It’s finally here.
The 2013 Canadian Football League season kicks off tonight and the Montreal Alouettes will help usher in a new era in Winnipeg as the Blue Bombers officially start play in their new stadium, Investors Group Field.
Both teams went winless in the preseason; this tilt actually counts in the standings. And while it would be easy to look past the Blue Bombers after the 52-0 drubbing they received from Hamilton last week, Montreal cannot allow themselves to get lackadaisical.
Alouettes head coach Dan Hawkins will have to answer his critics with a win tonight. He understands that Alouettes fans are not accustomed to losing and has assembled his troops accordingly. After the narrow preseason loss to Toronto, it’s clear that almost isn’t good enough for this vociferous leader of men.
Quinton Porter almost had the backup position locked up following a late comeback attempt in the first preseason game versus Hamilton. But a half-hearted effort in game #2 and the realization that he was not going to unseat Anthony Calvillo was enough to make Porter ask for his release.
I am always amazed that people think it will be just that easy to remove AC from his starter’s post. Or that it should just happen already because he’s now in his 40′s. While I agree it’s better to leave a bit early than stick around too long, Calvillo has done nothing to suggest that he’s lost a step. Surely if he felt he couldn’t play at his usual high level, he would have stepped aside already.
But the future is coming and his name is Tanner Marsh. This youngster came literally out of nowhere (I mean, Arkansas Tech isn’t exactly a quarterback factory!) and wowed everyone with a strong arm and steady play. Quarterbacks take some time to mature, especially when learning the Canadian game. But based on what I saw at training camp, I think Marsh can eventually be a candidate to step into Calvillo’s spot if he willing to listen and learn what the old guy is willing to impart.
Marsh will have to exercise some patience however, as the team will give Josh Neiswander and his two years on the team the benefit of the doubt in backing up Calvillo. While he wasn’t spectacular in his preseason play, the team is still very high on Neiswander and his abilities. Perhaps all he needs is the reassurance from the coaching staff that he will get actual playing time and not just hold for Sean Whyte’s field goal attempts.
Aside from Porter, the final cuts were not terribly surprising. There is a good strong core of veterans that know what it takes to win and will act accordingly. After trying the 3-4 defense last year to varying degrees of success, the defense will go back to playing 4-3 football. And this is where Montreal will be very dangerous with John Bowman, Alan-Michael Cash, Scooter Berry and Ejiro Kuale looking to feast on the opposing QB.
The kick return game will go as I had anticipated with both Noel Devine and Tyron Carrier splitting those duties. If either of those two get the needed blocks from the rest of the special teams players, their blazing speed will rack up some serious yardage. As I said in my last blog post, having one coach dedicated solely to this area will also make a dramatic difference.
AC will be going deep early and often; on the other end of that football will be the usual suspects in Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green and Brandon London. Joining them is Arland Bruce III, who is looking for redemption after being let go by the B.C. Lions in the off-season.
Bruce had said that he always hoped to be catching TD passes from Calvillo at some point in his career. Well, his dream came true last week on the historic Varsity Stadium field in Toronto. Now he’s got to do it when it counts. Staying healthy will be a concern for the veteran, but he knows how to win and will do what it takes to get AC’s attention.
Lots has been said regarding this season for the Alouettes even before it began. Many experts have Toronto and Hamilton finishing higher, mostly due to the X factor of Dan Hawkins replacing Marc Trestman as head coach. It’s clear just how much of an impact the new Chicago Bears coach had not just on this Alouettes teams, but in the eyes of the league as well.
There will be growing pains as per usual with a new staff. But many of the key elements to the back-to-back Grey Cup winning teams of 2009-10 are still here and are hungry for another championship. While I do think the East will be a lot more competitive than in years past, I don’t believe that the Alouettes are going to simply roll over and die.
If Anthony Calvillo is your quarterback, you’re going to win more than you lose. Simple as that. The building blocks for the future are in place and this team will be its usual successful self. For those on the Alouettes roster seeking inspiration, they need to only see t-shirts from running back Chris Jennings’ own clothing line which is called FNAO.
That stands for Failure’s Not An Option. And for this Alouettes franchise, that’s been their mission statement since returning to the league in 1996. They will not fail.
Enjoy tonight’s game, which starts at 9pm EST. I’ll be live-tweeting throughout and look forward to seeing everyone live next Thursday at Percival Molson Stadium for the home opener.
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.