The day that every football player dreads: Cut-Down day. The final test that needs to be passed if you want to call yourself a member of the Montreal Alouettes. For many, it’s a sigh of relief as they are told that they will be on the team. All the hard work and sacrifice of these past three weeks has paid off and they will now focus on the first game of the 2016 Canadian Football League season in Winnipeg.
For the rest, all they will be given in exchange for that same amount of hard work and sacrifice is a thank you, the suggestion to stay in football shape just in case an injury occurs and a plane ticket back home. This is a cruel and heartless industry as nothing is promised in the CFL and you are only as good as your last play. From the grizzled vet to the wide-eyed rookie, the ax has fallen this past weekend and claimed several victims in its wake. Let’s take a look at who didn’t make it onto the 2016 roster for the Birds of Prey.
During the first round of cuts last week, the biggest surprises came when both Kyler Elsworth and Jerry Rice Jr. were among the list of players released. Last year in relief of Bear Woods, Elsworth made a name for himself in Montreal with his punishing play and play-making ability in the middle. He even managed to strip, scoop and score a touchdown in front of the Percival Molson faithful last season! But a relatively quiet start and the looming prospect of National stud Nick Shortill made the former MSU product expendable.
Rice had developed a good connection with the younger Montreal QBs, most notably Vernon Adams as they connected for some beautiful touchdowns in practice and in scrimmage action. But there are so many talented receivers and as good as the son of the NFL legend was, it just wasn’t enough to make it for this team.
To no one’s surprise, the Canadian QB duo of Drew Burko and Jimmy Underdahl were not kept. That’s not to say that they were terrible, but the quarterback position was never in doubt save for who would be backing up Kevin Glenn. Along with Hayden Peters, these two will return to CIS football and be richer for the experience of being in a professional football camp.
I had talked up Matthew Toppan a good bit, as I do see a lot of former Alouette Ryan Bomben in him. The Alouettes liked him enough to spend an eighth round draft pick this year. But in game action, his snaps as centre sailed over the QB’s head far too many times. He may very well be a great CFL player in the future, but the mechanics need some work.
Mackenzie Sarro and Mike Davis have spent multiple camps with the Alouettes and definitely know how to compete. But a strong camp hand doesn’t translate to an instant roster spot and these two just didn’t have enough to unseat the incumbent players in Montreal.
Mitchell Jeter and Jordan Dewalt were late invites to camp and had some moments, but these two also didn’t do enough to warrant a spot on the team. It doesn’t help that they were trying to crack the defensive line roster, perhaps the most talent-laden part of Noel Thorpe‘s squad. Nick Temple, another late invite to Alouettes camp, tried his best to unseat one of the many linebackers in camp and just couldn’t do it.
When Andrew Lue went down to injury at the scrimmage game, C.J. Moore was called upon to bring some relief and depth to the halfback position. But he was practically invisible at camp and like so many others, failed to impress this coaching staff. Forrestal Hickman also had the unfortunate task of trying to wrest a spot on the O-Line from the many Canadian born players that occupy it. With a mammoth 6’7, 320 lb frame, I fully expect another CFL team to find a spot for him.
I thought that there was a lot to like about Mikhail Davidson. A winner of a Vanier Cup and the skill set to be a future Ben Cahoon, I thought he had the necessary tools to be given a chance to one day supplant Stefan Logan in kick returns. But Mikhail was bypassed by Martese Jackson after he muffed a few punts in pre-season games and the Montreal native was shown the door. Davidson does have tremendous speed on the ground and can be a valuable asset for a CFL team looking for a short-yardage receiver to bolster their National depth.
Tajh Boyd had a tough road to hoe if he wanted to be a quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes; He had to be better than a Canadian-born QB, a hot-shot rookie that came in with much fanfare and the QB that did all he could in his CFL rookie campaign to lead a team that is used to winning. Despite working hard and making the third string receivers look masterful, this was simply a numbers game that the former Clemson Tiger wasn’t going to win. Had Rakeem Cato not kicked his game into overdrive during the pre-season games, Boyd may have had a fighting chance to stay in La Belle Province.
The biggest and easily most confusing cuts for Montreal are two of the best young defensive players in the league. Both Dominique Ellis and Mitchell White play this game on another level altogether, but they too were shown the door this past weekend. There was a noticeable difference when they took the field and when the other DBs did. For example, when Ellis and White were on they weren’t often beat by opposing receivers.
When free agency this past February, these two were in a position to explore the market and command a decent salary. Alouettes GM Jim Popp had seen the value of these two and made sure that they were staying put in Montreal. And now with their release, one has to wonder just who will now occupy the boundary corner for the Montreal secondary? Popp had stated that he is comfortable in the other defensive players in camp to be making these particular personnel moves.
I’m not typically one to doubt the architect of this Alouettes franchise, but this one is a real head-scratcher.
Much like Brandon Whitaker post-training camp last year with Toronto, Ellis did not stay unemployed for very long. Just as quickly as he was released, Dominique managed to find a roster spot on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This is the sort of player that Tiger-Cats DC Orlondo Steinhauer craves; a menacing force that is cerebral in his approach to the game.
Ellis also wasted little time in suggesting that the atmosphere in Montreal is “strange” and that he couldn’t understand why he was let go by the Alouettes. Call it fuel for the fire as Ellis and the Tabbies will play in Montreal in the next couple of weeks. Needless to say, Dominique will be raring to go and eager to prove his Montreal doubters wrong.
Now that the dust as settled, here’s a quick unofficial look at the Alouettes position chart:
Bear in mind that some of these players may have already been placed on the 1-game injured list. But as of this moment, this is how the 2016 Montreal Alouettes are shaping up to start this season.
I’ll be back later this week with a game preview as the CFL kicks off in spectacular fashion. The Alouettes have the privilege of playing in the first Friday Night Football game of the season when they travel to Winnipeg to face the Blue Bombers. I’ll be there live and plan to report for you good readers on the game day experience at Investors Group Field.
In the meantime, be sure to tune into the Alouettes Flightdeck this Wednesday as both myself and Tim Capper offer up all kinds of thoughts and opinions on the news of this past weekend. You can find the Flightdeck on iTunes, Google Play Music and Podbean. For all the latest of all things Montreal Alouettes, be sure to follow along on Twitter.
The pre-season is now officially a memory. It’s time for some actual football!