Climbing the mountain to the top is easy compared to staying at the summit when you finally reach it.
That will be the task asked of the Montreal Alouettes today as they look to remain in first place of the Eastern division. The Birds of Prey face off against the Toronto Argonauts for the second time in as many weeks, this time at Toronto’s BMO Field. The winner of this tilt will not only return to playing .500 football, but will also sit undisputed atop the Eastern division.
Last week, an injured Ricky Ray could only watch from the sidelines as his understudies Jeff Mathews and Cody Fajardo failed to score any touchdowns against Montreal’s feared defense. Ray will be back in the lineup today and will need to do what the backup QBs couldn’t do in Montreal: find his receivers for touchdowns.
Last week was all about the former Alouettes like S.J. Green and Bear Woods making their return to their former home. This week will be all business as the emotions will be thrown out the window in this budding grudge match. These two teams didn’t have a whole lot of love for each other last week and time will not easily mend those fences.
There will be a lot of debuts in tomorrow’s game for Montreal. After suffering a hamstring injury in training camp that kept him sidelined, Samuel Giguere will finally make his 2017 debut. As Montreal looks to match Toronto with foot speed, Giguere’s blazing- fast ground game will be a welcome sight for Alouettes QB Darian Durant, who can always use another weapon on offense.
Montreal was firing on all cylinders in the first half last Friday, and then played 30 minutes of prevent football, only scoring one field goal as Toronto struggled to generate any consistent offense. Ricky Ray will surely have an answer for that as he leads the CFL in completions where the receiver is deeper than 20 yards downfield, finding his deep threat 25 times in 2017.
This is where the Alouettes’ secondary will be glad to have pass knockdown specialist Greg Henderson back in the lineup. It will be up to Jonathon Mincy to shut down S.J. Green again; he and Tyree Hollins did a masterful job containing the former Alouette last week to a mere 32 yards receiving.
The key for Montreal’s defense will be to take away all of Ray’s weapons and forcing Toronto to run the ball more. Anthony Coombs and Brandon Whitaker looked good on the ground last week, but being able to sustain that will be tough. I’m expecting to see more of Don Oramasionwu dominating the interior and limiting not only the Argos’ running backs, but also getting pressure on Ricky Ray.
The Alouettes cannot afford to play their usual conservative game, specially with the Argos’ legend back behind centre. If they want people to take their first place status seriously, Montreal needs to set the tone early and often as they did in the first half last week.
J-C Beaulieu won’t dress so we will see the debut of Oumar Touré in the fullback spot. Just like Beaulieu, Touré was a very exciting player for the Universite de Sherbrooke and throughout his Usports career, he had this remarkable ability to move even faster when he was hit by a defender to gain even more yardage. If Alouettes head coach Jacques Chapdelaine chooses to incorporate this potential weapon into the game plan, it will be a long afternoon for the Double Blue.
The Alouettes are still looking for their first road win of 2017. If they can walk into BMO Field and take control against the Argos like they did last week, that much more doubt will be erased from this Montreal Alouettes team as they look to stay on top of the East.
The Alouettes decided that developing the quarterback of the future was not all that important, as they shipped backup QB Vernon Adams to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in exchange for Tevaughn Campbell and some draft picks. I have a few theories about this move, which I feel is quite short-sighted.
By the Alouettes trading away Adams who still has his entire career ahead of him, it is now Drew Willy who becomes the backup to Darian Durant. If Durant goes down to injury, can we really feel confident that Willy will be able to step in and lead this offense?
Let’s not forget that the Argos, who paid a tidy sum last season to acquire Willy last season, was subsequently released at the end of Argos training camp this season. That noted QB whisperer Marc Trestman didn’t have faith in Willy spoke volumes at the time. So did the Alouettes’ move to sign Willy to their practice roster.
While Darian Durant is finally starting to rediscover his championship form after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, it’s clear that he won’t be able to play forever. And when Durant does call it a career, will it be Drew Willy who will be considered the heir to the throne? Let’s not forget that he is in his 30s and hasn’t really proven himself to be a viable solution as a starter in the CFL. What you’ve seen with Willy in the past couple of seasons is essentially what you are going to get.
What this move tells me more than anything else is that current quarterbacks coach Anthony Calvillo didn’t feel comfortable enough in being tasked to mentoring a quarterback like Adams. Rather than try to cultivate Adams and his mobile playing style, it appears that Calvillo would rather try to mold a QB in his own image. Perhaps it’d be easier to make Drew Willy into a carbon copy of AC himself.
Let’s not forget that Calvillo enjoyed his greatest success under the guiding hand of Trestman, who breathed new life into the legendary QB and resurrected AC’s career. Maybe Calvillo feels that with a few tweaks, he can take the experienced Willy and make him into the kind of QB that Calvillo himself once was.
Many people suggested that Adams would not have been content to sit on the bench, possibly for years, while Durant continues to start for the Alouettes. I would argue that Anthony Calvillo’s behind sat on the Alouettes bench for two years while learning how to be a leader from another legend in Tracy Ham. And that turned out okay for the Alouettes, did it not?
I had played out this potential scenario to Adams himself earlier this season and he was more than willing to do that if need be. He was excited to learn from both Durant and Calvillo on how to be a leader in the CFL and truly felt that when the time was right, he would be the leader on the field for these Montreal Alouettes.
But now Adams will get the chance to take that career path out in the prairies. Montreal seems destined to just recycle other teams’ QBs versus developing one of their own. Will this pay off in the long-term? Will it be Drew Willy that truly will be the future QB in Montreal? Or will it be one of the youngsters that reside on the practice roster?
While I am excited to see what Tevaughn Campbell can do for Montreal and draft picks are always an interesting gamble, I don’t think that dealing away someone with the potential of Vernon Adams was the wisest course of action. It doesn’t inspire much confidence in how this team plans to develop talent going forward.
Right now it just feels like the plug was pulled far too quickly. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong in my thoughts on this.
That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to taking in this game live at BMO Field, so follow along on Twitter for more thoughts and sights from Toronto.
Enjoy today’s game, regardless of where you watch it.