The ALSternative — 2017 Season Preview Part 2

We’ve covered the genesis of this new era of Montreal Alouettes football. The franchise has a new-look front office and a revamped coaching staff, ready to lead this once-proud organization back to the promised land.

But you can’t make it to the Grey Cup without the right players. As stated, change was coming this past off-season. That meant that a lot of players who were loved by the fans here in Montreal were going to be shown the door. Many folks believed that these changes were due to the persistent rumours from the media that the Alouettes had mismanaged their salary cap.

That proved to be an inaccurate statement, as the Canadian Football League reported on April 28th that all nine teams were under the salary cap. The reality is that new general manager Kavis Reed has a vision for what he expects from this Alouettes team. The players he felt could contribute, they stayed. The ones that he didn’t are no longer here. Simple as that.

It’s time to break down this 2017 Montreal Alouettes team by position.

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Quarterbacks

Ever since Anthony Calvillo‘s head took a very unfortunate bounce off the turf at Regina’s Taylor Field in 2013, the Alouettes have struggled mightily to find their heir to the throne. For all the great that former general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman did for Montreal, the one area where these men failed this team was to have a back-up plan in place if/when AC could no longer play football.

For the past four seasons, we’ve seen this team go through a myriad of quarterbacks, with varying degrees of success:

Tanner Marsh: Was actually AC’s backup in 2013. Was rushed into game action and played well until an injury sidelined him. Struggled to find his form and was lost in the shuffle. Other injuries and bad coaching derailed Tanner’s CFL career before it ever really started.

Troy Smith: Brought in orginally just to observe, was thrown into action unprepared. Still managed to get Montreal into the 2013 playoffs but his follow-up season was an epic failure. He was bypassed by younger talent and went back to his alma mater Ohio State University.

Jonathan Crompton: Was fourth on Edmonton’s depth chart to start the 2014 season. Ended up in Montreal and led a 1-7 Alouettes team to a miraculous run to the Eastern Final. Was injured in the 2015 season opener and became an afterthought almost as quickly as he came in.

Rakeem Cato: A college football wunderkind, Cato came in out of nowhere and dazzled everyone in the CFL in his debut. But with a coaching staff that didn’t know how to correctly use him, he became predictable and easy for opposing teams to figure out. Despite some nice wins here and there, Rakeem was simply given too much, too soon and he never seemed to properly process it.

Kevin Glenn: A CFL legend, he has been a member of nearly all nine CFL teams. He provided some stability at the QB position for Montreal but ultimately was jettisoned for younger, largely unproven talent. Glenn is a true veteran but simply wasn’t what the Alouettes needed.

There are other QBs that we can mention, but at the end of the day all of these men have one thing in common; They just couldn’t replace what Anthony Calvillo brought to the Montreal Alouettes.

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So where does that leave this team? When 2016 ended, the starting quarterback was Vernon Adams Jr., whom the Alouettes traded their first round pick in this year’s draft for. Under interim coach Jacques Chapdelaine and with nothing left to lose, Adams played rather well and was a leader for Montreal when they needed it.

His last game versus Hamilton was a solid outing that gave the fans that initially sneered at idea of trading that first round pick away pause for consideration. It was a small sample size of only three games but Vernon Adams is undefeated as a starting quarterback in the CFL. Adams showed true potential in what was essentially a lost cause and a failure of a season for the Alouettes.

So it would seem that all is well then, right? The Alouettes have their quarterback of the future and this is Vernon Adams’ team for easily the next 10+ years, correct?

Er, not so fast.

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When Kavis Reed took over as general manager, he knew he was inheriting most of Jim Popp’s transactions, which included the young Oregon pivot. As special teams coach, Reed got to see up close the value that a Vernon Adams brings to the Alouettes. I truly believe that Kavis also sees Adams as the future of this franchise.

Reed has also seen up close how badly the aforementioned quarterbacks flamed out while under centre for Montreal and surely doesn’t want Adams’ name added to that list. So how does Reed get his young QB the mentoring that he needs and the environment to truly flourish?

It starts with good coaching and having arguably the CFL’s greatest quarterback of all-time as the QB coach certainly doesn’t hurt. Also having a offensive-minded head coach doesn’t hurt as well. Adams now has some valuable tools for long-term success at his disposal, but this still isn’t quite his football team yet.

As part of his vision for the Montreal Alouettes, Kavis Reed knew that the merry-go-round at the QB position had to stop immediately. He needed a solid veteran quarterback that can still play at a high level while offering leadership for his young protegé. Problem is, players like that aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. And there was no one in Montreal that could be that QB.

So on January 13th, Reed decided to make the biggest move that Montreal has seen in a long, long time. He rolled the dice in order to make this team better and landed one of the best quarterbacks that this league has to offer.

Montreal, say hello to your new starting quarterback……Darian Durant!

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Yes, THAT Darian Durant. Former Saskatchewan Roughrider, 2013 Grey Cup champion and long-time adversary of the Montreal Alouettes. In acquiring Durant’s services for a pair of draft picks, the Alouettes have something they’ve wanted, nay NEEDED since August 2013; a true starting quarterback under centre.

