The Alouettes kicked off training camp in Montreal on Sunday and there’s plenty of questions surrounding the team that made so many changes during the offseason. The Als went 3-15 in 2017, so it’s only normal that there’s a whole bunch of new faces on the field.
On Monday, the Als had back-to-back practices at Percival Molson Stadium and there’s a few things that jumped out at me.
Here’s my 8 early observations from Alouettes training camp:
• Mike Sherman might be new to the CFL, but structuring practices is something he’s used to doing from his days in the NCAA and the NFL. There seems to be very little wasted time during/between drills. The coach’s voice can be heard barking orders over a loud megaphone throughout practice.
“There’s a lot of camps, you go out there-and I’m not saying this camp is easy, I’m saying it’s well structured to where it’s always productive,” linebacker Henoc Muamba said of Sherman’s practices. “There’s a lot of camps where you just focus on running all day, but at the end of it you’re not really as productive as you could be. But I think he structures it very well and he knows, ‘they’ve been going hard for this long, we’re going to have a teach period’ so you’re getting to learn while you’re catching your breath and getting ready for the next period. I mean, you can tell he’s been around football for a long time.”
• There’s five quarterbacks on the roster, but it’s pretty clear that the Week 1 starter will either be second-year pivot Matthew Shiltz or CFL veteran Drew Willy, who joined the team after the start of the 2017 regular season.
Sherman has already said that he’s going to take the first week or so to evaluate the quarterback situation. He’s planning on naming a starting quarterback after the first 7-to-10 days of camp. Will the Als go with a known commodity in Willy or will they roll the dice with a youngster like Shiltz? It’s still early, but my money is on Shiltz.
• Many fans might be surprised that former NFL first-rounder Josh Freeman isn’t in the mix to be the starter. After watching a pair of practices, it became increasingly clear that he’s struggling to find his rhythm early on. That’s totally normal considering he hasn’t played meaningful football in a while, but CFL camps aren’t long. If he doesn’t find his game soon, he might not even be around when the season starts.
“Yeah, I mean, he hasn’t played in a while,” Sherman said of Freeman. “I’m sure he’s thrown footballs and worked out in preparation, but not having played the game in a couple of years, it’s going to take a little dusting off.”
The Alouettes also have a pair of raw young arms that they’re very high on in Antonio Pipkin, who played a few snaps in the fourth quarter of last year’s regular-season finale in Hamilton, and Garrett Fugate. Again, it’s early, but Freeman might just be the worst quarterback on the field right now.
• Many expected the Als to go with three Canadian offensive linemen this year, but it looks like they’ll roll with four Canucks up front. The team shocked some people when they cut all-star tackle Jovan Olafioye before the start of camp, but the acquisition of Ryan Bomben has allowed Philip Blake to move from left guard to right tackle.
On Monday, the offensive line looked like this (from left tackle to right tackle:
Xavier Fulton- Sean Jamieson – Kristian Matte – Ryan Bomben – Philip Blake
You’ll notice that Luc Brodeur-Jourdain isn’t lining up with the starters. The 35-year-old has been banged up over the last few years and the team likely feels that he’s more of a sixth lineman going forward. I still think that Matte is better at guard than he is at centre, so don’t be surprised if you see Brodeur-Jourdain back at centre with Matte shifting over to Jamieson’s spot at left guard at some point.
• Since they’re using four Canadians on the offensive line, the Als can go with five American receivers. Ernest Jackson, B.J. Cunningham and Chris Williams were always slam dunks to be starters in 2018. Some of the mild surprises among the starters are Eugene Lewis, who played in two games last season, and speedster T.J. Graham, who suited up in five contests in 2017. Having both Williams and Graham on the field at the same time certainly gives the Als boost in speed that they didn’t have for most of last year.
If ever a Canadian starter was to suffer an injury at any point, they could replace an American receiver with George Johnson.
• On the defensive side of the ball, it looks like they’ll go with the Westerman brothers as Canadians on the defensive line. Having two Canadians on the line isn’t out of the ordinary for a CFL team, but using two National linebackers is very rare. There’s a chance the Als could go in that direction though.
We know that Muamba will be the middle linebacker for sure if he’s healthy. But Chris Ackie, who lined up at safety before suffering a season-ending bicep injury last year, is in the mix to start at WILL linebacker as well.
“I’ve never played next to a Canadian WILL linebacker,” Muamba said on Monday afternoon. “And I actually told him that earlier today, ‘It’s special what you’re doing.’ I can’t remember the last time I saw a WILL linebacker being Canadian. For him to be able to do that speaks to his abilities, his athleticism and his smarts.”
• In 2017, the Als used a Canadian player at safety for the most part. This year, that will change, as it looks like Joe Burnett, who was signed from Calgary in free agency, will occupy that spot on the field. I expected Burnett to line up at SAM linebacker now that Chip Cox is gone, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
“He’s going to be the quarterback of the secondary,” cornerback Tommie Campbell said. “He’s the free safety so he has to make sure everyone is lined up. We can’t have any blown coverages and things like that. Him being back there and Dom (Ellis) on the boundary, he’s vocal, so I can be quiet. I don’t have to say much (laughs).”
Burnett didn’t practice on Monday, so CFL veteran Jermaine Robinson took his spot with the starters. Still, Burnett was on the field without a helmet and he was extremely vocal throughout both sessions. Campbell wasn’t kidding when he said Burnett is the quarterback of the secondary.
• GM Kavis Reed spent a lot of money to revamp the secondary during the winter. Campbell and Burnett were two of his major acquisitions in February along with Ellis and Mitchell White. The only returning starter from last year looks like it will be Greg Henderson, who has been lining up at wide-side corner.
Here’s how the secondary is expected to look on opening night:
Tommie Campbell – Mitchell White- Joe Burnett – Dominique Ellis – Greg Henderson
Jonathon Mincy, who started at boundary corner last year, signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Even if he wouldn’t have made the leap to the NFL, I’m not so sure the Alouettes were overly interested in bringing him back.
(Feature Image Credit: Dominick Gravel-Montreal Alouettes)
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