Rejoice, Alouettes Nation; Your lone Thursday night game in 2018 is here and will be out of the way just as quickly!
The Montreal Alouettes return to Percival Molson Stadium to face the Edmonton Eskimos, who will be coming off a bye week. Edmonton brings with them an eight game winning streak versus the Birds of Prey. The last time the Alouettes won a football game versus the Eskimos was October 5, 2013. Interestingly enough, that was THEIR eighth consecutive victory versus the Green and Gold dating back to 2010.
While everyone seems to be buzzing about the prospect of seeing new quarterback Johnny Manziel make his debut wearing Alouettes colours, the one name that people should be concentrating on is the guy who actually will be the starting quarterback for the Alouettes tonight: Vernon Adams Jr.
Adams will be making his first CFL start since November 5, 2016, a game that should have cemented him as the starting quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes going in the 2017 season. Instead, it saw Adams take a back seat to Darian Durant and then eventually be traded to Saskatchewan.
Despite Riders Head Coach/GM Chris Jones coveting Adams after watching the mobile dynamo earn his first CFL win against those same Riders, it simply wasn’t the right fit in the prairies. The former University of Oregon star was shipped off to Hamilton and it seemed like he would be given a chance to finally showcase his talents.
But then along came Johnny Football to the Tigers-Cats, who held the former Heisman trophy winner’s rights. Once again, Adams was the odd man out. Despite all the setbacks, Vernon has remained positive and brings that infectious attitude to work every day.
It seems preposterous that a quarterback who is undefeated in his brief CFL career can’t seem to catch a break, but here we are. Adams has stated that he loves the city of Montreal and is confident that he can put his first professional football team on his back and lead them to victory. He will get that chance tonight.
The biggest question will be whether Alouettes OC Khari Jones can adjust his play-calling to better suit the mobile Adams. After weeks of a plodding offense led by Drew Willy that has not produced any significant scoring, the insertion of a playmaker that can escape the pocket will be a welcome sight for fans eager to see some touchdowns.
While everyone will be focusing on who will possibly be under centre for the Alouettes, I think the real focus should be on Khari and just how he will call this game for Montreal. As easy as it is to harp on whomever the quarterback is, none of the dozens of QBs that have tried to succeed Anthony Calvillo are calling their own plays. That task falls on the offensive coordinator, who many people have tried to be for the Alouettes with only dismal results to show for it.
After all of the hype that came this off-season with Jones and the experience that he was supposedly going to bring to the Alouettes, he’s honestly looked not much different than the failed coordinators of the past 5 years. Simply put, Khari has to be better as well. He now has a weapon at his disposal that can potentially be better than what he had to work with earlier in the year. Both Jones and Vernon Adams have a lot to prove and a very little window to do it in.
But let’s be honest, you came here to see whether I think Johnny Manziel will see any action tonight. And to tell you the truth, he probably will.
The depth chart currently lists Manziel as the third string quarterback behind Adams and Matthew Shiltz. Typically, the third stringer only sees action if there’s a significant injury to one or both QBs. But Manziel is certainly no ordinary third string quarterback. The Alouettes paid a hefty prices for his services and he will get the opportunity to play, something that was denied to him while a member of the Tiger-Cats.
But expecting Manziel to learn the Alouettes playbook in 72 hours is an extremely tall order; if it were even possible for him to do so, he certainly wouldn’t be wasting his time reviving his career in the CFL. Despite the hype of this enigmatic superstar gripping the city of Montreal by the throat, common sense has to prevail and this coaching staff would be doing Manziel a major disservice by throwing him out to play in any great capacity.
If they absolutely HAD to throw him out there in order to justify the number of Manziel jerseys that are no doubt being ordered and prepared for sale at the game, then have him in for third down gambles or goal line plunges. While I am not discrediting the work he has put in while in Hamilton, the fact remains that Manziel still has not taken a regular season snap in this league.
