Who is the best player in the CFL? If you asked that question on September 16th, 2012 you would have heard the name Brandon Whitaker multiple times over. That is the date of Whitaker's last football game before tearing the ACL in his right knee. Nine months and 18 days later, Whitaker is slated to make his return to the Alouettes lineup as the starting running back versus Winnipeg. He just has to prove that he hasn't lost a step.
Flashing back to the days after their mid-September game against Saskatchewan at Percival Molson Stadium, it was obvious the team was hurt by the loss of their most productive player.
"You see a guy like Whitaker work so hard to wait for first turn and play so well for us, to end his year like this is devastating," Anthony Calvillo said two days after Whitaker's injury.
At the time of the injury, Whitaker took his situation in stride, focusing on his next chance.
"It's frustrating, I just got to stay positive and get through the surgery, rehab and get ready for next year," Whitaker said.
But was that next game even going to be with the Montreal Alouettes? Ideally, Whitaker was going to be showing off his speed, strength, agility and heart at NFL try-outs in January and February, but when Whitaker's contract expired with the Alouettes after the season and he was without a home and options, he was in a tough spot. He watched the Als sign Jerome Messam in February and former NFL back Dominic Rhodes in March and draft Steven Lumbala from the University of Calgary in early May.
Not knowing the ultimate effect of Whitaker's knee injury, Jim Popp had to make sure the Alouettes would be ready at the running back position. The good news came on May 30th, only days before training camp opened when Whitaker signed a three-year deal with Montreal, but without the guarantee of the number one starting spot.
Prior to the injury, however he was performing like the unquestioned number one, producing 631 yards rushing to go along with 49 catches, 516 yards receiving and nine total TDs in 10 games. Prorated over an 18-game season he would have had 1,147 yards rushing, 89 receptions, 938 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns. His 2085 total yards of offence would have likely put him in the conversation with Toronto's Chad Owens for the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award. To put Whitaker's 10-game season in in perspective, the Lions Andrew Harris led the CFL in combined passing and rushing yards with 1,900.
So if Whitaker can pick up where he left off, there is no doubt he'll give Montreal's offense a boost in yards, touchdowns and also pass protection. Calvillo has complete faith in Whitaker within the team's blocking scheme and he's a perfect outlet whenever he's in trouble, something that was missing in Week 1 against Winnipeg.
Whitaker was slotted 29th in TSN's ranking of the top 50 CFL players heading into the 2013 season, but if he is the same Brandon Whitaker of the first half of the 2012 season for the remaining 17 games and playoffs in 2013, then you will likely see him in the top five in 2014.