We know who will be throwing the football and who will protecting said football-throwers for the Montreal Alouettes in 2017. Now it’s time to have a look at the recipients of those thrown footballs.
This time last year, Montreal looked to have the deadliest receivers’ corps on paper. Names like S.J. Green, Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford were expected to dominate and provide plenty of firepower for the Alouettes. But a major injury to Green set off a domino effect that affected just how well this team played on offense.
The running attack also took a hit last season, with injuries and a young offensive line being unable to consistently open up any holes for the members of Montreal’s backfield. While touchdowns were scored in 2016, the threat that should have loomed large in the CFL barely registered against opposing teams.
On paper, last year’s squad looked great. This year’s group looks absolutely lethal by comparison. General manager Kavis Reed went for broke as this squad was assembled for one purpose and one purpose only: Catch touchdowns from Darian Durant.
Let’s have a look at the offensive weapons for the Birds of Prey.
Reed made a pretty big splash before free agency started when he traded for Darian Durant. But then he made a HUGE splash when he signed free agent receiver Ernest Jackson. It was a move that caught everyone by surprise as it seemed like Jackson was ready to sign with Toronto. But the instability of the Argos at that time gave the 2016 Grey Cup champion a chance to reconsider. Kavis swooped in and EJack, who was recently named by his peers as having the best hands in the CFL, is now a Montreal Alouette!
The heart & soul of this receiving corps and quite possibly this entire Alouettes team is none other than Nik Lewis. With all due respect to Bear Woods, I will never waver from the opinion that Thick Nik should have been named the Alouettes’ Most Outstanding Player for 2016. You can call him fat, you can call him old, you could even argue that Nik’s best years are now behind him. But you’d be wrong and Nik will only be too happy to prove it, time and time again. Lewis has stated on more than one occasion that he sees himself playing in this year’s Grey Cup. Based on his determination and the intensity of his off-season workouts, I have little doubt that he’ll get there or die trying.
2016 felt like a tale of two seasons for Montreal’s premier National receiver, Samuel Giguere. The first half of the season was less than favourable for the Sherbrooke native. He struggled to develop a connection with then-QB Kevin Glenn, looking out of place in Anthony Calvillo‘s offense. Sam was still lightning-fast on his feet, but successful receptions were few and far between. When Jacques Chapdelaine took over the play-calling, he found a way to make Giguere into a true playmaker and chemistry was developed right away with Vernon Adams, Montreal’s young QB. Now that he’ll be catching balls from a savvy vet in Darian Durant, I think that Sam can only benefit and continue to dazzle us further.
On the ground, you’re not going to find a better overall tailback in this league than Tyrell Sutton. He combines size and speed with an incredibly sharp football mind. Sutton was expected to dominate in 2016 but injuries derailed Tyrell’s bid to repeat as the CFL’s leading rusher. Now living in Montreal year-round, Sutton is very much a part of this community and is as focused as ever. He knows that his job is at stake and he will not let anyone just walk in and take it from him.
Last year was a strong one statistically for Brandon Rutley. He stepped in while Sutton was injured and played very well, amassing 800 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. A dual threat, Brandon catches as well as he runs and is often hard to stop. Rutley has improved every single year and with a stable, experienced coaching staff in place, I can see him becoming more of a household name in Montreal in 2017. All Rutley truly needs is the chance to properly show Coach Chapdelaine all that he can do.
One question that will hopefully be answered by the end of training camp will be what the heck do you do with Jean-Christophe Beaulieu? This should be a no-brainer, as he’s a viable threat both on the ground and with his hands. Despite tight ends not being as valued as they should be in the CFL, Beaulieu has got all the physical tools and should always be considered dangerous in the red zone. With any luck, this will finally be the year for this former member of the Vert et Or.
There is a groundswell of youth that is rising up and preparing to take the next step for the Montreal Alouettes. The following young men are right at the cusp of breaking out and I am looking forward to seeing what they can do for Montreal in 2017.
If you’re sad about S.J. Green no longer playing for the Alouettes, you’re not alone. But let me introduce you to this team’s next great wide receiver, B.J. Cunningham! It sounds awful to say, but this former Michigan State standout benefited greatly from the season-ending injury to Green last year. Cunningham showed promise in 2015 while on the practice roster, then stepped up to the plate in 2016 and made a name for himself. A bonafide deep threat, he will benefit from his new QB and will not look out of place lining up full-time along with stars like Jackson and Lewis. It won’t be easy to make Alouettes fans forget about a legend like S.J., but I expect B.J. to fill the void very nicely.
The one free agency move that really got me excited was the one that I had hoped would happen in my free agency preview; the signing of National receiver Devon Bailey. Montreal desperately needs another strong Canadian receiver behind Sam Giguere and Bailey will finally get the chance to emerge. Overlooked when he was in Edmonton, Devon is only 25 and already a Grey Cup champion. Being able to leap up and haul in those long bombs from Darian Durant and/or Vernon Adams is going to do wonders for this Mississauga native.
I’ve been high on Alex Charette and his potential for quite some time now; he just needs to stay healthy long enough to really showcase what he can do. Only dressing for 9 games last season due to injuries, Charette never got to follow through on a promising rookie campaign in 2015. Call it the dreaded sophomore jinx. Like Bailey, Alex is a young National that in the right system, can produce on the football field. The Alouettes went heavy on wideouts in this year’s CFL draft so Charette will have to be ready to excel when training camp opens this Sunday.
You can pretty much take the last paragraph and replace the name Alex Charette with Alex Pierzchalski and it would be more or less the same story. After a stellar rookie campaign with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2014, this Ottawa native signed with the hometown RedBlacks in 2015. Unable to crack their lineup, Pierzchalski was released last season and by year’s end, Montreal had added this lanky receiver to their practice roster. Watching Ottawa win the Grey Cup without him is surely motivation enough for Alex to put forth his best efforts and prove that he belongs on a CFL roster.
The Alouettes thought highly enough of Wayne Moore to select him in the second round of last year’s draft. But he was injured early on and never once saw the field in 2016. You look at the tale of the tape for Moore and can’t help but think that he’s essentially a smaller version of Jerome Messam. He’s still very raw but has the potential to be that power tailback who can run roughshod like Messam is currently doing for Calgary.
Signed earlier this week by the Alouettes, former university standout Dillon Campbell is looking to redeem himself. A late draft pick by the Toronto Argonauts in 2015, Campbell never caught on with the Double Blue despite them needing an eventual replacement for Andre Durie. He was also on Saskatchewan’s practice roster for a spell during the 2016 season. It seems doubtful that Campbell will unseat either Tyrell Sutton or Brandon Rutley. But if Dillon can find the form that made him the all-time leading rusher for the Laurier Golden Hawks, then the Als may have to reconsider some of their ratio plans.
Worthy of an honorable mention are Tiquan Underwood and Seydou Junior Haidara, both solid young veterans that can add depth to the Alouettes’ receiving corps. Both have had relative success with other CFL teams in years previous, but there are only so many open roster spots to go around.
Between the youngsters listed above and the 2017 draft class being chock full of receivers, both Underwood and Haidara will have to really be outstanding in camp in order to even be considered for one of those coveted roster spots.
So there you have it, the potential line-up for the Montreal Alouettes on offense. Starting tomorrow we will take an in-depth look at the Alouettes’ defense, still one of the CFL’s most feared units.