Montreal, we finally have some football back. And it feels so good.
Training camp for the Montreal Alouettes finally got underway this past Victoria Day. While other teams got started on the Sunday, the Alouettes decided to get their promo stuff out of the way before taking the field. On Monday, the team debuted wearing their new helmets and New Era training camp gear.
The more I look at this new logo on the helmets live in action on the field, the more I like it. Straight ahead, you see the stylized “M” for Montreal. On the sides, you see the wings of a fighter jet, screaming across the sky. Bringing up the rear is a bird’s tail, furthering the motif of a team going forward in flight. I am eager to see an Alouettes kickoff through the lens of the TSN skycam because it is going to look amazing.
There were a lot of questions as camp got underway. Mostly because of the big news Sunday of the release of receiver Ernest Jackson. After being a focal point of the offense for the past two seasons, Jackson was asked to take a pay cut even though he signed an extension this past off-season. He balked at that suggestion and the Alouettes decided to let him walk, taking their chances with the younger and less expensive receivers that were already in camp.
Jackson has not been the prize acquisition the Alouettes expected him to be. Naturally, people will be quick to blame the quarterback clown car and ineffective offensive schemes as the reason why this 2016 Eastern MOP was a failure in the 514. A fair argument, but Jackson has to shoulder some of that as well with his less than stellar play. The reality was that being a veteran presence, Ernest had to lead by example and to date hasn’t come close.
This move also suggests that a starting National receiver can be in the cards for the Alouettes. There are some very talented receivers that normally would have to wait for an injury before even being considered for a starter’s spot. That’s no longer the case and Alouettes fans should definitely pay close attention to the young Canadians that will be possibly lining up alongside B.J. Cunningham, Eugene Lewis and Devier Posey.
I knew that the quarterbacks on the roster would come ready to play, but I never imagined just how tight a race it has the potential to really be. Everyone and their mother has anointed sophomore QB Antonio Pipkin as the starting quarterback for the Alouettes but based on what I have seen thus far, any one of these QBs can make a case to be given the reigns of this team.
Jeff Mathews, Matthew Shiltz and Vernon Adams have all looked crisp and clean in their reads and ability to make plays happen. I said earlier that the forced release of Johnny Manziel was going to light a fire under these men to prove that this team didn’t need the overrated Heisman trophy winner. So far, these fellas are answering the call in a big way.
The team appears to be willing to give Pipkin as many opportunities as possible to be the man, but don’t sleep on ANY of these aforementioned QBs. If that’s not exciting enough for you, there are also two very hungry Canadian QBs looking to carve themselves a spot on the roster. Both Hugo Richard and Chris Merchant are making the most of their limited opportunities and soaking up as much knowledge as they can. They’ll certainly get a chance to play in the first pre-season game and we’ll soon see just how serious this team is at developing a National signal-caller.
The Alouettes made news on Wednesday with a late addition to the training camp roster. The name Ciante Evans will make people sit up and take notice, as he has been a superstar for the Calgary Stampeders’ secondary. Fresh off a Grey Cup win last November, he took advantage of the off-season to sign with the AAF’s Salt Lake Stallions in an attempt to get back into playing four-down football.
With that league going belly-up, Ciante found himself without a football home but was ready to come back up North. The Alouettes managed to convince him to join other former Stamps like Tommie Campbell, Patrick Levels and Spencer Wilson in La Belle Province. Evans will join a suddenly very crowded secondary and a defense that was looking really good on paper just got even better.
First year DC Bob Slowik may not know much about the Canadian game and is learning on the go, but he’ll soon realize that he has an embarrassment of riches on his hands. There are some real defensive studs on this team and once again, only so many spots available.
So who has stood out thus far in this first week of camp? Let’s have a look:
Devier Posey: When the Alouettes signed him in free agency, I was eager to see an inspired playmaker. In the five days of 2019 camp, my expectations of this 2017 Grey Cup MVP have been met and then some. A clean and fluid route-runner, Posey makes jaw-dropping catches look second nature, almost routine. Once the rest of Montreal sees him in action, I have a feeling that a lot of new #5 jerseys are going to be sold this year.
Malcolm Carter: I said this year that the young National receivers have to step up and get noticed. Carter has done exactly that and more. Every camp session I’ve been to has featured this beast haul in some impressive catches. He also added a few pounds to that 6’6 frame of his to handle the rigors of the football season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more looks for this former Ottawa Sooner as camp progresses.
Michael Sanelli: This year’s fifth round draft pick out of Concordia, Sanelli has been standing out with every rep he’s been given. I said in the CFL draft recap that he’s like a buzzsaw in his ability to get to the quarterback. He’s certainly given the QBs in camp here some fits, batting down balls and being a physical presence on this D-Line. Michael may have to start this year on the practice roster, but this is a look into the future for Montreal and I am here all day for players like this.
Jake Wieneke: ANOTHER RECIEVER?! Yes, another one (DJ Khalid voice). This Maple Grove, Minnesota native has come in and looked completely in step with this offense, even getting serious looks with the starters. Only 24 years old, his hands are like glue and he’s looked very clean in his routes thus far. He has played for his hometown Vikings in the NFL and also put time in the AAF. Jake is no doubt using the Alouettes as a stepping stone back into the NFL and a strong showing at this camp will go a long way for him.
The Alouettes will still be holding sessions leading up to their first pre-season game in Toronto this coming Thursday, so be sure to head out to Percival Molson and see the work they are putting in. For more information, check out the training camp schedule.
Thursday’s game won’t be televised so be sure to tune into TSN 690 to hear the call from Rick Moffat and new radio analyst Marc-Olivier Brouillette. Next weekend will have more camp sessions as this team ramps up for their home pre-season game on June 6th, the only home match at Percival Molson Stadium for the month of June.
I’ll be back here with more thoughts and analysis as camp continues and this team gets ready for the 2019 CFL season. Don’t forget to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast, which will be going weekly again as the CFL season gets underway.
There really is a lot to like here; Alouettes Nation deserves a winning football team and hopefully this will all finally come together at long last.