Alouettes fans will remember the battles in 2009 & 2010 for the Grey Cup. Twice Montreal faced Durant and the Riders and both games were absolute duels to the death. Fans of the Als probably hated Durant with a passion since then because he was the enemy, but there was respect for his gritty play and ability to win.

There is concern, as Durant has had injury issues the past few years. The Alouettes will need their new star to stay healthy in order to compete and return to the playoffs. Durant is not a mobile quarterback, but he will heave some bombs down the field. He will make use of both Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Rutley in the backfield. There’s a wealth of talented receivers on this Alouettes team that will only be too happy to help pad the stats of this future Hall of Famer.

Darian is now tasked with returning the Alouettes to glory, while being the leader it sorely has needed. But more importantly, he will be asked to mentor the young quarterbacks on the roster, starting with one Vernon Adams. I have no doubt that Doubles will handle this task with the professionalism and class that he is known for league-wide.

I know it’s gonna be weird to cheer for a guy that you’re used to hating, Alouettes Nation. But this organization has needed a true leader and at long last, he has arrived.

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Lest you think this Alouettes quarterbacking corps is all former Riders and college phenoms, there’s still two other youngsters that will compete to be a part of this team. Kavis Reed remembered a young QB during his time with the Eskimos named Jacory Harris who was brimming with potential. Harris spent the last two seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and is ready to challenge for a roster spot in La Belle Province.

Not much is known about Matthew Shiltz, other than he played for Butler University for four years and had averaged 304 yards of offense during his senior year, good enough for 5th in the country at the time. Shiltz is also a student of the game, eager to break down film and wanting to see everything in front of him.  He’s in tough competing for playing time against Durant, Adams and Harris. Expect a lot of scout team duty for this young man.

So there you have the 2017 quarterbacks for the Montreal Alouettes. Having great QBs is nice, but in order for them to be great they need to be kept vertical. Thankfully, there’s a special task force designated to do exactly that for each football team.

Offensive Line

Last season, this was a much maligned unit that endured heaping spoonfuls of abuse and experienced a myriad of growing pains. It took eighteen games, but this rag-tag collection of rookies and young veterans finally came together and was better for the experience.

But bringing in a new quarterback requires a serious look at the men lining up in front of him. Not having a stellar line to protect your All-star quarterback is like having a Ferrari and putting regular gas in the tank. So like he did at the QB position, Kavis Reed decided changes needed to be made on the O-line.

The biggest change when it comes to the Alouettes’ offensive line is that it will no longer be an all-Canadian affair. For the first time in ages, there will be international players taking up spots along the line of scrimmage.

Also for the first time in ages, this line will not feature long-time Alouette Jeff Perrett. He was released in the off-season, much to the dismay of fans that came to love the play of the mammoth Albertan. Perrett signed with the Argos but then decided that it wasn’t the right fit for him and is now enjoying life with his family.

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That now leaves veteran Luc Brodeur-Jourdain as the last remaining lineman from the back-to-back Grey Cup wins. It took a while for LBJ to come back from a devastating knee injury in 2015, but he’s feeling better than ever and looking forward to leading these big fellas yet again. He is no doubt excited at the prospect of helping Darian Durant become a full-fledged Alouette.

The big off-season acquisition on the O-Line came on March 27th when perennial CFL All-Star Jovon Olafioye was traded to the Alouettes in exchange for the rights to David Foucault. The resume speaks for itself; 126 consecutive starts, 6 All-Star nods, a Grey Cup ring and being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Lineman in 2012. He’ll be expected to protect Durant’s blindside and it’s an assignment that he’ll gladly accept.

The young veterans Philip Blake and Kristian Matte will be back and ready to step up. Both were thrown into leadership roles with Brodeur-Jourdain on the injured list and despite some struggles, came into their own. Another year older and mentally prepared to lead when called upon, I expect more production from these two stout Canadians.

The rookies that lined up in Montreal took a beating last season, experiencing a trial by fire against some very fierce defensive lines. But Phillipe Gagnon and Jacob Ruby survived their first seasons starting and will be ready to compete again. Ruby was put in a very difficult spot, replacing Alouettes legend Josh Bourke at LT. Playing behind a Jovon Olafioye will be a great learning experience for this husky London, ON native. Gagnon took his lumps but by season’s end, showed the form that made him a Vanier Cup champion at Laval. Extra playing time will only make him better.

The two wild cards for me on this line are 2016 3rd round draft pick Sean Jamieson and former Hamilton Tiger-Cat Brian Simmons. Both are massive players that can make an immediate impact and have the potential to affect the ratio as well. Simmons will likely bookend the line with Olafioye while Jamieson can rotate in at guard, allowing Matte to play centre if need be. Both Jamieson and Simmons can offer outstanding QB protection and gives new OL Coach Paul Charbonneau plenty of options on game day.

This will be a make or break year for Jake Piotrowski, who has been a solid depth player in Montreal but has yet to crack the starting lineup full-time. This massive farm boy never seemed to find a place under former coach Kris Sweet. Jake is still a young man who has yet to reach his full potential, so here’s hoping that Charbonneau can find a role for him beyond special teamer.

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Tomorrow, we’ll finish up the offensive side of the ball with a detailed look at the playmakers for the Montreal Alouettes; Running backs and Receivers!

GO ALS GO!!!

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