While it wasn’t the packed house that the team surely would have liked, the Montreal Alouettes finished the 2016 pre-season on a winning note, besting the Toronto Argonauts 22-15. For many this game was a do or die, one final chance to impress this coaching staff and convince them that they should be on the 46 man roster that will kick off the regular season next Friday in Winnipeg.
For the second straight game, we saw the starting lineup play just a bit longer than expected. While it’s important for Kevin Glenn to establish a good rapport with his talented receivers, it does force the others who are looking to grab a roster to perhaps try too hard to make themselves noticeable and thus be prone to making more mistakes. Yesterday was a cavalcade of bad snaps and erratic throws from the less-established quarterbacks, leading to turnovers and opposing points on the board.
But we got to see a bit more of what Alouettes fans can expect from this team in 2016 and some of the personnel that will go with it. Here’s a look at what I thought were some key points from yesterday’s match-up:
– I wasn’t terribly impressed with Rakeem Cato‘s start to training camp. Between rumours of him losing his passport and his lack of reps to start, it really looked like the former Marshall pivot’s stay in La Belle Province was going to be a short one. But he tuned out the haters and threw himself into his playbook, getting better and better with each passing day at camp. His pre-season work has stood out and he looks to have cemented himself as the #2 quarterback on this team behind Glenn.
– The release of Kyler Elsworth this past Tuesday was a bit of a head scratcher for many Alouettes fans. But he was virtually invisible for most of camp and failed to truly impress upon this coaching staff. But fear not, because Nick Shortill arrived in fine form and proved that he is ready to be a full-time member of this team. Also looking spectacular was Jared Koster, who turned in a very strong camp and came alive yesterday in Montreal, recovering a fumble and delivering 5 tackles with punishing intensity. This linebacking corps is going to be fierce once again, much to the opposing QBs’ dismay.
– While Stefan Logan won’t be losing any sleep over his job, another youngster emerged in the return game. Martese Jackson returned several kicks yesterday and was able to find some holes to gain some major yards. He finished the night with over 100 all-purpose yards and left a considerable impression on many of the fans. This former FAU Owl had a quiet NCAA career but given the wider field of the CFL, this youngster can put his speed to great use and turn some heads while everyone is focusing on Logan.
– Someway, somehow, this team has to find spots for Cam McDaniel and Chandler Jones. Both have been very impressive all camp and they have the potential to really open up the ground and air attack for Montreal. McDaniel has also returned kicks this training camp and did not look out-of-place. Quite frankly, I’m surprised he’s not in an NFL team’s mini-camp right now. Jones has some sweet hands and once his gets his routes down, could really break out in this league. His time on the practice roster has paid off and if OC Anthony Calvillo can find a way to insert him into multiple receiver sets, he can be the ideal checkdown receiver for Kevin Glenn.
– Despite both notching a touchdown, both Tajh Boyd and Vernon Adams had their struggles yesterday behind centre. It would have been nice for them to play a bit with the 1s and 2s to really see how they’d command instead of Kevin Glenn playing for nearly the entire 1st half. But you are supposed to make the most of your time on the field and it still feels like both of these guys are a work in progress. You will likely have to put one of these two on the practice roster and risk them being claimed by another team. If Alouettes GM/HC Jim Popp is going to keep all five of these pivots (including Canadian prodigy Brandon Bridge), he’s going to have to be really creative.
– Vaughn Martin is likely going to kill a man on this Canadian Football League field and like the Christians cheering vociferously as the lions shredded gladiators in Roman times, we will all be witnesses. Being a National player certainly doesn’t hurt his chances either. Lining up besides Alan-Michael Cash, Michael Klassen and Jesse Joseph at any given moment ensures that this defensive line will be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. These guys are gonna log some serious stats and further bolster Alouettes DC Noel Thorpe‘s stock in the future head coaching ranks.
– Also helping Coach Thorpe on the defensive side of the field are the wizened vets such as Billy Parker, Kyries Hebert and Jovon Johnson. Yesterday, they delivered punishment to the Argos in many forms and proved that age is merely a number. Anyone who wrote these guys off because they are on the wrong side of their 30s will likely come to regret it once this season gets underway. You can’t keep everyone on the training camp roster, but these guys showed that they still have PLENTY left in the tank.
And now come the most difficult part of the pre-season; the final cuts. All nine CFL teams must turn in their completed roster by 10pm this evening. As this column goes viral, no decisions have been made public yet from Montreal. But already other teams are letting their players know who will stay put and who will get that dreaded plane ticket back home.
Every year has some surprise releases as guys who were stars last season will be shown the door for any number of reasons. Speaking with Jim Popp yesterday after the game, he reiterated that he and his staff will be having a very hard time making these personnel decisions. Like it or not, several truly talented football players will be told that there’s no place for them on this Montreal team. They may be no-name players and they may be all-stars. But with only 46 spots on this team and 10 more on the practice roster, something invariably has to give.
By this time tomorrow, we’ll know who will officially join the Montreal Alouettes on their quest for an eighth Grey Cup. Training camp is now officially a memory; we are one step closer to getting this season underway. If you’re Canadian and you love football, your time is now!