Yesterday was the beginning of a near six month-long journey towards the ultimate goal for the teams of the Canadian Football League. Much to the delight of thousands of fans nationwide, football was back in Canada for the 2016 season!
For the first time in recent memory, the Montreal Alouettes were among the first teams to play their first of two preseason tilts. Cramming nearly 70 players and a bunch of coaches into two planes and heading to Winnipeg to play the Blue Bombers, the Alouettes looked to prove that they were prepared to start this year off on the right foot.
The result wasn’t the one they were hoping for, losing 36-13 to the Bombers. As I did last year at this time, I’m wanting to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly of this first preseason match-up for the Birds of Prey.
For the first time this season, we got to see a glimpse of what Alouettes OC Anthony Calvillo has been cooking up for this offense. Naturally, you’re not going to see everything he has to offer in this evaluation game. But what we did see the execution of plays from Kevin Glenn to his talented receivers. Glenn doesn’t play like he’s turning 37 on Sunday and this move to Montreal has revitalized him. Perhaps knowing that he is the man for this team plus being given a load of talented players has to provide a sense of comfort and newfound excitement for this grizzled CFL vet.
In a surprise move, the Alouettes then followed up Glenn’s solid outing with Rakeem Cato behind centre. After all the talk of potentially trading or cutting Cato loose just two weeks earlier, one could hardly blame him for feeling unwanted and his sluggish start to training camp. But rather, all this doubt about the young pivot seemed to strengthen him, as he turned in a very respectable performance last night. Cato lobbed a beautiful touchdown pass to young Chandler Jones, who could very well make the move from practice roster to full-time starter on this Alouettes team. Just when you start to doubt Rakeem the Dream, he just may have you second-guessing yourself.
Unless you are a diehard fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, you probably haven`t heard the name Cam McDaniel before. But this late addition to the Alouettes training camp roster had himself a very solid performance yesterday. Brought in as a tailback, McDaniel had some nice kick returns on special teams plus broke out for a few good rushes from out of the backfield. His quickness can be a very nice complement to Stefan Logan and Cam could may well be that solution to when Logan decides to call it a career.
Montreal was up 13-3 until the tail end of the first half as Winnipeg was unable to stay disciplined and their starters seems to have a hard time find their rhythm. After looking decent enough when leading, Montreal went into cruise control and let the Bombers tie the game going into half time.
The second half proved to be an exercise in futility, as this Alouettes defense came unglued and allowed virtual unknowns like Dominique Davis and Tim Flanders to run roughshod over them. Granted, several of the key Alouette defenders were left at home to allow DC Noel Thorpe to evaluate his other charges. Based on the uninspired play in the second half, there wasn’t a whole lot for him to like.
Vernon Adams Jr. made his CFL debut last night. Much to the delight of everyone who mocked Als GM/Head Coach Jim Popp for trading next year’s first round draft pick for the rights to Adams, the former Oregon Duck was less than spectacular. It should be noted that he wasn’t being given much to work with, as his first series had him pinned deep in Bombers territory. Adams had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and the wayward ball landed in the hands of Winnipeg DB Garrett Waggoner.
A few incomplete passes later, Adams’ night was done. A few more days spent under the learning tree of Anthony Calvillo will bode well for this young man. I still think Vernon will be a force to be reckoned with in the future, but this night belonged to the Blue Bombers and their second stringers.
Penalties were the underlying theme to last night’s game for both teams. Winnipeg had some outstanding plays negated by penalties early in the match while Montreal’s inability to stay disciplined allowed the Bombers to move the chains and put points on the board.
Most notable was Alouettes rookie Greg Henderson, who took a pair of ill-advised penalties in the fourth quarter that led to the Winnipeg touchdown that ultimately iced this game for Montreal. Overall, Montreal’s lack of discipline gave the Bombers plenty of chances to put points on the board. I imagine that this weekend’s camp sessions will be focusing on that aspect of the game as they prepare for the home preseason game versus Toronto.
Mikhail Davidson has looked great in camp since day one. But last night, he had a case of the yips. Coughing up a punt return in the third quarter is not going to make this Montreal native’s highlight reel. But I do like his speed and he will get several chances to make up for last night. I wouldn’t count this former Carabin out, not by a long shot.
I almost hesitate to include this in the ugly section, but last night the Alouettes made a bit of history, as played not one, not two but THREE Canadian-born quarterbacks. What made it ugly was that much was made about the fact that Montreal wanted to give as many of their QBs some game time. The idea of dressing eight quarterbacks for this game was thoroughly derided by many, calling into question the motives of this team’s head coach and general manager.
This time last year, Montreal had two of their QBs roughed up and unable to dress for the first preseason tilt. In 2016, EVERYONE who has thrown a ball in training camp got to suit up. With the exception of Brandon Bridge, none of the Canuck quarterbacks who played did anything worthwhile and were seemingly thrown a bone to justify their camp appearance. That is NOT how this game will be grown. I personally would have preferred this team focus on quality and not quantity, but again this is preseason and the name of the game is talent evaluation.
It seems that everyone was really jonesing for some CFL action, as nearly half a million people tuned into TSN and RDS for the game. I’m sure it helped not having to battle for viewers against the Stanley Cup final. But the point bears repeating; TSN currently has FIVE channels in which to show sporting events on. Surely they can show every single CFL preseason game on one of these channels in order for fans of all nine teams to get their preseason fix.
Alouettes fans are fortunate to be able to watch both games this year on either TSN or RDS, but not every team is so lucky. Many teams will find ways to allow their fans to watch these games and that will only help boost this league’s online profile. The appetite is there for fans of this game both north and south of the border, it’s now up to this league and its broadcast partners to start serving up more than just appetizers.
The Montreal Alouettes are back in Lennoxville this weekend to work out the kinks from this loss and to prepare for the next preseason game at Percival Molson Stadium. We should also expect to see some cuts as this team needs to shrink down to 65 players by June 14th. There always seems to be a surprise name or two on this list; we’ll see if that continues this year as all nine teams will strive to be better before this season officially kicks off in two weeks’ time.
That’s all for now. Be sure to follow along on Twitter for more thoughts and opinions. Also, be sure to tune into the Alouettes FlightDeck podcast as myself and Tim Capper discuss everything Alouettes for all you football fans to enjoy. A new episode is available every Tuesday night on both Podbean and on iTunes.