We’re back to discuss the names that will be in the programs and on your lips this season. There’s some new faces, some old ones. Men who have won championships and lost them. Players that you know and love and players who you may have despised but now will learn to love because they are rocking your team’s colours.
Who knows, maybe by the time you make your way to camp on Sunday and see these guys in action, you may decide that your wardrobe is sorely lacking a jersey with the name of one of these players. I’m personally always leery of adding a player’s name to a jersey myself, but I can think of no better way to pay tribute to the hard work and sacrifice that these guys put in day in and day out.
It’s time to break down this 2018 Montreal Alouettes team by position.
For crying out loud, this position was supposed to be settled already!!
And yet, it seems like every time the Alouettes think they finally have their man under centre, they suddenly don’t. One of my favourite memes on Twitter is this photo detailing the long list of Cleveland Browns starting quarterbacks over the years:
Hilarious, but in all reality this clever dig could easily be done for the Montreal Alouettes as well. In the CFL, if you don’t have a quality QB, you will not be successful. End of story.
This team has gone through CFL veterans, NFL has-beens, never-will-bes and many others in between in the hope of finding the next Anthony Calvillo, who played his last game for the Alouettes FIVE YEARS AGO.
Last year, the Alouettes had the following going into camp: a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Darian Durant, a future stud in Vernon Adams Jr. and Jacory Harris, a QB who every “expert” expected to emerge because he was in Edmonton when Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed was the Eskimos’ head coach. Per those same experts, that automatically means you will be gift-wrapped the starting job. </sarcasm>
Well, Durant had slivers of success but ultimately failed in Montreal. Adams was shipped off to Saskatchewan to make room for Drew Willy, a mid-season addition who was less than stellar playing in Anthony Calvillo’s anemic offense. And Harris saw so little action that washing his uniform seemed like a waste of time for the equipment managers.
As training camp begins on Sunday, the question of who will be the Alouettes’ starting quarterback still is not answered. Which as a result has everyone doubting that this team will have any success in 2018. It is a major question mark, but let’s take a look at who will be at camp and could possibly emerge as the starting QB for Montreal:
Josh Freeman: Yes, THAT Josh Freeman. Former NFL quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings. This former first round draft pick has played well in many instances, but was not able to sustain a successful NFL career. He has come up north in order to redeem himself and how quickly he will pick up the Canadian game will determine just how long his CFL career will be.
Drew Willy: A former Grey Cup champion with stops in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Toronto, Willy has the dubious honour of being the only QB on the Alouettes’ roster with more than one year of CFL experience. As stated, he joined the Als during the season last year and dressed for six games, seeing action when Darian Durant was not playing well.
Matthew Shiltz: A virtual unknown at camp last year, the young QB from Butler played well in the pre-season and was solid enough to win a roster spot behind Durant and Adams. Shiltz only appeared in four games last season, but his ceiling is very high and I am curious to see what current Alouettes Offensive Coordinator/former CFL QB Khari Jones can do to develop the talent within this youngster.
Antonio Pipkin: Pipkin spent nearly the entire 2017 season on the practice roster. His lone appearance came at the end of the last game of the year in Hamilton. That game was memorable for all the wrong reasons. But Pipkin set a majority of the QB records at his alma mater Tiffin University and spent this off-season working with his fellow QB Matthew Shiltz to get better on the field. Perhaps he and Shiltz can be a 1-2 quarterbacking punch for the Alouettes in 2018.
Garrett Fugate: Not much is known about Fugate, but he excelled at the collegiate level for Central Missouri with great accuracy and pocket presence. He will certainly be given a chance to shine at training camp as he puts his 6’3 frame and cannon arm to work under centre.
When they started the 2017 season, this Alouettes offensive line looked very good and did a great job in protecting their quarterback, giving him the opportunity to make plays. In fact, it took multiple games before Darian Durant was sacked for a loss. I think it’s fair to say that had this group of big men stayed healthy and played consistently, perhaps this team wouldn’t have finished the season losing its final eleven games.
Once again, there’s a new coach looking to guide these behemoths back to glory. Paul Dunn brings a wealth of experience at the position, including NFL stops with the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. Normally you would be concerned with the lack of CFL experience but the offensive line is universal when it comes to football.
Dunn will have some great veterans and some solid young prospects that will be looking to step up to the next level. For the first time in a while, there’s actually some good depth at this crucial position. Once again, it will not be all-National, but it will feature a lot of beef that will protect whomever will win the starting QB job.
The leader and captain of this line remains Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, the battle-tested centre who has won back-to-back Grey Cups with Montreal. As he approaches the twilight of his CFL career, this team will eventually have to consider who will one day replace LBJ at centre. But even with a decade of playing time under his belt, Luc still has that youthful energy to him and he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not ready to hang up his cleats just yet.
When he played, Jovon Olafioye was his old self and was a terrific addition to this Alouettes team that needed all the help it could get. But he played hurt and it showed some major chinks in the armour. Jovon only played 12 games in 2017 but he can still be a major threat if his health remains intact.
Kavis Reed acknowledged that this offensive line still needed some major punch. So 24 hours before the CFL draft, he swung a deal that saw the return of Ryan Bomben to the Montreal Alouettes. Bomben spent a productive three years in the Hammer and is already looking forward to working with some old friends and meeting his new squad members. Perhaps we may even see him score another “big man touchdown” like he did once for Montreal in 2012!
Helping to bookend this O-Line is Xavier Fulton, who was added to the roster mid-season to help stem the many injuries that Montreal suffered. Fully entrenched in the Alouettes now, I expect more from this former Grey Cup champion.
Re-signing National veteran Philip Blake before free agency got underway was a major coup for Kavis Reed. Blake is in the prime of his career and can still perform at a high level. He will also provide leadership for the rookies and leave it all out on the field come game day.
Kristian Matte was an Alouettes first round draft pick and has stepped up every time when needed for Montreal, as guard and even as centre. He has been a consistent presence the past few years and will be heavily relied upon again in 2018.
One of the major disappointments of 2017 was the limited playing time of Phillipe Gagnon. Beset by injuries, we never got to see just how well he’s come along as a player. He will be expected along with fellow 2016 draftee Sean Jamieson to take that next step and become eventual full-time participants on this O-Line. These young National players still have their whole careers ahead of them, but the pressure is on to perform now for this team.
Rounding out this group is Zach Annen, Anthony Morris and Cory Tucker. Annen will be the one to keep an eye on, as he was a very talented centre for Carleton University and could be the eventual replacement for LBJ. Morris and Tucker are also a pair of massive international players that can make some noise if given the chance. These three fellas are in their mid-twenties and will be looking to make names for themselves when camp opens on Sunday.
Tomorrow, we’ll finish up the offensive side of the ball with a detailed look at the playmakers for the Montreal Alouettes; Running backs and Receivers!