Once again, summer has arrived in Canada. There’s nothing like feeling the warm sun on your skin and being able to enjoy all that this great nation has to offer. And many people, starving for some gridiron action, flock to their local stadium in June to get just a little taste. And the Canadian Football League is more than happy to provide it.
All nine CFL teams have now played their two pre-season games. This year, the Montreal Alouettes traveled to Hamilton to play the Tiger-Cats and then hosted the Ottawa RedBlacks at Percival Molson Stadium. And as is often the case, the Alouettes lost both games. In fact, you’d have to go back to 2011 for the last time that the Alouettes won a pre-season game.
Typically, these games serve as an evaluation of talent and a win equals nothing more than temporary bragging rights. Head Coach Tom Higgins even stated in his post-game presser that this past Friday’s game was more about evaluation and that winning the game itself wasn’t a focus. So anyone freaking out about going 0-2 in pre-season can just grab a Fresca and relax a little bit.
There was a lot that I liked from Montreal in both pre-season games. For the most part, the vets were sharp and didn’t miss a beat. The jury is still out regarding the play-calling of Ryan Dinwiddie on offense, but the players have been very in tune with him and it will take a game or two to really gel. The dismissal of Rick Worman brought to light the news that it was mostly Dinwiddie who created the offense that will be going forward, so win or lose, this is his canvas to create a masterpiece with.
Defensively, not much has changed and while the starting defense couldn’t contain Henry Burris and Chevon Walker this past Friday, I expect that to be a mere aberration. With Shea Emry gone to Toronto and Bear Woods out due to injury, expect to see a lot more of Nicolas Boulay, who was a house afire in both pre-season games. Also expect a lot more from Daryl Townsend, who was a beast last season on special teams and will factor into Montreal’s secondary prominently in 2014.
There was a lot that I didn’t like either. Jamaan Webb has been in the Alouettes system for a year now and while his energy and passion are great, his penchant for taking costly penalties cost the Alouettes the game in Hamilton and an erroneous special teams play versus Ottawa negated a terrific punt by Sean Whyte. I want to write these hiccups off as youthful exuberance and hopefully that’s all they are. The coaching staff must see something in this youngster as he made the final cut; let’s hope he can get it together ASAP.
Troy Smith missed the first pre-season game with a knee injury. In his 2014 debut this past Friday, he showed none of the late-season poise that made him a hero last fall. Overthrowing his targets by several feet, Smith didn’t look nearly as prepared as many expected him to be. Replacing Anthony Calvillo is a huge task and while I feel Smith will be more than up to it, it’s clear that he needs to develop some chemistry with his receivers and do it quickly. If he cannot, I liked what I saw in backup QB Tanner Marsh, who will surely make some magic happen again in 2014.
Each of the nine CFL teams had to have their rosters down to 46 players (not counting practice roster) by last Saturday night, which means a lot of players saw their dreams of playing professional football cut short. Usually it’s more the younger players that get sent packing, but every once in a while, a big name is shown the door.
Montreal dismissed a few notable players, including Tyron Carrier, Ed Gainey and fan favourite Scooter Berry. But the one that cuts the deepest (pardon the pun!) is the release of wide receiver and future Hall of Famer Jamel Richardson.
Last season’s ACL tear was a huge concern for both Richardson and the Alouettes, but all indications were that Jamel’s recovery was on time and that he’d be ready to go. Every day at training camp, I would see him off to the side, putting his surgically-repaired knee to the test. Unfortunately, to the side is where Richardson stayed, having not been cleared for either pre-season tilt.
Jamel broke the news of his release himself on social media by thanking followers of his for their continued support and well-wishes. It also set off a firestorm from Alouettes fans, demanding answers on how such a well-loved member of this team can be cut loose.
I do understand the reasoning behind the release, as it is clear Jamel is not ready to suit up for a game anytime soon. And as much as the fan in me would have loved to see him remain with Montreal, he’s been bypassed on the depth chart by younger, stronger players. Jamel also makes far too much money to stay on the practice roster or to simply rehab. Jim Popp tried to work something out to keep him in Montreal, but it simply wasn’t meant to be.
I’m pulling for Richardson to come back on the field stronger than ever, but this Montreal team has to move forward. He will always have a place in Alouettes history and fans won’t forget J-Rich anytime soon.
So now the Alouettes prepare for the first meaningful game of the season, opening the 2014 season this Saturday in Calgary. If you’re in Montreal’s east end, you can catch the team practicing at 5300 boulevard Robert every morning this week. As always, Alouettes practices are open to the public.
I’ll be back later this week with a preview of the game. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more thoughts and developments.
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.