When you’re retooling a defence, it doesn’t matter if your fresh faces are castoffs or castaways, under the radar or never even got off the ground. The Alouettes went off-season free agent “expensive”, but now they’re thriving with: “The Expendables.”
Alan-Michael Cash. Ventrell Jenkins. Kenny Ingram. Mike Lockley. These CFL unknowns have helped replace some of the most likeable and talented Alouette defenders of the past decade, from Eric Wilson and Anwar Stewart in the trenches to Diamond Ferri and Ramon Guzman at linebacker.
“Some of these new guys we’ve been trying to get up here for years but they kept sticking in the NFL and so we’d drop them off the Neg List,” reveals Alouettes General Manager Jim Popp.
“Some I didn’t know much about---Billy Parker had helped coach an indoor team in Virginia one off-season and he told me this kid (Cash) could play. I’d had my eye on him before (he’d played at NC State where an assistant coach named Marc Trestman was toiling in obscurity) because he played with the son of friends of mine who had their kid go on to the Seattle Seahawks.”
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With the Expendables, so many football people have looked the other way at times. Now with the Als feeling like they’re on a roll, they hope opposing quarterbacks will be looking the other way.
Cash and Lockley were bottom of the depth chart at the start of 2012 training camp, the odds stacked against them. Expendable training camp fodder, perhaps. Now they’re roommates with their careers reborn heading into the CFL’s real season.
“Everybody’s buying in,” professes Lockley, who knew of current Alouettes Kenny Ingram and the longterm injured Bear Woods from high school ball in Orlando, Florida.
“It’s not dumbed down---we’re doing what we’re supposed to,” the stocky linebacker turned rush-end says of the common media portrayal that new coordinator Jeff Reinebold’s schemes were out-scheming his own players.
Being an Expendable means playing an old game new ways in a new country. Lockley had been a middle linebacker since he was a teen, but is learning pass-rush techniques that pay off when the Als frequently have 5 men up on the front.
“Coach (Mike) Sinclair has taught me a lot: hand placement on run plays, hand placement on pass plays.”
Ingram has transitioned from safety to linebacker to find himself working against the hulking offensive tackles of the Canadian game, a remarkable transition for the former New York Giant property.
“I looked at the big signings in the off-season (notably Aaron Hunt and linebackers Restelli and Davis, the latter being the only one still in Alouette bleu, blanc, rouge).
“I was 4th on the depth chart when camp started,” Ingram brags. “It’s been a huge role change but here the coaches have confidence in me. Here they’re just opening it up, making us freer. New York and Montreal, both are great defences, but Coach Reinebold is giving us more freedom.”
“He did things in camp we didn’t know he could do,” admits Popp.
With freedom comes responsibility. Some Expendables can’t handle that.
Ventrell Jenkins was leading his team in sacks but was made a healthy scratch by Trestman early in the season. Trestman spoke of the need for consistency and for the former NFLer to “consider what the game means to him”...CoachSpeak for: you could be expendable.
“I wasn’t doing the right things,” Jenkins confesses. “Wasn’t studying, wasn’t producing. You need a coach like that...he cut my reps and made it clear I needed to get myself together.”
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFLers Ed Philion and Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.
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