader, it will be another.
Thorpe will have some familiar faces helping him lead one of the league’s most dangerous units. Back in the nest is Greg Quick, who left Montreal last season to be the DC in Saskatchewan. Despite his football acumen, Quick was stymied by Riders head coach Corey Chamblin‘s refusal to let him do his job and thus his talents were wasted. But he’s back in Montreal and will get the most out of his linebacking corps.
After paying his dues as an assistant the past few seasons, Anwar Stewart now is officially a position coach with the Alouettes. He will be heading up the defensive line, a position that he excelled at for many years playing in Montreal. If this defense holds up and flourishes as it has in years previous, Stewart could find himself rising in the coaching ranks as well and be in discussions for future positions in this league.
Anthony Calvillo went through a trial by fire in his rookie coaching season, going from receivers coach to co-offensive coordinator to now the full-time OC in the span of ONE season. And going solely by his impassioned speech at the end of season presser, AC is already being targeted by many as being the next field boss for Montreal. That sort of premature talk gives me hives; It’s not that I don’t think AC can be a head coach one day but the idea of throwing him out there so quickly with no real success behind him is alarming, to say the least.
But he has help! This off-season was Calvillo’s first in designing an offensive playbook and he received a great co-author when the Alouettes hired Jacques Chapdelaine this past February as the team’s receivers coach. Having a seasoned pro in Chapdelaine helping design plays is a godsend for this still rookie coach. Last year, Jacques was the OC in Saskatchewan and spent most of his time with current Alouette starter Kevin Glenn as his quarterback.
Despite the Roughriders posting an atrocious 3-15 record, that team was not lacking in the scoring department. Having Chapdelaine on the sidelines and with Glenn behind centre, this season will be the litmus test for AC the OC. He’s being given as many tools as possible for success here in Montreal, far more than the last ex-QB who got fast-tracked through the Alouettes coaching ranks. But I doubted Calvillo in the past and he’s proven me wrong; here’s hoping that he will do it again.
Free Agent Frenzy!
Last year, Jim Popp went on a shopping spree and brought in a lot of talent. This year, he’s toned it down somewhat but still managed to make headlines during the cold winter months.
The biggest move made was bringing back former Alouette Duron Carter, who spent the 2015 season on the practice roster of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Having Carter back provides a true superstar for Montreal as well as another steady pair of hands for Kevin Glenn to throw to. The NFL dream is still there for Duron and you know that he will be using this team again as a showcase of his talents.
That’s hardly news in this league as this off-season saw a plethora of CFL players parlay all-star seasons into a contract south of the border. Duron never got a chance to shine in the NFL and he will be making good use of his time here in La Belle Province.
Montreal also landed some 2015 Grey Cup experience on Free Agency Day when the Alouettes signed free agents Kenny Stafford and Jovon Johnson. Stafford was a shining light in Edmonton after being traded to the Eskimos by Montreal in January 2015. Kenny was a crucial part of bringing the Grey Cup back to Alberta’s capital and he will be ready to repeat himself this season.
Also on that Grey Cup field last November was Johnson, as he led the Ottawa RedBlacks’ secondary into battle. The head of the heralded “D-Block” unit, Jovon knew how to motivate his young charges on the field and he will provide some outstanding leadership to Montreal’s young and talented DBs.
Even though training camp is a mere few days away, Jim Popp showed that he was still not ready to stop making moves to better this team. This past weekend, he swung a deal with the BC Lions for the rights to negotiate with highly touted NCAA quarterback Vernon Adams. This young man was expected to be drafted into the NFL but ended up being overlooked by its 32 teams despite a successful collegiate career at the University of Oregon.
Despite not playing a down of professional football, Adams is already being compared to names like Doug Flutie and Russell Wilson in terms of size, mobility & playmaking out of the pocket. Adams is not your prototypical NFL QB but he certainly has all the makings to be a success in the Great White North. Despite having Brandon Bridge, Tajh Boyd and Rakeem Cato on the roster, this Alouettes organization has still been searching for its next great quarterback to emerge.
One of these youngsters will have to step up and assume the reigns once Kevin Glenn calls it a career. Throwing a talented arm like Adams’ into the mix just ratcheted up the intensity level that will be on display starting this Sunday in the sleepy college town of Lennoxville.
More To Come!
Over the next few days, I’ll lead you more in-depth with this Montreal Alouettes roster and where each side of the field stands as they prepare for this 2016 season and the ultimate goal; playing at Toronto’s BMO Field in late November for the 104th Grey Cup. A lot of people are sleeping on this Alouettes team and as a fan, I couldn’t be more excited at that prospect.
I love that everyone is predicting this team to finish dead last in the standings. I am thrilled that people have dug a grave for this team and are standing over it with dirt-filled shovels. Because while there has been a lot of head-scratching moves and some decisions have been suspect to say the least, this Montreal Alouettes team has only truly been beaten by one team the last few years; itself.
Last year’s futility was very much an anomaly for the Birds of Prey; This year there are no distractions, no head cases and any drama that comes about will be due to the product on the field, not the shenanigans off of it. I don’t do predictions and anything is possible, but I don’t think Montreal will be the steaming pile of monkey crap that many wags are predicting that it will be.
One thing is for certain as training camp gets under way this Sunday; I will be there to soak in the majesty of it all and report it back for the readers of The ALSternative. Hopefully, you’ll come along for the ride.
I’ll be back tomorrow to start breaking down this Montreal Alouettes team, piece by piece. Be sure to follow along on Twitter for more info leading up to camp. Until then and officially for the first time this season,