The ALSternative — 2017 Pre-Season Game 2 Recap

For another season, the Montreal Alouettes training camp has come to an end. And the grand finale featured a 38-5 thumping of the defending Grey Cup champion Ottawa RedBlacks.

Last night was the first taste of action for many of the veterans. It was also the debut in red/white/blue of newcomers like Darian Durant and Ernest Jackson. Many took the field with the goal of making a good first impression with their new squad. For others, it was their final opportunity to prove that they are worthy of one of the 46 roster spots that are up for grabs.

The Birds of Prey faced a RedBlacks team that left a majority of their stars at home in the nation’s capital. Rather than use this game as a final tune-up for their first regular season game, Ottawa chose to bring the players who were on the bubble in order to see what kind of depth they had.

Montreal was simply dominant and those in attendance were treated to a taste of what is to come in 2017. Suffice to say, there is a LOT to be excited about.

– As stated before, this was the first look at Darian Durant in an Alouettes uniform. He did not disappoint, going 7/12 and throwing for 113 yards in his lone quarter of play. He managed to find both Tiquan Underwood and B.J. Cunningham for touchdowns, throwing absolute strikes to each. There’s no doubt in my mind that with Durant lobbing bombs to him, Cunningham is going to be a true superstar in this league in 2017.

– Last week , Montreal special teams’ play was extremely solid. It was even better this week, as the unit allowed Stefan Logan to showcase his speed and give Montreal some excellent starting field position. They also set the tone right on the opening kickoff as late camp addition (and former RedBlack!) Mikhail Chartrand rattled Shakir Bell‘s cage, forcing a fumble which was recovered right away by the Alouettes.

For years, special teams has been the Alouettes’ Achilles heel. But under new coach Bruce Read, there’s a lot to be encouraged about. Speaking with some of the special teams vets, they are very pleased with how Read has come in and handled himself thus far. He is still learning the nuances of the Canadian game, but so far this hire has been a very good one for Montreal.

– Once again, this team is going to be a defensive juggernaut. Ottawa turned the ball over several times yesterday evening thanks to some hard-hitting, smart play from Noel Thorpe‘s charges. Simply put, if you make the final cut on this defensive corps then you’ve proven that you are ready to feast. We’re seeing a lot of the youth movement take shape with Travis Hawkins, Dondre Wright and Tyree Hollins all playing outstanding football last night.

But don’t count out the veterans either! Whether it’s Gabe Knapton and Jesse Joseph making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, Jean-Samuel Blanc trucking opponents or even the ageless Jovon Johnson sealing the fate of his former team with a late INT, this Montreal defense is going to administer a lot of pain this coming season. If this Alouettes offense can stay on the field longer in 2017 and generate the kind of firepower that it did last night, then this defense won’t be sucking wind by the end of the third quarter like in years previous.

Boris Bede. My word. Whatever was messing with his head last season is not only gone, it was probably booted far, far away by this France-born kicker. Bede was perfect in both pre-season games when it came to field goals and his punting is on point. There’s always room for improvement, but Boris has been outstanding in 2017 and Montreal proved smart by not giving up on the former Vanier Cup champion.

– The backup quarterback battle has been an interesting one, as Vernon Adams was automatically expected to be #2 behind Durant. Then Jacory Harris was signed in free agency and small school phenom Matthew Shiltz came in and impressed with his camp play. Last week’s game versus Toronto saw some fairly uninspired play from Adams and Harris, while Shiltz scored the lone Montreal touchdown.

Last night, Adams was given more time to develop and as has been the case with him, started slowly and finished strong. Shiltz looked decent but still has a long way to go in this league. Harris came in for mop-up duty last night and may end up being the odd man out, especially with word that former NFL standout Josh Freeman was worked out before a camp session this week and was also in attendance at yesterday’s game.

If Montreal does bring in Freeman as a potential CFL project, there’s no way all four QBs can survive in Montreal together. Many assumed that Harris and his history with Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed would be an eventual replacement for the big salary of Adams. But based on pre-season play, I’d say the opening day QB roster is

  1. D. Durant
  2. V. Adams
  3. M. Shiltz

A lot will depend on just how big an impression the former NFL star Freeman made.

– The attendance wasn’t the greatest at Percival Molson last night, but as usual this team lives and dies by its Thursday night games. Also, expecting fans to pay full pop for these exhibition games when both TSN and RDS were showing the game on TV wasn’t going to help fill the stadium. I’m still of the opinion that all CFL pre-season games need to be played on the weekend and tickets shouldn’t cost more than $25 apiece. But that’s a column for another day.

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So as great as it was to be back watching live football, last night was the beginning of the end for many of these players, as now the coaching staff must prepare to make some extremely tough decisions. The final 46 man roster (and 10 practice roster players) must be submitted to the league by 10pm this Saturday.

That means that for many, last night was the only action that they will see in Montreal. Their best may not be good enough and all they will get for their three weeks of hard work and effort is a handshake and a plane ticket back home.

Every year seems to bring out some surprise cuts and this year may not be different, as Kavis Reed looks to continue leaving his imprint on this franchise and truly making it his own. Already Reed has let a lot of fan favourites walk out the door. Could even more also be on their way out? Or will they get to stay and be a part of this franchise rebuilding?

We’ll know soon enough and I have no doubt some folks are going to take the news of the cuts very hard. Even during last night’s game, fans were still dismayed at the idea of Bear Woods and S.J. Green no longer wearing Alouettes’ colours. I can only imagine if any other favourites are shown the door by Saturday’s deadline.

No matter what, we’ll be back when the dust settles to break down who stays and who goes here on The ALSternative.

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That’s all for now. Whether you watched the game live at the mountain or on TV, be happy Alouettes Nation; football is truly back. And it’s only just getting started!

GO ALS GO!!!

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