Ladies and gentlemen, the Montreal Alouettes are back and quite possibly better than ever.
Finally taking the field for the first time since November 2019, the Alouettes started their season versus the Edmonton
Eskimos Elks and completely dominated the newly-renamed Alberta squad by a 30-13 score. This was Montreal’s first win at Commonwealth Stadium since October 2013 and the rest of the Canadian Football League immediately sat up and took notice.
A lot has changed since the Alouettes lost that heartbreaking Eastern Semi-Final game against this same Edmonton team. The Alouettes have new ownership, new front office and some new faces in the lineup. But the one constant that led to the Alouettes’ return to relevance was still very much in place: Head Coach Khari Jones and starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Together, they set the tone for the return to glory for the Birds of Prey and last night they shut down a lot of critics.
Adams looked at peace behind centre, knowing that this is 100% his team. His final numbers weren’t outstanding but the plays he made were, finding both Jake Wieneke and B.J. Cunningham for touchdowns. Wieneke’s touchdown catch was incredible, catching the ball with his fingertips then rolling upright into the end zone untouched by defenders.
After missing most of 2019 with a wrist injury, Cunningham had a lot to prove and he helped his quarterback in a major way, making outstanding catches and hauling in a nice little pass to duck into the end zone for six. B.J. has been with the Alouettes since 2015 and has always shown that he belongs and can be that playmaker many expected him to be. Now the longest-serving member of this receiving corps, Cunningham came into camp looking to be a leader and the game he had last night was very much him leading by example for junior receivers like Kaion Julien-Grant and Dante Absher.
The Alouettes’ ground game was re-established by William Stanback, as he bulldozed through Edmonton’s defensive line for 112 yards. Stanback also maintained his league-best 6.2 yards per carry average from 2019 last night, absorbing hits and keeping those powerful legs of his churning. His backup Jeshrun Antwi managed four carries for thirteen yards, ensuring that this young ratio-breaker is given more chances to perform on a big stage.
But when you talk about performing on a big stage, look no further than returner Mario Alford, who came out of nowhere in 2019 to become a force on special teams. He returned several kicks/punts for touchdowns last season and picked up right where he left last night, returning a punt 86 yards for the first of what should be several touchdowns this campaign. Alford is a bonafide threat and opposing teams will now surely be avoiding kicking in his direction.
The Alouettes also have a new placekicker in David Cote, who was drafted in the fifth round of this year’s CFL Draft. He had himself a great outing, making three of four field goals with his one miss a result due to a bobbled snap. Interestingly enough, Cote is not expected to handle both kicking and punting duties. Global Draft pick Joseph Zema is tasked with punts and serving as Cote’s placeholder. For the first time since 1986, no one kicker is expected to do double-duty (a trick former GM Jim Popp used to open up an additional roster spot). This was the first look at the former Universite de Laval kicker in action and I’d say he was up to the tall task at hand.
I don’t know which hotel the Alouettes stayed in whilst in Edmonton, but I know where newly acquired defensive lineman Almondo Sewell was residing the past few days; inside the head of Elks QB Trevor Harris. And he was staying there rent-free.
Earlier in the week in talking to the media, Sewell stated that once you hit Harris, he starts folding. That phrase immediately became bulletin board material and all eyes were on Sewell and this Alouettes defensive line to see if they can back up such a bold statement.
When the dust settled, turned out that Almondo was 100% on the money. The same Trevor Harris that surgically carved up the Alouettes in their 2019 playoff game looked like that proverbial elk in the headlights. Harris got pressured. Harris got hit. Harris truly folded.
As the Alouettes turned up the heat on Edmonton’s signal-caller, Harris proved very beatable and this defense gave him plenty of fits. Had Ty Cranston been able to hold on to a poorly-aimed pass right in his numbers and Sewell not given his ex-QB a little love tap during a Tyquan Glass pick-six, Harris would have TWO interceptions among his stats.
Having failed to find the end zone versus the Ottawa RedBlacks last week, Harris made every effort to march his team downfield and score. It finally happened in the fourth quarter as he found Shai Ross in the end zone for a TD. But by then, Montreal has established a complete dominance over the Elks, who are still searching for their first win under this new moniker.
I stated in numerous media appearances this past week that as I looked at this Alouettes 2021 roster, I really had a hard time finding any weak spots. For the most part, I do still feel that way but if I had to find any faults in the Alouettes’ play last night in Edmonton, I’d have to start with the long snapping.
After years of successful work by long-time Alouette and Grey Cup champion Martin Bedard, the Alouettes decided to go in a different direction for their long-snapping and enlisted Pierre-Luc Caron, formerly of the Calgary Stampeders. Caron wanted to continue his CFL career closer to his native Quebec and the obvious place was with the Montreal Alouettes. In his debut wearing red & blue, Caron sailed a few balls pretty high towards his punter Joseph Zema, affecting his ability to get the ball downfield effectively.
Caron also played a part in David Cote’s lone field goal miss, but I consider that a team effort in that unfortunate circumstance. Here’s hoping that this was just a small case of opening night jitters for Caron, eager to prove his worth to his new squad.
This Alouettes offensive line has a new look to it and did a decent job overall in protecting their QB while creating lanes for William Stanback. But they did let Adams take a few unnecessary licks. After weeks of going up against their teammates, obviously it was going to be a bit different having other football players to go up against. These are correctable errors and I am certain that O-Line coach Luc Brodeur-Jourdain will get his charges right in no time.
The Alouettes looked very impressive right out of the gate, putting a lot of doubters in their place. But they cannot rest on their laurels; they’ll be back in Alberta this coming Friday to face the Calgary Stampeders, who sit at a shocking 0-2. The Stamps have been embarrassed twice in their own barn and after this display by Montreal, will not be taking them lightly.
Last year saw the Als and Stamps in a thrilling game that needed both overtime mini-games to determine a winner. Despite their current record, this Calgary team is far from a pretender. But it’s clear that the Alouettes have a game plan and aren’t going to be intimidated by any opponent this season.
We didn’t see much from the Alouettes during training camp due to closed-off practices and a lack of a pre-season. But if yesterday’s game was any indication, this team has done its homework and truly selected the best possible team to compete in this league. Alouettes Nation, this better get your juices flowing!
2019 was the laying down of a winning foundation here in Montreal. While it’s still very early, it’s clear that the next building blocks are being put into place by Coach Khari and his crew. This team has a LOT of potential to be very successful not just this season, but for years to come. Fans have to be very excited at what is to come.
That’s all for now. As I enter my tenth year of writing this blog, I’m truly excited to see what this team can do. The Canadian Football League is back and so are your Montreal Alouettes. No question that the talent is there, now they just have to finish what they have started.
Make sure you tune back here later to preview Friday’s tilt versus Calgary. Also, check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself break down this impressive win versus Edmonton. You can find the podcast here and on your favourite podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and even on Youtube! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.
I’m hoping that you will all join me for the ride as this team settles in and plays some great football to finish this summer and roll into the autumn as one of the CFL’s premier teams.
As they say, nature is healing. Once again, thanks for reading.
GO ALS GO!!!