The ALSternative: An in-depth look at CFLFA 2018 for the Montreal Alouettes

Two weeks have passed since the nine teams that make up the Canadian Football League got their 2018 season under way. Whether you want to call it a re-building or a re-tooling, every team made moves in hopes that they found the right personnel needed to compete for and hopefully play in the 106th Grey Cup game later this year.

The Montreal Alouettes drew a lot of curiosity league-wide as to what they would be doing when free agency started up. Or to be more specific, what foolish moves they would make, as it seemed like everyone fully expected general manager Kavis Reed to build an even more dysfunctional team that the one that sported a 3-15 record last season.

There was also ridiculous speculation that no potential free agents would have any interest in signing with Montreal due to the malaise that has befallen this team of late. Or that in order to coerce players to join the Alouettes, the team would have to overpay for the services of said players.

I suppose you’ll never go broke catering to the lowest common denominator. Without question, there was very little to write home about in regards to the 2017 Montreal Alouettes. But to automatically assume that this team would actively go out of their way to get worse? Or that they’d spend themselves into oblivion in order to have household names on the roster?

As is often the case, this was all hot air blown around. But after a tumultuous few seasons for these Alouettes, I suppose it’s probably easier for detractors to assume the worst and that Reed will automatically make all the wrong moves.

Remember back when the Alouettes were allegedly $300,000 over the salary cap? That turned out to be all false information. But hey, it gets people talking, right? Gotta get those clicks and sell those newspapers.

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So what all DID the Montreal Alouettes do when it came to free agency? It was crucial that the Alouettes get younger and stronger in all areas. When you post a 3-15 regular season record, the desire for wholesale change is tempting.

If nothing seems to be working, why keep any part of it? Fire the bums and bring in real talent, many fans would shout from the mountain tops!

But football doesn’t quite work that way. And with a new coaching staff in place that only has last year’s game tape to evaluate current talent with, you may not necessarily want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

This is part of the game; to see what’s already in place that will work and then adding that right blend of talent that turns you from a bad team into a good team. Without further ado, let’s see who’s coming back as well as who’s joining the Montreal Alouettes in 2018.

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To start off the free agency extravaganza, the Alouettes were able to retain the services of kicker Boris Bede, DB Tevaughn Campbell, REC Seydou Junior Haidara and OLs Xavier Fulton and Matt Vonk.

I stated earlier that both Campbell and Fulton were among the Alouettes that had to be brought back in 2018. Neither are considered superstars, but they both are great depth players and will help their respective positions blossom.

Bede had a very solid campaign last season and Kavis Reed clearly sees the value in the booming leg that Boris brings. Making 29 of 35 field goals last season, Bede was at times one of the few producers of points for Montreal.

Vonk came over from the Saskatchewan Roughriders last year via trade. He only played in nine games before his season was cut short due to injury. Still not yet in his prime, Vonk will provide National depth at the lineman position and will get the chance to establish himself when training camp opens.

Haidara hasn’t seen a whole lot of in-game action, other than on special teams. The former Rouge et Or star will have to really show out this season as there in a need on this team for a true National receiver. Younger talent will be asked to step up as well here and S.J. will be in tough.

Also returning to the Alouettes are quarterback Drew Willy and REC Stephen Adekolu. Willy was added to the roster as last season progressed and failed to truly capture the fans’ imagination.

But the Alouettes’ offense in general was an utter trainwreck with little to no direction, so who knows if Alouettes Nation truly got all that they could have with Willy. I’m personally of the opinion that we’ve seen all that there is to see of this guy. I think he will be a perennial backup in this league and that’s not a bad thing, really.

Management seems to think different on this subject. Despite being the only quarterback with extensive CFL experience, Willy will be in a dogfight for the starting pivot position when camp opens in late May.

Much like S.J. Haidara, Adekolu came over to Montreal after a stint with the BC Lions and has mostly contributed on special teams. With the departure of Sam Giguere, the National receiver position is there for the taking in Montreal and competition will be fierce.

The Alouettes finally have a decent receivers coach in Jason Tucker and he will be expected to get the most out of the talent he has, especially the Canadian born receivers. Training camp has become “make it or break it” time for guys like Haidara and Adekolu.

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Now that we know who’s staying put, let’s see who decided to make at least one “anonymous” CFL agent look like an idiot and signed on the dotted line to join the Alouettes?

For a lot of folks, the biggest fish in the free agency pond was Jamaal Westerman. The former Blue Bomber has been one of the most dominant defensive players in the league since he arrived on the scene in 2015. An injury slowed him up last year but teams were still willing to do what it took to land this National talent.

But Kavis Reed actually jumped on a plane in order to convince this guy to come join his brother Jabar in the 514. Montreal’s D-Line struggled mightily in 2017, despite having the ageless John Bowman on board. Now having BOTH Westermans in the lineup gives this group a major upgrade.

If you’re going to steal talent, you may as well take from the team that has played in 3 of the last 4 Grey Cup games. Montreal gave ex-Stamps player/coach Kahlil Carter a chance to prove that he can put together a killer defense. Many speculated that some Stamps would follow Carter to the 514. They were correct.

With the addition of Tommie Campbell & Joe Burnett, Montreal’s secondary vastly improves. Campbell has established himself as a premier shutdown corner while Burnett has a wealth of experience in making opposing QBs look foolish. I think Alouettes fans who were missing that exciting, punishing defense of 2013 & 2014 will be very excited to see these fresh faces in the lineup.

