After years of running away with the CFL’s East Dvision, the Alouettes were in a fight all year for the division crown. Montreal ended up finishing second behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the regular season, and just when Als fans thought it couldn’t get any worse, the team failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, losing at home to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
|Davis was one of the Alouettes' under-the-radar signings that could provide big dividends in 2012.
It was no changing of the guard this off-season in Montreal, but a number of mainstays won’t be back for the 2012 season.
Scott Milanovich, the team’s offensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the past four seasons, accepted the head coaching position with the divisional rival Toronto Argonauts.
Milanovich’s run as offensive boss included two Grey Cup Championships (2009, 2010) and two Most Outstanding Player awards for QB Anthony Calvillo (2008, 2009).
Likely the most notable departure from the player roster this off-season was Anwar Stewart, a cornerstone on the Alouettes’ defensive line the past decade. Stewart was released this off-season after accumulating 283 tackles, 66 sacks, and 10 interceptions for Montreal since 2002. Stewart also won three Grey Cups with the Als and was twice named Most Outstanding Defensive Player (2004, 2009).
Stewart’s release was part of a defensive shakeup that saw Montreal jettison other notables such as DT Eric Wilson. The veteran DE’s age – Stewart is 36 – also likely played a role in the Als’ decision.
The defensive shakeup continued into training camp with the releases of S Etienne Boulay and LB Diamond Ferri. Boulay, a fan favourite, missed a large portion of last season with concussion problems but had been with the team since 2006, while the versatile Ferri had been with the team since 2007.
On the offensive side of the ball, Montreal will be without another long-time player this season, receiver Kerry Watkins, who called it quits after eight seasons with the Als. A five-time 1,000 yard receiver, and two-time CFL all-star, Watkins saw his production fall the past two seasons.
But it wasn’t all player and personnel losses for the Als this off-season. While they didn’t make any of the headlines on February 15 – the first day of free agency – Montreal quietly added a solid group of players to their roster over the off-season; a group led by a CFL All-Star in Aaron Hunt and a West Division All-Star in Rod Davis.
Playing alongside fellow CFL All-Star Khalif Mitchell, Hunt picked up 29 tackles and seven sacks in helping the Lions win the Grey Cup. Hunt will be 32 before the season starts, but his game has yet to show any signs of slowing down.
Davis, 31, was a leader for an Edmonton Eskimos defence that improved radically last season, jumping from the league basement in points allowed in 2010 to second last year. Davis’ 79 tackles, five sacks, and one interception paved the way for him being named a divisional all-star.
2011 was a season of change for the Alouettes, and not exactly in a good way. It was the first season in four that Montreal didn’t win the East Division, and didn’t advance to the Grey Cup. Marc Trestman enters the year in unfamiliar territory: for the first time in his CFL coaching career his team will enter the division race as chaser rather than defender.
|With Calvillo at the helm, the Alouettes are always in good hands.
And just as last season brought change in Montreal, so too did the off-season. But as the Alouettes enter 2012, one thing they can take comfort in is the constant that GM Jim Popp’s football machine is proven to continually churn out productive players.
That was evident two years ago when the Als let RB Avon Cobourne walk with Brandon Whitaker ready to step up and become an impactful player, and once again this year with the release of Anwar Stewart.
Despite the off-season adjustments, the key ingredients for success are still around: mainly Popp, Trestman, and Calvillo.
Calvillo answered any concerns that he might be slowing down with an all-star calibre season last year that saw him lead the league in passing yards (5,251) and tie for the league lead in touchdowns (32). There should be little worry that Calvillo, who will turn 40-years-old during the season, will be able to handle the transition at offensive coordinator from Milanovich to the 32-year-old Marcus Brady.
Also easing the offensive transition is the all-star cast of pass catchers Calvillo will have at his disposal once again this season. While the veteran Watkins retired, all four of the team’s top pass catchers from a year ago return. That’s a combined 21 touchdowns, over 4,000 yards, and two East Division All-Star nods between Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green, Brian Bratton, and Brandon London. Richardson also got the nod as a CFL All-Star for his incredible 1,777-yard season.
The unease heading into the season in Montreal could be over the team’s defence. There’ll be a fair amount of turnover, with as many as five starters lost or dropped from the roster in the off-season.
The team did a good job of finding replacements however, and if the new recruits can mesh quickly, could improve on a unit that appeared vulnerable at stretches last season. Veterans like Chip Cox and John Bowman could play the Calvillo leadership role on defence to ease the transition and keep things running smoothly in Montreal. Bowman will however miss the start of the season with a knee injury sustained in training camp.
For the first time in a long time the Alouettes enter the year not as division champions; but with a solid team core still headed up by the trio of Popp, Trestman, and Calvillo, there’s no reason to think Montreal can’t navigate through the changes with at least some level of success.
||RB Patrick Lavoie
||DL Bo Adebayo
||DB Lance Milton
||LB Bryn Roy
||DB Keynan Parker
||OL Ryan White
The Alouettes originally had the fourth-overall pick, which would have been the highest the team picked in years, but trades left Montreal without a selection until the second round when they took Laval RB Patrick Lavoie.
Lavoie is a two-time Vanier Cup champion and was special teams captain for the Rouge et Or. The Als hope Lavoie will grow into a prominent role on special teams and contribute on offence.
Third-rounder Bo Adebayo is an intriguing pick for the Als. The defensive lineman from Western Kentucky attended a Detroit Lions minicamp before signing with Montreal.