The ALSternative — 2019 Season Preview Part Two

So Part One of this season preview probably came across as a bit negative. So let’s focus on the real stars of the show: The players.

There’s some old faces and new faces, just like every year before this. Certain fan favourites may not be there anymore due to retirement or the organization simply doesn’t feel that they have a place for these men. That’s just the reality of this sport; everybody loves football, football loves nobody.

The more I look at this current roster for the Montreal Alouettes, there’s a lot to like. The players that have been kept are crucial ones due to their experience and how they have bought into this team’s dynamic. The players added are coming in with something to prove and once Alouettes fans see them in action, I think they’ll be impressed.

On paper, this is a very solid group. While I am leery about the coaching staff’s ability to harness all this talent, my hope is that the talent will rise above it all and put forth a very entertaining product once this season gets underway.

It’s time to break down this 2019 Montreal Alouettes team by position.

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Quarterbacks

Last year’s quarterbacking situation for the Alouettes was bleak, to say the least. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

You had overhyped NFL washouts, a middling at best veteran running strictly on fumes and youngsters thrown to the wolves while wearing meat underwear.  All of this with no real sense of direction week to week. The injury bug did bite these quarterbacks but even when healthy, there really wasn’t much to write home about in 2018.

The Alouettes were given a major blessing in disguise when the CFL forced them to terminate the contract of Johnny Manziel. The former Heisman winner was contractually obligated to play this season, but it was clear that he had no interest in being the next Warren Moon or Doug Flutie like some fans/talking heads had hoped.

Now that the Alouettes don’t have to waste their time “developing” Manziel, they can focus on the QBs coming to camp. And trust me folks, these are some ballers. They are young, hungry and ready to put this city on their backs.

Let’s meet your QBs, Alouettes Nation:

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Vernon Adams Jr.: It’s weird how football works sometimes. Adams was with the Alouettes in 2016, where he started and won the last three games of the season. For a fresh-faced rookie, that was a great accomplishment and gave many people hope for the future. His reward? Being cast aside for free agent Darian Durant and shipped off to Saskatchewan.

Vernon then was traded to Hamilton where he was forced to play second banana to Johnny Manziel and left to die on the vine. Kavis Reed signed Adams upon his release and the stars looked to align for Vernon’s chance to shine. Then the Alouettes traded for Manziel and Vernon was the proverbial red-headed stepchild once again.

Despite all this, Adams has remained focused and ready to prove his worth. As the default veteran of this QB squad, he should be given the chance to redeem himself. I’m thinking Vernon could make his case for Comeback Player of the Year this 2019 season.

Antonio Pipkin: What a wacky ride the 2018 season was for Antonio. Came to camp, was injured and then kicked to the curb because the coaching staff still thought the rotting corpse of Drew Willy still had value (Spolier alert: It didn’t). When the injuries started to pile up behind centre, the Als brought Pipkin back. When Manziel got his bell rung in Ottawa, Pipkin was called upon to lead this team.

And lead he did, with a thrilling win versus Toronto and a solid W versus the RedBlacks. But it just took one bad outing for the coaching staff to relegate Pipkin back to clipboard duty. But Pipkin is still young and has shown incredible poise in his time on the field. He’s put the work in this off-season and like many CFL greats before him, this once-unknown pivot could emerge as the next superstar this league craves.

Matthew Shiltz: I appreciate what these small school quarterbacks can do when given the chance to shine. Shiltz hasn’t been given many opportunities to perform since joining Montreal in 2017, but he’s got the right attitude and stays ready. Matthew prides himself on being as prepared as possible for game day, being an extra set of eyes and ears for the starting QB.

Both he and Pipkin have trained together the past couple of off-seasons and they both have to be motivated by what’s been happening in Montreal the past few seasons. Matt has modeled his game after Peyton Manning (Another guy who wore #18!) and if given the opportunity, I and many others believe Shiltz could truly shine here in Montreal.

Jeff Mathews: A journeyman QB that’s still in his mid 20’s, Mathews is still finding his groove as a CFL quarterback. Previously playing for Hamilton and Toronto, injuries have derailed him in the past and last year in Montreal was no different with a high ankle sprain.

But Mathews has recovered and is focused on proving doubters wrong. He’ll be in tough when training camp starts and will have the make the most of every single rep he gets.

