It’s finally here. GAMEDAY!
The off-season is finished and training camp is but a memory. Tonight, the Montreal Alouettes play the first of 18 games and they will be facing a familiar foe; the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Already the match has a big-time feel to it due to the fact that the Riders’ long-time starting quarterback…..is now Montreal’s starting quarterback. The crown jewel of general manager Kavis Reed‘s empire is none other than Darian Durant, who led the Riders behind centre for nearly a decade. Durant brought Saskatchewan to three Grey Cup games, winning one at home in front of Rider Nation in 2013.
Both teams have a new look for 2017 as they both look to shed the losing image that has befallen them over the past couple of seasons. Both squads have loaded up with talent while letting fan favourites walk out the door. It’s been a tumultuous off-season for fans of both teams, but change often comes at a major price and the sticker shock hits hard.
It’s interesting to note just how many former Alouettes are now with Saskatchewan that started 2016 with Montreal. Names like Kevin Glenn, Duron Carter and Brandon Bridge immediately jump off the page. Plus there are names like Mike Edem, Ryan White and Ed Gainey, who have all suited up for the Als once upon a time. Not to mention Jovon Johnson, who was released by Montreal earlier this week, now will be plying his trade in the prairies.
We were nearly treated to the shocking sight of long-time Alouette star Marc-Olivier Brouillette in Rider green, but he opted to call it a career before potentially showing up here in a completely different colour scheme.
There will be no love lost tonight, as both teams will be looking to put points on the board and establish themselves right off the bat. Having a Darian Durant is nice, but he does need talented receivers to throw to. Everyone will be looking to 2016 Grey Cup champion Ernest Jackson as the premier target for Doubles, but don’t be surprised if B.J. Cunningham ends up being the one with more receptions and possible touchdowns.
Last year Cunningham stepped into the void that S.J. Green left due to a major knee injury and was one of the few offensive bright spots. I truly believe this will be the real breakout year for this former Michigan State Spartan. Both Jackson and Cunningham will be the playmakers in the air that Darian Durant needs in order to succeed.
On the ground is the one-two punch of Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Rutley, who will both be rotated in frequently. Head Coach Jacques Chapdelaine is wanting to further develop the ground game and these two speedsters will answer the call. But as always, the one name to watch out for on offense is the perpetually dangerous Nik Lewis.
There are rumblings that this will be the last season for this Hall of Fame-bound receiver. But he wants to set some more records along the way and retire a Grey Cup champion. Lewis has taken his health very seriously and despite still looking built like a fire hydrant, Thick Nik has become the heart and soul of this team and is ready to dominate yet again. Counting out this big lug would be a very unwise thing for defenders to do this season.
Once again, the bread and butter of this team is the defense. Montreal is still going young in the secondary with the returning Jonathon Mincy, Greg Henderson and Tyree Hollins all looking to build off their impressive rookie campaigns. Joining them will be newcomer Travis Hawkins, who has looked incredible in camp and nearly had a pick-six in his debut game last week versus Ottawa.
Replacing Bear Woods will be tough and I don’t think you can ever really do so. But Dominique Tovell will do all he can to shore up the middle linebacker spot for Montreal. He will have experienced National talent behind him, as both Nicolas Boulay and Fred Plesius will also slot in. Bookended by both Chip Cox and Kyries Hebert, the linebacking corps will be looking to make opposing QB Kevin Glenn’s night a long one.
Say what you will about the personnel moves made by this Alouettes team, but this Noel Thorpe defense doesn’t take too many missteps. I don’t think Montreal will limit Saskatchewan to a mere five points like they did to the Redblacks’ taxi squad last week, but this defensive squad will come to feast. As long as this defense is on point, the Alouettes will be in this match and every other one in 2017.
This season will be one of redemption for the Montreal Alouettes. This organization has gone all-out and will not be content to just coast by. A lot of changes had to be made and once the shock of seeing certain members of this organization gone wore off, it became clear that the old guard had to make way for something new.
There’s a lot to be excited about for 2017 in Montreal; for years, this team has lacked true leadership and direction. That is no longer the case. There’s new blood in the front office, a coaching staff looking to establish themselves and a mix of youth with savvy veteran presence on the field. I can’t promise that this team will go 18-0 and win a Grey Cup, but I do feel confident that the pieces in place will produce some very exciting football.
No matter what, be sure to get to the stadium early and partake in the excitement that will be in the summer air. Be sure to swing by the tailgate and spend some time with Les Gars Qui Vivent, the party hosts ready to enhance your game day with food, fans and fun. Just look for the silver trailer and the blue tent near the east side of the stadium.
Also back for 2017 is the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast! Join myself and Tim Capper as we offer up our views from the stands and beyond. Season Two will feature much more content as we invite players, coaches and more to join us and share all things Alouettes with you, the fans of the CFL. A proud member of the Canadian Football Podcast Network, you can find all Alouettes Flightdeck episodes for your listening pleasure on Podbean as well as on iTunes and Google Play Music.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. A brand new season of CFL football kicks off tonight! Montreal, are you ready for some football??
GO ALS GO!!!