THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL -- A lot of players on the Montreal Alouettes defence spent training camp just getting to know one another.
Major changes were expected after the Alouettes' run of two-straight Grey Cups ended last season with a second-place finish in the Canadian Football League East Division and a loss to Hamilton in the Division Semi-Final.
» By The Numbers - Alouettes offensive leaders (2011)
Anthony Calvillo: 404-654, 5,251 YDS, 32 TD, 8 INT
James Richardson: 112 REC, 1,777 YDS, 11 TD
Brandon Whitaker: 226 ATT, 1,381 YDS, 6.1 AVG, 4 TD
But no one guessed it would sweep away half the players who started that overtime loss to the Tiger-Cats, including entrenched veterans like Anwar Stewart, Eric Wilson, Diamond Ferri and Etienne Boulay.
It will be a new look defence that takes the field for the Alouettes' regular season opener Sunday in Calgary, under a new defensive coordinator in former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Jeff Reinebold.
"When you ask who's new on the team to raise their hand, a lot of hands go up,'' said head coach Marc Trestman, back for a fifth season. "Every day we have to reaffirm our culture, how we do things.
"Plus we have new coaches as well. The challenges are minute by minute, but we've got really good people. We're excited about bringing them together as a team.''
The offence that led the CFL with 515 points scored remains mostly untouched, with the CFL all-time passing leader Anthony Calvillo, who will turn 40 on Aug. 23, back for a 15th season. They also have a new offensive coordinator in former quarterback Marcus Brady. The former OC, Scott Milanovich, is now head coach of the rival Toronto Argonauts.
It was the defence and special teams that paid the price for an inconsistent 2011 campaign.
Defensive backs Mark Estelle and Paul Waldu are also gone, along with safety Jeff Hecht, linebacker Ramon Guzman and others.
The Alouettes will also start the season without their top defensive end John Bowman, although he is expected back soon from a training camp injury.
The moves had general manager Jim Popp in shopping mode this winter, picking up veterans like safety Kyries Hebert, linbacker Rod Davis and defensive linemen Aaron Hunt and Luc Mullinder.
Last season's defensive woes came largely from injuries, but players like middle linebacker Shea Emry and defensive backs Jerald Brown and Billy Parker are back healthy. Other returning players include tackle J.P. Bekasiak, linebacker Chip Cox and defensive backs Dwight Anderson and Seth Williams.
» By The Numbers - Alouettes defensive leaders (2011)
Chip Cox: 78 Tackles
Billy Parker: 3 Interceptions
John Bowman: 12 Sacks
Newcomers Noel Devine and Trent Guy have both had bright moments in camp and one of them should get the job.
"We have to get better field position,'' said Trestman. "It's a league where there's not a team now that doesn't have a guy who has you on the edge of your seat when he's returning a kick.
"It's crazy in terms of how good they are. We talk about the special teams game, but that's where the plays are. We spend a lot of time working on it and walking through it. We have to improve.''
They also hope to give up fewer long returns to their opponents.
It will be a tougher East Division than last year, with veteran quarterbacks Ricky Ray now in Toronto and Henry Burris now in Hamilton. The Blue Bombers, with Buck Pierce behind centre, finished tied with Montreal at 10-8 last season but got first place by winning the season series between them.
It will be more difficult to dominate the East as the Alouettes have done for most of the 16 seasons since the team was resurrected in Montreal in 1996 after a 10-year hiatus.
But they should be in the mix again.
"Hopefully, we can be as good on offence as we've been, and be better in the fourth quarter than we were,'' said Trestman. "And defensively, create more field position, get off the field on second down. And, collectively, take care of the football.
"Last year we were plus-3 in turnovers. The years before we were plus-27 and plus-35. That's a humongous difference. Being plus isn't enough in this league. You've got to be better and we have been better.''
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|