Montreal Alouettes Rebuilding Focuses Around Veterans

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montreal alouettes rebuilding
HAMILTON, ON - November 5: Nik Lewis #8 of the Montreal Alouettes gains yards after knocking down Jermaine Robinson #29 of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during a CFL game at Tim Hortons Field on November 5, 2016 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Montreal defeated Hamilton 32-25. (Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images)

The Montreal Alouettes rebuilding phase, one that includes a brand-new management, is focusing on veteran players. It is rare that a rebuilding sports team will acquire veteran players instead of reconstructing through the fountain of youth. The Montreal Alouettes rebuilding plan is doing exactly that.

Montreal Alouettes Rebuilding Focuses Around Veterans

New Management

The Alouettes 6-12 and 7-11 the past two seasons under former head coach and general manager Jim Popp, missing the playoffs both times. The Alouettes are going through a dire rebuild this season.

Owner Bob Wetenhall, and his son Andrew, stripped the management to near bare-bones. They hired Patrick Boivin, son of former Montreal Canadiens President Pierre Boivin, to take over from Mark Weightman as the President and CEO of the club.

After firing Popp, they promoted assistant coach and defensive coordinator Kavis Reed, to the general manager position. This is Reed’s first job as a general manager, after serving as a coordinator for six different teams, and a head coach for the Edmonton Eskimos.

The only continuity from last season is that former interim head coach Jacques Chapdelaine becomes the permanent head coach. He went 4-2 at the end of last season. He is the first Quebec-born head coach in Alouettes history, and their only sold-out game came during his home debut.

The new management had a concise plan heading into the off-season, and it was one not many had expected. Their goal was to acquire veteran players to carry a young team, and they did exactly that.

New-Look Offence, Again

Their biggest move was acquiring quarterback Darian Durant from the Saskatchewan Roughriders for two draft picks. They then locked the Grey Cup-winning QB to a three-year contract. They also released Rakeem Cato, who played in 11 games in each of the past two seasons.

The Alouettes kept Vernon Adams Jr., who played stellar in three starts under Chapdelaine. This sends a clear message. Durant is the quarterback of the present, and he will groom Adams to become the quarterback of the future.

The Alouettes released the core of their receiving group – Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford – late last season, and were travelling with an empty tank. That’s why they went out to get the veteran Ernest Jackson. He was a big reason why the Ottawa Redblacks won the Grey Cup, with six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in the big game. They also re-signed the ageless wonder Nik Lewis.

With S.J. Green returning from a season-ending injury, and B.J. Cunningham turning into a potentially dominant receiver, Reed has assembled a great and experienced receivers group around Durant.

New Protection

One big problem the Alouettes had was sacks against. Too many times, the pocket collapsed and the quarterback was left to scramble. They allowed the most sacks in the league with 64 – seven more than the runner-up Riders – and they have made an effort to minimize that number.

They traded 24-year-old defensive back Ethan Davis to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for 31-year-old offensive lineman Brian Simmons. Simmons brings a wealth of experience and strength to an offensive line with many problems. The Alouettes also re-signed centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain. Durant should feel safe behind his new offensive line.

It’s not the traditional way to build an offence that has been the team’s weak point since Anthony Calvillo’s departure after the 2013 season. But there’s a first for everything.

Defence Remains Strong with Pieces Moved Around

On the other hand, the team’s defence remains the strong wing on a struggling bird. Last season, the Alouettes allowed the fewest touchdowns (36), second-fewest in yards/play (6.2), fourth in sacks (47) and first in forced fumbles (26).

However, heading into the 2017 season, there will be some moving pieces in the puzzle, including more veterans. The Alouettes lost key linebackers Marc-Olivier Brouillette to Saskatchewan and Winston Venable to the Toronto Argonauts. They did manage to keep linebackers Nicolas Boulay and 36-year-old Kyries Hebert.

Montreal also lost depth defensive linemen Dequin Evans and Jeffrey Finley. But they immediately replaced them with players who will have an impact. They signed Jabar Westerman from the B.C. Lions and Don Oramasionwu from the Edmonton Eskimos. Westerman, 27, had 17 tackles and 5 sacks in 16 games last year, while Oramasionwu, 30, with his better years behind him, had four tackles in six games.

They also signed Westerman’s teammate in B.C., 34-year-old defensive back Ryan Phillips. Phillips is the active CFL leader in career interceptions with 47, and he brings knowledge to the secondary that seemed to be lacking last season. Receivers beat the defensive backs with ease, and Montreal finished with the third-highest completion percentage against at 69.3%. The Alouettes will hope Phillips will shore up those problems. They also re-signed 33-year-old Jovon Johnson, who was the team’s best defensive back last season with 59 tackles and three interceptions.

Between Durant, Jackson, Lewis, Simmons, Brodeur-Jourdain, Hebert, Oramasionwu, Phillips and Johnson, the Alouettes put pen to paper with a lot of veterans. They have taken the youth route in the seasons since Calvillo’s retirement, and that clearly hasn’t been working. Rookie GM Kavis Reed can only hope his new Montreal Alouettes rebuilding plan will get the Als flying right again.

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