Free agency has died down; the draft is over; and training camps are nearly underway. The 2016 CFL season is almost upon us, and the promise of another exciting season is building. To get ready for the pre-season kick-off on June 8, we will go through each CFL team from worst through first and list three big reasons why you should be exited to watch your team in 2016. As a bonus, there’s even a reason to cheer against every team for the opposing fans. Last week was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and this week examine some reasons to cheer for the 2016 Montreal Alouettes.
Get Excited: 2016 Montreal Alouettes
Reason One: Calvillo’s Heir Apparent?
Ever since CFL legend Anthony Calvillo retired in 2014 the Montreal Alouettes have been adrift at the position. Tanner Marsh, Troy Smith, Dan LeFevour, Anthony Boone, and Jonathan Crompton have attempted to provide some form of an answer at signal caller with little to no success for the franchise. Yet this off-season, the Als—arguably more than any other team—have a reason to be very excited about their quarterback group heading into 2016. Vernon Adams, Brandon Bridge, and Rakeem Cato are all highly talented, 25 or younger quarterbacks set to rumble behind incumbent starter Kevin Glenn for a shot to be the true successor to Calvillo.
Adams is the presumptive favorite to take the reigns of the franchise with the Als giving up a first round pick to get the former Oregon Duck in a trade with the Lions, but the rookie has yet to play a snap of pro football. Bridge has the (dis)advantage of being a Canadian quarterback with what feels like everyone rooting for him while simultaneously dismissing him due to his passport. Many enjoyed watching Bridge’s lone debut last year, and he certainly has the necessary skill set to win in this league regardless of his National status. Despite the rumors that Rakeem Cato’s time in Montreal may be limited, he still provided one of the most shocking performances in the CFL last year, torching the Calgary Stampeders for three touchdowns in a week two win that few saw coming. While Cato’s productivity wavered as the season progressed, he still stands as the most experienced of the young guns vying for a starting role.
Montreal has the best kind of problem on their hands: too many young, talented, and promising quarterbacks on their roster. And if that’s not enough to convince you the future is bright in Montreal, remember who is personally coaching these guys to succeed. Hint: he holds a lot of records.
Reason Two: Dirty Bird Defense
While the past few years have seen the offence struggle in Montreal, the defence seems to just keep getting better and better, and 2016 will be no different. From top to bottom, this year’s edition of the Montreal Alouettes is just downright scary. It all starts upfront with sack champion John Bowman (more on him later); up-and-coming pass rusher Gabriel Knapton; rock-solid interior lineman Alan-Michael Cash; and the mega-hyped Vaughn Martin fresh off a prolonged NFL career. Move to the linebackers and you have one of the scariest trios in the league in Chip Cox (who might be the best overall LB since 2009), a 100+ tackling machine in Winston Venable, and Bear Woods—who could be the best of the entire group if he stays healthy. Finally, while Montreal’s secondary may not be loaded with superstars like, say Hamilton (Courtney Taylor and Emmanuel Davis), the Als possess an excellent blend of youth and experience. Jovon Johnson and Billy Parker provide veteran leadership and solid production while younger players like Mitchell White and Dominique Ellis are given more opportunities to develop without having to face the top opposing receivers right off that bat.
The combination of all the above defensive players, along with the coaching of criminally underrated defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, should have Alouette fans salivating. Shutouts are incredibly rare in the CFL, but if there are some in 2016 don’t be surprised if they come against the Dirty Birds.
Reason Three: League Leaders 2.0?
Despite their less than sterling record in 2015 (6-12), the Als had not one, but two of their players finish the year as the top producer in a major statistical category: John Bowman (sacks, with 19) and Tyrell Sutton (rushing yards, with 1059). What should really get Alouettes fans going is that both of these players remain in the top five at their positions and have legitimate shots at defending their titles. Sutton, when focused like he was in last year’s season finale, is one of the most determined and difficult to bring down ‘backs in the league. Having the confidence of one rushing title under his belt, and an offence that should be far more consistent than last year’s hodge-podge of starters, will do wonders in giving Sutton every chance to repeat.
John Bowman was counted out once last year when the Al’s coaching staff bizarrely benched him for several weeks, but he came back to put up a ridiculous 19 sacks. It’s important to note his advanced age (33) and the presence of other stars on the defense who could steal sacks (Martin, Knapton) but Bowman has beaten the odds before and shouldn’t be forgotten. Als fans should be delighted that Montreal opted to retain the services of the franchise’s all-time sack leader.
Looking for some more potential league leaders? Don’t forget that previously mentioned Jovon Johnson and SJ Green also grace the Alouettes roster. Johnson finished second in the league with five interceptions last year while SJ Green is an elite level talent who is a perennial threat to claim the receiving title. Montreal may need a few more years before it returns to Grey Cup glory, but there is no denying that they have some of the league’s best players fighting to make it happen much sooner.
Something for the Opposing Fans: Jim Popp in over his head?
For those of you who don’t know, Alouettes Head Coach Jim Popp is also the team’s General Manager (and a pretty darn good one at that). Popp also has the distinct honor of being the only GM who has personally stepped in and taken direct control of his team four times—a very dubious record to be holding and casts some doubt on either Popp’s recent ability to find a competent head coach (Marc Trestman excluded) or his restraint to be able to step back and let his coaches do their job.
Either way, the buck now stops squarely with Popp in 2016 and there are some troubling signs that Popp may not be cut out for the full time head coaching gig. Popp’s previous forays into coaching have had mixed results and it takes a special kind of person to balance those two roles simultaneously (and successfully). If things snowball this year, the team no longer has no one to come in and save it from itself. Anyone for Anthony Calvillo as head coach in 2017?