Hugo Richard: Everyone talks about the dream of a Canadian-born quarterback playing full-time in the CFL and succeeding. Now imagine if a Quebec-born QB could come play for the Alouettes and win! If that’s going to happen, Hugo is going to have to work twice as hard as he did when he was winning Vanier Cups with the Laval Rouge et Or.

Richard will no doubt see some serious reps when the Alouettes play their home preseason game. Whether or not that’s all we’ll see of him remains up to how bad the young Quebecois wants this.

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Offensive Line

These big lugs rarely get the love they deserve. But if you want to protect the quarterback and give him the chance to make plays, you need the beef in front of him. Five massive men that protect and serve, that’s your offensive line.

It’s been a work in progress trying to make this O-Line work in Montreal. Injuries and a lack of depth over the past few seasons have not helped the cause. But Montreal drafted well the past couple of years and made some solid pickups in free agency. The best way that I’d describe this Alouettes offensive line would be, “A couple of grizzled vets leading some young behemoths”.

Last year was yet another round of paying dues for these guys. Let’s see if they can finally cash in and bring respectability back to this position.

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Luc Brodeur-Jourdain was on the 2009/2010 Grey Cup winning teams and is still here, scars and all. Both he and John Bowman had suggested that last season may have been their last. But when the time came, they both decided that they still had gas left in the tank and will be suiting up in 2019. I’m expecting Luc to be an unofficial player-coach as he must think about training his eventual replacement as centre. Helping this team win games while passing the torch will be the way to further cement his legendary status here in Montreal one and for all.

Fresh off a Grey Cup win, Spencer Wilson will also lend his championship experience to a team that sorely needs it. Signing as a free agent, Wilson is truly versatile in that he can play any of the five positions on the O-line. He was a valuable asset for Calgary when it came to protecting Bo Levi Mitchell on a weekly basis. Now he’ll bring that knowledge here and I know LBJ will be glad to have Spencer alongside him.

The last remaining piece of the Johnny Manziel trade, Tony Washington gave the Alouettes a much-needed star in the tackle position. Simply put, he doesn’t let many defenders get past him and to the quarterback. Tony won people over with his stellar play in his previous CFL stints in Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Hamilton. As this offensive line improves, folks here will begin to appreciate what this massive New Orleans native brings to the table.

Year in and year out, Kristian Matte still brings the goods. Montreal’s first round pick in 2011 has answered the call whenever he is called upon. A natural guard, Matte has also stepped in at centre when Luc Brodeur-Jourdain was injured. He’s had his ups and down just like any of these Alouettes veterans have had here. But Kristian’s work ethic is second to none and he remains a valuable member of this group.

The reason why the Alouettes didn’t have a first round pick in this year’s draft is because they wanted Tyler Johnstone earlier than expected. Selected by Montreal in the 2018 supplemental draft, he’s had the benefit of spending the better part of last year in the Alouettes locker room. Johnstone has a great pedigree and even played with Vernon Adams at the University of Oregon. We could very well see these two Ducks together on the field in 2019 and that’s very exciting to think about.

The ceiling is still very high on Sean Jamieson and with good reason. He’s bided his time as a reserve/practice roster player and will be called upon as the Alouettes shift towards a stronger National presence again. Sean has been a physical competitor in camp and he will be expected to ascend to the next level of becoming a star.

With his rookie season in the rearview mirror, Na’Ty Rodgers will be looking to repeat himself and turn in another solid performance. He stepped in at tackle and was able to help out his running backs by clearing lanes. Rodgers is quick on his feet and should be able to keep the defensive lines of the CFL on their toes.

Last season’s second overall pick was Trey Rutherford and like Rodgers, is eager to prove he belongs. He will probably benefit the most in having Spencer Wilson there to show him the ropes. Like Wilson, Rutherford was also able to play any position when he was in college. That skill will get him plenty of reps in camp and Trey’s hard work will pay off hopefully sooner rather than later.

When the Alouettes drafted Zach Annen in 2017 from Carleton University, it was believed that he could be the heir to the centre position. I’m hoping that year three will give Annen the chance to prove he can handle such a demanding position. If Luc is able to show him the ropes, I think Zach could finally show this league that he can be that next generation star for Montreal.

The Alouettes also drafted some young linemen a couple of weeks ago with Zach Wilkinson and Samuel Thomassin. They may not get all the reps they need to start, but they will get that first pro camp experience and be better for it.

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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!

GO ALS GO!!!

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