This part of the Montreal Alouettes football team provides me with the biggest joy and anxiety all in one shot. On one hand, you have a wealth of talent, experience and potential to become a premier part of the Canadian Football League for years to come.
On the other hand, you have a defensive coordinator that upon first glance, doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence. I’ve already said my piece about Bob Slowik, who is assuming control of this defense in the wake of Rich Stubler‘s departure. A lot of people will point out that Marc Trestman came to the Alouettes a decade ago with no CFL experience and took this team to the Grey Cup game in his first three years.
That cannot be denied, but it’s REALLY hard to overlook that six year gap in his coaching resume. As pointed out to me on the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast by new TSN 690 analyst Marc-Olivier Brouillette, opposing teams will have no idea what to expect from this defense and it will take some time to get any real film to figure out Slowik’s schemes.
I will admit that I never looked at it from this perspective. But at the same time, if Slowik comes in with a bland, predictable defense that simply doesn’t work in the CFL, then this team will have a major problem on its hands. There are some real defensive studs on this Alouettes squad now and it would be a real shame to squander that talent in the first year because management didn’t land a coach that knows this league.
I’d say the best Alouettes fans can hope for is that the talent that lies within these players will supersede any potential shortcomings of their coordinator. Or perhaps we are all worrying for nothing and Slowik has been soaking up all the CFL knowledge that he can in order to stun everyone with his defensive playbook. Hey, a guy can dream.
It’s time to take a look at the Montreal Alouettes defense for the 2019 season.
As it has been for the past decade, the conversation about this defensive line starts and end with one name: John Bowman. Despite his claims of being “98% sure” that 2018 was going to be his final season, we find ourselves once again ready to see #7 in training camp this Sunday. There is a certain peacefulness to that.
Bowman still racks up some solid numbers and continues to strike a lot of fear into opposing quarterbacks. He’ll say that he feels like an old man post-game but beneath those words are his electric smile and desire to be the very best. Montreal has been blessed to call Bowman one of their own and I think 2019 will be a great campaign for this future Hall of Famer.
Once again booking ending this defensive line is Gabriel Knapton, who was traded last year to BC and re-added to the squad when the Lions let him go. His numbers took a drop compared to recent years. But I’ll chalk that up to not fitting in with BC’s defensive schemes and feeling more at home in Montreal.
Now that Knapton is back in blue & red, I expect this bearded game hunter to set his crosshairs on the rest of the league, especially the quarterbacks. This native of Big Sky country is looking to return to the form that made him one of the league’s most feared d-men.
Virtual unknowns at the start of last year, both Woody Baron and Ryan Brown quietly made their presence felt in Rich Stubler’s defense. With 45 defensive tackles and 9 sacks between them, these two gents are going to be names to look out for once this season gets going. A published author, Baron is looking to write a new chapter in the Alouettes’ story. And what can Brown do for you? Just win, baby.
The National side of of this D-Line is where you really have to be excited. You have Fabion Foote and Bo Banner that will be looking to become full-time players this season. Banner’s pedigree is second to none and I actually see him stepping more into John Bowman’s role as time progresses. Foote is a big man who’s athleticism will surprise the heck out of you. They are both still young and will be hitting their stride in no time.
Rounding things out are Jean-Samuel Blanc, Nate Anderson and Michael Sanelli. I expect both the veteran and the rookies to be dominant forces on special teams. These are physical men that are not afraid to put the wood to someone. While these are not household names like Bowman, they will be a part of something very special this season. There’s a lot to like about this defensive line in Montreal.
The Alouettes have always managed to look very strong when it comes to the linebacking position. This season is no different, even with a couple of new faces in Montreal. Alouettes fans have come to expect these guys to bring the pain and I like the odds of a lot of pain being brought on game.
It all starts with arguably the best first overall draft pick of the modern era, Henoc Muamba. Last season saw this bilingual beast simply dominate with 108 defensive tackles and 5 QB sacks as well as being the Alouettes’ nominee for a number of year-end categories. I’ve often said that when human cloning is perfected, this team should make themselves eleven Henocs to go with the original. No more problems on D!
Last season saw the renaissance of Glenn Love and Alouettes Nation was better because of it. Finally coming East after years in Calgary and Saskatchewan, Love came as advertised and play with real emotion. He also registered career highs in defensive and special teams tackles. If you get a chance, check out his Instagram feed where he’s staying in top shape doing mixed martial arts. Glenn is a beast and I am glad he’s wearing blue and red again.
Speaking of beasts, the Alouettes signed a real one in free agency by adding Bo Lokombo to the lineup. Bo returned to Canada after spending time with a few NFL teams and he was a real force. With 71 defensive tackles, 16 special teams tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble last season alone, it’s safe to say that Bo knows defense. You can never have too many disruptive playmakers on your team; Lokombo will be all that and more in 2019.
Let’s not overlook the National talent at LB either! Starting with Jean-Gabriel Poulin, a physical freak with a motor that won’t quit. He’ll get the chance to back up Muamba and the opposing offense won’t know what hit them. Poulin has quietly become the face of the Alouettes’ new identity campaign and I think fans will really respond to this likeable star in the making.
Both Paul Kozachuk and Brandon Calver played well on special teams last season and they too will be looking to step up their game, especially with recent draft pick Benjamin Whiting looking to make an immediate impact. There’s no lack of talent with this linebacking corps from top to bottom.
Towards the end of the season, this secondary came together and really showed a lot. Despite being decimated with injuries, the youngsters came in and really showed out. As well, some older vets that were cast aside came in and played each down like it was their last. Montreal went and acquired some more talent and quite frankly, this area of the field is going to be a LOT of fun to watch in 2019.
Joining the Alouettes in 2018, Tommie Campbell didn’t miss a beat. He came in and showed why he is still one of the premier cornerbacks of this league. After years in Calgary and fresh off Grey Cup trips, you’d think his time in Montreal would make him homesick. Not so, as he extended his contract and will be looked upon as a leader for this team. I’m ready for another full season of the Tommie Campbell experience.
Perhaps the biggest free agent signing that no one saw coming was the adding of Taylor Loffler to the Alouettes. He’s been in the league three years and has been an All-Star in all three. With a nose for the football, Taylor can sniff out your weaknesses and will pounce on them like a caged tiger sprung free. Extremely physical and with a great football mind, Loffler could very well be the crown jewel of this Alouettes secondary.
Another add to the mix was Patrick Levels, who got a taste of the championship lifestyle last November with Calgary and will want to have it again here in the 514. Levels is a freak of an athlete, ready to launch his body like a heat-seeking missile. In just two seasons, he has established himself as a ballhawk and fearless playmaker, always ready to get in the grill of an opposing receiver.
A true diamond in the rough, Greg Reid made his presence felt during the Alouettes’ last three games and reminded people why he was such a stud at Florida State University. His eyes read the field quickly and he adjusts with no wasted motion. Reid helped Montreal finish 2018 on a winning streak and has been chomping at the bit to get back here and get better. Now that he’ll play with guys like Loffler and Levels, I expect HUGE things from Greg in 2019.
Both Dondre Wright and Jermaine Robinson were impactful players in 2018, even with limited reps. Wright was a steal in the draft two years ago and I fully expect him to ascend up the ladder even further this season. Robinson has been successful everywhere he’s gone but hasn’t been able to find a place to call home. Here in Montreal, these two can be extremely dangerous as they are able to move anywhere along the secondary. I see a lot of batted balls, punishing hits and even the occasional turnover in the future of both of these guys
Tomorrow, we’ll finish up this season preview with the Alouettes’ special teams unit and final thoughts as the doors to training camp officially swing open.