It’s almost here….a new CFL season is about to start.
Teams have been hard at work preparing for their first game on Canada Day weekend. New coaches and players arrive north, eager to land a spot on a roster and shine playing a sport they love. Old players show looking for redemption; to show they can still contribute despite age or injuries attempting to hobble them.
The Montreal Alouettes have had a good mix of the two scenarios listed above as they prepare for the 2013 season. New head coach Dan Hawkins was eager to establish his brand on the Alouettes roster and showed he was not afraid to get his hands dirty, working right away with players on both sides of the field.
Hawkins has stated that while he is aware of the different nuances that the CFL has compared to football in America, he maintains that it’s still the same preparation and desire to succeed that will be the difference.
With the hire of former Indianapolis Colts co-ordinator Ray Rychleski, the special teams play will automatically improve. Already kicker Sean Whyte and long snapper Martin Bedard are getting plenty of one-on-one attention from their new coach.
This is a far cry from years past, when former special teams coach Andy Bischoff was also the running backs coach, offensive quality control and administrative assistant to head coach Marc Trestman. A lot of hats for one person to wear at once.
Maybe now that the Alouettes have hired a coach whose sole purpose is to focus on special teams, a candidate will emerge to return punts/kicks. I’ve spoken at length about the speedy prowess of Noel Devine, but another name to watch out for is former NFL return man Tyron Carrier.
During last week’s preseason game versus Hamilton, Carrier saw action as WR and had incredible speed, even catching a touchdown in the 4th quarter. He’s had success at the collegiate level as a receiver, but is dwarfed by WRs like Brandon London and S.J. Green. But let him and Devine return kicks, throw in some quality blocks and I have a feeling that the opposition won’t know what will hit them.
One slight area of confusion was supposed to be who would be Anthony Calvillo’s backup. But after his fourth quarter heroics last Thursday, I daresay that Quinton Porter has the backup position all but locked up. After a shaky start, he settled down and led with authority, nearly completing the comeback.
Much like AC before him, he was jettisoned by Hamilton despite a ton of potential. History could very well repeat itself like it did in 1998 when a young Calvillo came in, learned at the feet of a legend and seamlessly stepped in to lead the Alouettes behind centre.
Sadly for fans of theirs, there was no Tim Tebow or Kyle Quinlan sightings at Alouettes training camp this year. Instead, filling out the remaining quarterbacks spots are Josh Neiswander and Tanner Marsh. Neiswander has been in the Alouettes system now for 2 years, used primarily to hold for Sean Whyte’s field goal attempts.
While Neiswander has a strong arm, last week showed that he’s got more work to be done in reading defenses, having been picked off twice. Marsh only played two series in the second half of the preseason game, but certainly showed a lot of promise.
As Marsh learns the Canadian game from one of the greatest QBs ever, his potential will continue to grow. Yet another diamond in the rough found by Alouettes general manager Jim Popp.
The camp experience from a fan’s perspective is certainly an interesting one. I personally attended two sessions and found it to be a great learning tool. Not just in the drills themselves, but how the players take what they read in their playbooks and translate it to what you see on the field.
Compared to what I have read about other camps, the Alouettes ones tend to be a bit dull if you’re a casual football fan. There’s no rides or face-painting or anything of that nature. But if you are a fan of actually seeing how your favourite players work at getting better, then you’d enjoy watching these practices.
There is also the outstanding issue of the lack of television exposure for the preseason. Having been spoiled in 2011 by TSN showing every single preseason game, many CFL fans were apoplectic about the 8 promised games to be aired this year being whittled down to 2.
RDS still showed the Alouettes game last week, but as of this going viral, it seems that showing the Boston Red Sox vs. the Detroit Tigers baseball game was a far more pressing issue for the team’s French language broadcaster.
I had spoken to CFL Commissioner Mark Cohan about this during Grey Cup week, even suggesting that the league would be wise to invest in streaming preseason games on the league’s web site, even on a pay-per-use basis. He did like the idea, but mentioned the logistics of making it work financially being a challenge.
Shame that TSN unfortunately released an ad for the CFL with the tagline, “You need to see these guys play!”. I sincerely hope that one day there becomes more options for CFL fans being able to watch these developmental games. If the NFL can air all of its preseason games, I don’t see why the CFL can’t.
It won’t be on TV, but the Alouettes play their last exhibition game in Toronto tomorrow. Most notable with this preseason game will be it being played at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium.
Much has been said for the idea of the Argos moving out of Rogers Centre and into a smaller stadium. It won’t be happening anytime soon and previous ownership groups threw away prime opportunities in the past.
Perhaps once Argos owner David Braley sells the B.C. Lions (yes, one guy owns two CFL teams. Yes, those teams are the two most recent Grey Cup champions. Nice work if you can get it.), he can use the funds to build a new, more intimate football stadium for the Argos.
The game will only be broadcast on the radio, check your local listings. If you don’t live in Montreal, you can listen live to Thursday’s game at cjad.com.
That’s all for now. Be sure to check me out on Twitter for last minute thoughts and game day tweets.
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.