MONTREAL — Since arriving in Montreal last August and continuing through his first season as the Alouettes’ starting QB, Troy Smith has been steadfast in maintaining that he’s come to La Belle Province to write his own story in the CFL.
But what if that story is one we’ve heard before?
Coming out of his first CFL bye week with eight starts now under his belt in Canada, how do the former Heisman Trophy winner’s numbers stack up to those of Calvillo before he was known as pro football’s all time leading passer?
You’d be excused for getting the two mixed up.
Just how similar are the two pivots’ CFL debuts?
In his first eight starts with the Las Vegas Posse in 1994, AC threw 114-for-236 (48%) for 1,907 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (1.2).
Over that same eight-game span meanwhile, dating back to his first start on October 20, 2013 right through Week 4 in this year’s CFL schedule, Smith threw 127-for-247 (51%) for 12 TDs and 7 interceptions (1.7), edging Calvillo in every column except total yardage.
But the second-year QB isn’t going to use a numbers game to justify his place in Alouettes history.
“I know that back in 1994, it was a totally different city and a totally different football team — so if there’s any type of correlation it would come down to coincidence,” explained Smith following the Alouettes first practice of the week on Monday. “It’s pretty cool to have those kinds of similarities but they don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I just need to perform.”
Speaking of similarities then, in his first year as the Alouettes’ starting QB, Smith is playing under a first-year head coach and OC, just like Calvillo did by default when he joined the expansion Posse in ’94.
So could that explain the indistinguishable debuts?
“It’s a challenge as much as any other time that you enter into new football,” maintained Smith who prefers to remain wholly accountable for his play.
“I don’t think there’s anything going on here that’s much more mind boggling than anything I’ve done before,” admitted the former Baltimore Raven and San Francisco 49er. “It takes some getting used to. It takes some getting hit upside the head to understand what not to do next time.”
Head coach Tom Higgins doesn’t disagree.
“Being the guy takes some adjustments,” conceded the first-year HC.
“Some of the adjustments are in the fact that it’s a lot different from anything they’ve ever played before. Eleven man football is unlike the twelve man football that’s played north of the border. You have an extra defensive back, you have receivers that can move around… It’s not an easy game to learn with all of those moving pieces.”
And the 22-year CFL coaching veteran knows a thing or two about easing new QBs into the Canadian game. He was after all the man in charge in Edmonton in 2002 when another modern-day great, QB Ricky Ray, was just making his starts in the league.
“Quarterbacks don’t usually start to settle in up here until they’ve seen enough of our game that all of sudden it starts to slow down for them,” continued Higgins.
“A lot of the best quarterbacks in the league still don’t have great starts but were fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who were patient with them and allowed them opportunities to make mistakes, which a lot of the time is how you grow.”
So in a business that rarely rewards patience, is Higgins prepared to practise what he preaches?
“We’re very cognizant that it’s a team that allows a quarterback to have success. We have been patient and we’re confident that patience will pay off.”
And that trust from his bench boss is not lost on Smith, who once again took starting reps on Monday.
“To play this position, there has to be a sort of a veil of confidence around you,” acknowledged the 30-year-old QB. “It’s not always going to be as transparent as you’d like it to be, but if you can get a little bit of love there it feels good.”