For years, the Montreal Alouettes were an offensive juggernaut. When #13 was behind centre, you could always guarantee that points would be scored. Keeping the wily veteran and his murderer’s row of receivers out of the end zone was a task that aged many a defensive coordinator in the Canadian Football League. Thus, many paid little to no mind of this team’s ability to prevent points from being scored.
That all changed in 2013, as the offensive guru Marc Trestman left for the NFL. This team now had to re-invent itself as a defensive force as it searched for a new identity. A task that lay at the feet of one Noel Thorpe, who once served as this team’s special teams coach but made his name by turning the Universite de Montreal’s defense into a well-oiled machine.
Now in his fourth season as the architect of this Alouettes D, Thorpe is at a crossroads; he knows that he has the experience to lead a team and is eager to prove to everyone that he belongs in the head coaching conversation. He wants to be a head coach in this league and it really is just a matter of time until he is given that opportunity. Whether or not it happens in Montreal remains to be seen.
Until then, he must prove himself yet again as this team’s defensive wizard. It’s time to take a look at the men who will be helping Coach Thorpe make his case to the CFL that he is ready to lead on more than just defense.
I think you have to be a special kind of crazy to accept this role on a football team. In order to be a success, you have to try to plow your way through five guys that average 300+ pounds to get to yet another player and disrupt THEIR play. Far easier said that done, but the following do it for a living and will be looking to become the stars of this defense as a result.
As he has done for so many years, John Bowman will be the captain of this defense. The epitome of an All-Star, Bowman had to really reflect on whether he had played his last game as an Alouette last season. The team’s all-time leader in sacks, Bowman had to fight for redemption more than once and it was a damn shame. A player of John’s caliber has nothing to prove to anyone in this league and his heart simply cannot be matched. He is back in red/blue/silver and only an idiot will stand in his way.
Also looking to redeem himself is Michael Klassen, who season ended abruptly in Edmonton last year with a scary head injury. But you can’t keep a good man down and Klassen emerged stronger and more determined than ever due to his off-season training. This National talent is fearsome on the field and plays to win every single time. I can see him emerging and his name being added to the All-Star discussion in 2016.
Last season was one where a new name was added to the discussion of elite defensive linemen in the CFL. That name is Alan-Michael Cash. If anyone is going to lead this team when Bowman hangs up his cleats, it will be this young veteran from NC State. Cash always plays with an edge and thrives when he gets his massive paws on an opposing quarterback. 2015 saw Cash emerge as both an INT machine and sack master for the Birds of Prey. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
Rounding out the veteran presence on the D-Line is Gabe Knapton, Jesse Joseph and Aaron Lavarias, a deadly trio that can slot in anywhere along the line. Knapton had to bide his time on the practice roster in years previous but made the most of his reps last year, putting his size and speed to great use. Joseph had to fight for playing time in 2015 but also made an impact in his first official campaign for the Alouettes. He too will be fighting hard to gain more reps on the line.
When he’s healthy, there is simply no one better at his job than Lavarias. His ability to power past the O-line and disrupt the play is remarkable. But that kamikaze style of play has cost him, spending a lot of time on the injured list. Aaron will have to find a way to stay healthy as there are plenty of others looking to grab his roster spot.
Most notable is NFL veteran and National talent Vaughan Martin, who will be making his Alouettes debut five years after he was drafted by Montreal. Martin says that he still has the competitive fire in him and will want to make an immediate impact on this D-Line. It usually takes a while for ex-NFL players to come in and adapt to this league’s nuances, but Martin has the potential to be a game-changer if healthy.
Rounding out the competition are Jeff Finley and Dequin Evans. Finley had his 2015 season cut short due to injuries and will be raring to go. He made a great impact in Montreal in late 2014 and if he can find that form again, could be a dark horse candidate to win a full-time roster spot. Evans has Grey Cup experience, winning it all with the Calgary Stampeders in 2014. He has a lot in common with new defensive line coach Anwar Stewart; both went to Kentucky University and both won Grey Cups with the Stamps. Both Finley and Evans can be a true asset for this D-Line, but they will have to dig deep and wow this coaching staff.
Scary to think that this is just one of three layers of destruction that await the Alouettes’ opponents this year! Next up, the linebackers.
GO ALS GO!!!