That can’t solely be as a result of the stellar play of Jeremiah Masoli. As a matter of fact, fans were clamouring for Manziel to come into the game last week as the Tiger-Cats blew a 10 point lead to the Roughriders en route to a loss at home. And he had several weeks to get the Hamilton playbook down, so why wasn’t he inserted then?
There’s no denying that Johnny Manziel will be given every opportunity to succeed with the Montreal Alouettes. But the quarterback position takes time to learn and grow into. A couple of days’ work at Olympic Stadium is not nearly enough to declare this young man the team’s starter, no matter how putrid the Alouettes have been this season.
Lord knows that I have been wrong before. But I doubt I am here.
On to the game itself. Edmonton comes in on that 8 game winning streak versus Montreal and unfortunately for the Alouettes, Mike Reilly is still the quarterback for the Eskimos. Even though he hasn’t been putting up his usual monster numbers, Reilly is still a force to be reckoned with. He still has his dangerous receiving corps to heave bombs to and he will have C.J. Gable in the backfield ready to go.
Montreal’s defense will have their hands full trying to corral the likes of Duke Williams, Kenny Stafford and Derel Walker. But the secondary has done a solid job making adjustments and keeping opposing points off the board in the second half. They just have to find a way to do it in the first half as well.
Dominique Ellis will be starting at safety, allowing rookies Najee Murray and Tyquewan Glass to start at DB. They will team up with a pair of great defensive minds in Tommie Campbell and Mitchell White, who have made the shutdown corner role their own. In another interesting note, Glass will also be returning kicks on special teams along with Ryder Stone.
Injuries are playing a factor in how the Alouettes utilize their talent. Montreal’s O-Line is no exception and the additions of Tony Washington and Landon Rice (the other pieces of the Manziel trade) will be welcome ones. Washington has made a career defending the blindside of his quarterback, winning Grey Cups along the way. Rice will help maintain the mostly National status of the O-Line and will help lighten the load at right tackle.
Montreal will also need their playmakers to, well, make plays. Newly acquired receiver Adarius Bowman will not face the Eskimos, who he spent the majority of his career with. So the Alouettes will counter with Chris Harper in the spot previously occupied by Chris Williams. With Vernon Adams being able to improvise on his feet, perhaps he can finally awaken Ernest Jackson from his season-long slumber and make him a part of this offense again.
In the loss to Calgary we saw Tyrell Sutton being properly used, even serving as a dual threat as rusher & reciever. Putting the ball in Sutty’s hands has to happen with a great frequency; it worked well in Calgary and it can surely do wonders again. Adams relied heavily on Sutton during that three game winning streak in the tail end of 2016. I can easily see that connection starting up again.
As per usual, no one is giving the Alouettes any chance of a victory. But I look at both of these teams and I can actually see the potential for a shootout. Both QBs are inspired and can will their teams to victory. Both are playmakers and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see them trade TDs back and forth all game long. Montreal’s stagnant offense needs a kick in the ass; the man they call Big Play VA could very well be the one to do it.
There will be $2 hot dogs at the game tomorrow and the halftime show will consist of someone named Loud as part of the CFL on TSN’s summer concert series. As this isn’t a music column, I don’t know if they are any good. Quite frankly, I have never even heard of this musical act. But fans will likely be too busy buying Johnny Manziel jerseys to really even pay attention to the music.
If you’re going to the game, be sure to swing by the tailgate on the East side of the stadium. The folks at Les Gars Qui Vivent will be there to greet you and provide everything you need to have a great pre-game celebration. Just look for the silver trailer and the blue tent.
As always, follow along on Twitter for all your last minute thoughts and analysis.
That’s all for now. Whether we are ready for it or not, the Johnny Manziel era will begin in Montreal in some form tonight. But I will not be surprised if Vernon Adams steals the show for the Alouettes. You shouldn’t be either.
Enjoy the game, regardless of where you watch it.
GO ALS GO!!!