And speaking of that defense of yesteryear, who could have possibly imagined the return of two of the stars of that defense? Kavis Reed righted a major wrong by bringing back Dominique Ellis and Mitchell White to the Alouettes. Cut unceremoniously after 2016’s training camp, Ellis and White are back and bring that same explosive playmaking ability with them.

White also brings a bit of hardware in the form of TWO Grey Cup rings, winning one in 2016 with Ottawa and last season with the Argos. I won’t automatically assume that signing a Mitchell White guarantees you a Grey Cup win, but when other people in the CFL take note of it….

Kyle Knox is not yet a household name. But Montreal’s newest linebacker is ready to bring some serious play to training camp. In 17 games with the Blue Bombers last season, he notched 33 defensive tackles, a pair of QB sacks and a pair of knockdowns. Just entering the prime of his career, I’m intrigued to see Kyle lining up with Branden Dozier to deliver some punishment to opposing teams. Watch this be the underrated roster move of the off-season for Montreal.

Having just re-signed Boris Bede, do the Alouettes really need another kicker? I say yes. It never hurts to have some competition in camp and Quinn van Gylswyk will provide that. Quinn was drafted by the Roughriders in 2016 after a stellar USports career, helping the UBC Thunderbirds win the Vanier Cup with a clutch field goal. He hasn’t gotten too many CFL opportunities but if he has a solid camp, perhaps Montreal can find a role for this young National player.

Montreal needs to re-establish their ground game in 2018. Re-signing Tyrell Sutton was a good start. But then the Alouettes went and traded both Brandon Rutley and J-C Beaulieu, leaving a hole in their backfield. That’s where Shaquille Murray-Lawrence comes in to help fill the void. Used sparingly in his three seasons with the BC Lions, Shaq offers a lot of versatility as he can also return kicks as well. His youth will be well-served and Shaq can be the ratio-breaker that revamps this Alouettes team.

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Of course, signing all this talent means that certain players won’t be returning to the Alouettes in 2018 and will ply their trade elsewhere.

The biggest name on that short list would be Kyries Hebert, who was technically still under contract for another year. But after Montreal’s new coaching staff met with Ky and explained what they had in mind for him in 2018, Hebert decided that perhaps he was better off moving on. The team granted him his release and just a few hours later, the Angry Bird became a member of the Ottawa RedBlacks.

This marks the second year in a row where the Alouettes let the defending Eastern nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive player walk out the door. While Hebert isn’t getting any younger, he still plays at an elite level and his experience is second to none. He will also be reunited in Ottawa with Noel Thorpe, whose defensive schemes have always found a way to make Kyries look even more dangerous.

It would have been great for Hebert to end his illustrious career with the Alouettes, but football rarely works out the way you hope it will. Instead, Ky will likely end his career with the CFL city that gave him his first start (Hebert was a member of the Ottawa Renegades, an ill-fated organization that provided a great example of how NOT to run a CFL franchise).

The BC Lions helped themselves to a trio of former Alouettes when free agency got underway, signing Chris Greaves, Jeremy Lewis and Dominique Termansen to deals. Of the three, Termansen is the one that I feel truly got away. The Vancouver native and former UBC Thunderbird likely couldn’t resist returning home and you can’t fault him for that. Dominique got some valuable reps in Montreal and the fans out on the Left Coast will certainly appreciate his talents on the field.

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My thoughts overall on how the Alouettes did? A statement was made by Kavis Reed.

That last year’s putrid effort was the exception and not the rule. That was made clear with the new coaching staff put in place and these moves are also an indication that Montreal is actively changing in order to get better.

Last year, the defense was a congealed mess with no real direction. That will change this year and some very solid pieces are put into place with that goal in mind. The Alouettes’ offense is still a question mark due to the uncertainty of who will be the quarterback.

But the Alouettes have addressed those needs and locked up some key parts as well to bolster this area. With a real OC in place, Montreal is expected to get better and fast. Khari Jones has his work cut out for him and appears to be confident in who he has in the lineup thus far.

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Naturally, Alouettes fans are concerned as they clearly don’t deal well with change and hate seeing long-time favourites leave the nest. But the reality is that the Alouettes haven’t made the playoffs in three straight seasons and what used to work clearly isn’t anymore. Like it or not, this team needs to grow and evolve. That means creating new stars and fans opening their minds to the next generation of Alouettes.

We won’t know if these free agency moves will work until training camp gets well underway. And while it’s easy to bag on Kavis and the missteps that were taken in 2017, he is being given every opportunity to redeem himself on this grandest of stages. He’s assembled a solid coaching staff and didn’t shy away from landing some quality players in free agency.

I do see the groundwork being laid to what will hopefully be a strong foundation. The next step will be when the CFL Combine takes place during CFL Week later this month. It will be a glimpse into the future of this league. And it’s a dubious honour, but the Alouettes do have the first overall draft pick. They will get to set the course for the future by selecting from the very best talent that Canada has to offer.

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That’s all for now. There’s still lots more news to comb through and we’ll certainly be going more in-depth as the off-season trudges along. Be sure to follow along on Twitter for more thoughts and opinions on everything to do with the Montreal Alouettes.

GO ALS GO!!!

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