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In any football season, context can mean a lot.

There is no better example of that in the Canadian Football League right now than the Montreal Alouettes, who face the Toronto Argonauts tonight in their second game of the season and the home opener for the Argos at BMO Field.

The Als arrive in town 0-1, having dropped their opener in Calgary – a game Montreal was leading by 10 points at halftime.

It was a strong performance, but this is a team that’s moved past moral victories. After two consecutive years in the playoffs but no postseason victories (following four consecutive years missing the playoffs), the Alouettes are in win-now mode.

The dynamics around this team reinforce that.

Start with Khari Jones who was thrust into the head coaching role early in the 2019 season amid the chaos of uncertainty that surrounded the club that season. Owners Bob and Andrew Wetenhall had thrown the keys on the table during the off-season, leaving the Alouettes under league ownership. Just days into the season, head coach Mike Sherman was fired and replaced by Jones.

Remarkably, the Als not only made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, but they also managed to put an end to five years of revolving door at quarterback. Vernon Adams established himself as the No.1 and received a contract to suit his status.

Adams remains the No. 1 quarterback to this day.

However, Montreal’s decision to retain veteran Trevor Harris as his backup, and Jones’ decision not to name his Week 1 starter until days before the opening game, have clouded that picture.

A year ago, Harris, 36, was the starter in Edmonton and one of the highest-paid players in the CFL.

And while it might behoove Jones to allow Adams to work through any early season rustiness, it’s a luxury he may not have, given the situation in which he finds himself.

Jones was not hired by general manager Danny Maciocia, who joined the club under the new ownership of Gary Stern in early 2020. That dynamic alone doesn’t mean the head coach is on thin ice. But the fact Jones is coaching this season without a contract for next season puts him in a vulnerable position.

The schedule doesn’t help. After tonight, the Als play their home opener next week against Saskatchewan before returning for the second half of a home-and-home series at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

How much pressure might there be on Maciocia to make a move on the head coach if Montreal is 1-3 or even 0-4 at that time?

Well, consider the recent public comments of Stern, who is embarking on his first full season of ownership after owning the team (and paying the bills) for the cancelled 2020 season and the shortened one in 2021.

“This season will determine what the CFL and Als are about,” Stern recently told Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette. “If not, by midseason, you’ll see me take action, although I’m not sure what that means.”

More specific to tonight’s game, Stern, who lives in Toronto, this week declared his team would “kill Toronto on Thursday.”

The Als are slight underdogs against the Argonauts and are on the road for the second consecutive week while Toronto is coming off a Week 1 bye.

Meanwhile, star running back William Stanback, Montreal’s best player and one of the very best in the entire CFL, was lost to a broken ankle last week in Calgary.

The Argonauts, as the defending first-place team in the East Division, have their own lofty expectations for this season.

But the implications of a loss tonight are a lot more daunting for the visitors than the home side.

Injecting offence

So far, so good.

The CFL spent a lot of time this off-season discussing and debating rule changes to put more offence into the game, arriving at changes that improve field position to begin drives and force defences to defend more of the field by narrowing the hashmarks.

To be fair, there may be more at play than rule changes that led to a 33 per cent increase in scoring during Week 1 compared to a year ago.

Not only was there no training camp in 2021, but many players weren’t able to train properly in the off-season after missing all of the 2020 season. Additionally, there was a uniquely high proportion of new players to the league a year ago, which likely also played a role.

Another is the overall player continuity this season compared to last. In 2021, 29 per cent of players on opening-week rosters were new to the league. The percentage of rookies in the league this season has fallen by almost half.

Whatever the reason, the CFL game during opening week of the 2022 season looked fast, crisp, and exciting.

Canadian quarterbacks

Nathan Rourke was sensational in his season debut a week ago for the B.C. Lions, completing 26 of 29 passes for 284 yards, three passing touchdowns and two more along the ground.

That has sparked excitement across the league that the long, long, long wait for the next star Canadian quarterback may in fact be over.

It was 53 years ago that Russ Jackson played his final CFL game, ending a career that saw him three times named the league’s Most Outstanding Player, a standard no Canadian quarterback has come close to approaching since.

There has been much debate about the place of Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL, with many fans, and some within the media, believing there has been an inherent bias against Canadians playing the position.

Objectively, there have historically been two challenges to Canadians playing quarterback in the CFL.

One was that until 2019, the quarterback position didn’t count when it came to the required number of seven Canadian starters per team.

That created the incentive for teams to move Canadian quarterbacks to another position, where they would count against the required number of Canadian starters. And since quarterbacks are often among the best athletes on a team, that option existed with players like Vince Danielson and Brad Sinopoli, two former U Sports quarterbacks who were converted into excellent receivers in the CFL.

Whether either of them could have cut it as CFL quarterbacks isn’t really the point. It’s that their teams benefited from moving them to another place on the field.

If that rule still existed, it’s likely that Edmonton’s Tre Ford – one of the best overall athletes to come out of U Sports football at any position in a while – would be playing receiver or defensive back, not quarterback.

The other challenge has to do with the gap in overall talent and game speed between U Sports football and the CFL. Undoubtedly, there are CFL coaches who believe the time and investment needed to coach up a quarterback from the Canadian university level isn’t worth it.

That, however, may be changing as well.

Along with Ford, who played at the University of Waterloo, there is Rourke’s backup, Michael O’Connor, who played at UBC after transferring from Penn State.

The fact we saw two Canadian quarterbacks on the field in a Week 1 game is significant, as is the fact that three of the six quarterbacks in uniform were domestic.

The pipeline has several more legitimate Canadian quarterback prospects on the way.

There’s no reason to believe that they won’t get their shot in today’s CFL.

Keeping QBs healthy

Understandably, the CFL prioritizes the health of its quarterbacks and instructs its officials to err on the side of keeping them safe.

Nothing affects the quality of the game like injured quarterbacks, something the CFL has seen far too often in recent years.

So, it was a little disconcerting to see two of the league’s marquee quarterbacks – Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros and Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo – down on the turf in Week 1.

There are things officials can do to keep quarterbacks safe when they are in the pocket, but that protection disappears once they tuck it and head up field, as both Fajardo and Collaros did on the plays in question.

The CFL’s injury spotter ordered Collaros out of the game for evaluation, despite it being a close game in the late stages of the fourth quarter. However, by its own admission, the league failed in not ordering Fajardo off as well, who stayed on the ground for roughly 12 seconds after taking a hit from Hamilton’s Simoni Lawrence.

The Lawrence hit was worthy of a fine, based on it being late and blow to the upper back or neck area. According to the league, the fine had nothing to do with the fact Lawrence hit a quarterback, who at that point was a running back on the field.

The same goes for Collaros, who dove forward for the first down, rather than giving himself up, as quarterback are required to do if they don’t want to be hit. There was no supplementary discipline applied to that play.