“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” — Robert C. Gallagher
When we last saw the Montreal Alouettes play, it was a chilly November afternoon at Olympic Stadium, where Marc Trestman’s squad nearly pulled off the comeback after squandering a scant lead over the Toronto Argonauts.
On that final drive, three times Anthony Calvillo aimed for the end zone and three times the glory of victory was denied, the last attempt taking an unfortunate bounce off of wide receiver Brian Bratton’s jersey numbers.
The opportunity for an eighth Grey Cup victory was denied and the Alouettes fans could only trudge home and wonder what if. Adding insult to injury was the relative ease Toronto had the following week at home defeating the Calgary Stampeders to win the 100th Grey Cup.
Now as the summer’s warmth beckons and the season comes to being, the Montreal Alouettes prepare to start their 2013 season. And while some things are the same, like Anthony Calvillo leading the troops and camp being held at Bishop’s University in picturesque Lennoxville, there’s been a couple of changes.
The most notable change is that of arguably the best head coach in Alouettes history leaving for the National Football League. Marc Trestman came into Montreal 5 years ago with little fanfare and left this winter for the Chicago Bears with two Grey Cup victories, plenty of his coaching staff and the respect of an entire nation.
Replacing a coach like that is a daunting task and doing so will be a man that can easily be the antithesis of Marc Trestman and his calm demeanour; the boisterous former NCAA coach & television analyst Dan Hawkins.
With the exception of Jean-Marc Edme and Noel Thorpe (who was hired as defensive coordinator after the dismissal of Jeff Reinebold), the entire Alouettes coaching staff was overhauled. There is a mix of CFL and NFL experience on board, all with a winning pedigree. It remains to be seen just how quickly Hawkins and his mostly American crew will adapt to the Canadian game but this coach has stated on numerous occasions that he is here to continue the Alouettes’ winning tradition.
Helping the coach will be the most prolific passer in the CFL, the legendary Anthony Calvillo. And despite his 41st birthday mere months away, he feels he still has plenty in the tank. Signing a two-year extension this past winter, Calvillo is ready once again to prove those who say his better days are behind him wrong. But what is new is who will be backing him up and vying to be his eventual replacement.
Gone is Adrian McPherson, who has decided to ply his trade in the Arena Football League in order to play football full-time. Coming in is former Tiger-Cat Quinton Porter, who is hoping that lightning will strike twice in the same place, as Calvillo came here many years ago to revamp his career after stagnating in Hamilton.
Also trying to back up AC is Stephen Garcia, Josh Nieswander and much ballyhooed university phenom Kyle Quinlan, who is trying to be the next Canadian-born starting quarterback in the CFL.
Changes to the roster were plentiful this off-season as many left, retired or were let go. Among the notable deletions are J.P. Bekasiak, Brian Bratton and Dwight Anderson. True to his nature, General Manager Jim Popp has reloaded with the following:
Byron Parker: The first major move in the Alouettes’ off-season; Parker spent 2012 with the BC Lions, but he knows the East as he wore Argos double blue for a number of years and can contribute right away to an already skilled defensive unit.
Arland Bruce III: Notorious in the past for his on-field sideshow antics, Bruce has calmed down significantly and helped the Lions win a Grey Cup in 2011. He will complement Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green and Brandon London on the WR corps, giving AC another steady pair of hands.
Geoff Tisdale: Along with Quinton Porter, he comes over from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Montreal has always been a target for Tisdale’s defensive prowess, so the Alouettes will be glad he’s lining up with them as opposed to against them.
Jerome Messam: Can this former Most Outstanding Canadian make a fresh start in La Belle Province? His punishing style as running back will be in tough competing with Chris Jennings and the speedy Victor Anderson. But if he can give opposing DCs pause for consideration, the sixth round draft pick Popp had to give up for Messam will seem like a steal.
Ejiro Kuale: Let’s just hope he and Kyries Hebert play nice.
But perhaps the wisest move was ensuring the all-Canadian offensive line was signed, sealed and delivered for the 2013 season. With these guys in tow, it will take a practically super-human effort to get to Calvillo in order to sack him.
The biggest question for the Alouettes going forward will be a usual one: How will special teams play this year? In my opinion, by not having Andy Bischoff as coach this team will automatically be better. New ST coach Ray Rychleski will ensure that this team will be much better than in years previous, having held the position before for the Indianapolis Colts.
Last season, Trent Guy fielded most of the returns; this year expect Noel Devine to finally realize the potential that made him such a phenom for West Virginia University a few years back. Bo Bowling and Victor Anderson also provide a depth of speed and can also make things happen if they get the blocks they need.
The old saying is “Youth will be served”. This is evident every year when the CFL draft is held. Montreal was able to draft not once, but twice in the first round and they selected two very dynamic players in Mike Edem & Steven Lumbala. Both are from the University of Calgary, which has produced a bumper crop of talented Canadians. Edem will join a great linebacking corps while Lumbala, whose brother Rolly has been a fixture in B.C., will be yet another contender for the potential running attack that is being assembled in Montreal.
Garnering the most fanfare is young Nicolas Boulay, who is generating a lot of buzz and has been visible at Alouettes events already. No, he is not related to the legendary Etienne Boulay nor will he be taking #22 as many had hoped. But this Universite de Sherbrooke linebacker is ready to step into the spotlight and join Patrick Lavoie, Marc-Olivier Brouillette & Luc Brodeur-Jourdain as the latest Quebec-born CFL superstars playing for the Alouettes.
With these young Canadian players joining Kyle Quinlan there’s no doubting that Jim Popp is keeping an eye on the future, ensuring that this Alouettes team remains successful for years to come.
Naturally I look forward to every CFL season, but this season will be special for a number of reasons. One that stands out for me is that the Canadian Football League is returning to Moncton, NB for Touchdown Atlantic. This match will feature the Montreal Alouettes as they play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who are displaced this season due to the refurbishing of Ivor Wynne Stadium.
I am proud to say that I will be there with the Alouettes enjoying this most incredible event. It has been described as a mini version of the Grey Cup and if it is half as enjoyable as this past Grey Cup was, I am in for a grand old (Mari)time.
Tickets are on sale now; I urge all Alouettes fans to flock (no pun intended) to this great event. Montreal is technically the road team for this game but I would love it if for one day, we Alouettes fans made Moncton a very eastern suburb of Montreal
But it all starts this coming weekend. Training camp and the road to the 2013 Grey Cup in Regina gets underway this Sunday. I’ve said on numerous occasions that training camp is the best way to get yourself hyped for the upcoming season. Workouts are open to the public.
Good thing I don’t do predictions, as nothing is guaranteed in the Eastern division this year; there are too many variables with the other teams. But if Coach Hawkins and his staff are prepared to lead this team, the sky truly is the limit.
As usual, I am looking forward to meeting with all football fans this year not just in Montreal, but also in Moncton and any other cities I may visit this season. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for any last minute news and updates regarding this blog.
Until this Sunday in Lennoxville,
GO ALS GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Clifford Pine
Montreal born & bred, lover of sports. Passionate about the Montreal Alouettes. Also a great cook & not too bad a dancer.