Whoever said “you only get one chance to make a first impression”sure doesn’t know the 2013 Montreal Alouettes.
When the Alouettes – who lead the league in second-and-long situations - face off against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at NAPA Touchdown Atlantic this Saturday, they’ll be led by two quarterbacks whose careers are in some ways facing second-and-long as well: Josh Neiswander and Troy Smith.
Neiswander threw two touchdown passes last week against BC, but also threw two interceptions in relief of pivot Tanner Marsh.
The Als haven’t had QB-yoyos on a sting like this since the 1970’s, but those Alouette quarterback controversies revolved around 3-time Grey Cup MVP Sonny Wade and rivals for the starting job Jimmy Jones and Joe Barnes.
In 2013, the absence of Anthony Calvillo has spun a roulette wheel at QB with only a fleeting “Marsh Madness” jackpot to show for it.
At its worst against the Tiger-Cats this Saturday, the Als’ attack could come off looking like Moncton’s biggest natural attraction - a tidal bore.
If that happens, head coach Jim Popp may not want to wait any longer to flash forward to the great QB hope for 2014, Smith, the Heisman hero who was on the team’s “negotiation-list” from 2005 until just about a month ago.
“He has tenacity and he’s a very cerebral individual,” says fellow former NFLer turned CFL newcomer Tyrell Sutton.
“He’s tenacious and he’s a great leader.”
With a comic delivery Monty Python’s Eric Idle would appreciate, Sutton answers for teasing Troy about the “H-word” - Heisman.
“No, no, no...maybe behind closed doors...we do! We do. Anything we can rag on anybody...it’s fair game!”
The former Ohio State star admits patience is a virtue he had to learn as a pro, not in college.
“I really didn’t know what ‘being a professional’ meant,” said Smith.
“I learned less is more. You think that you need to be outspoken and boisterous when you really don’t have to. Do your job, shut up and come to work every day. That’s the approach I’m taking here in Montreal and it’s starting to pay off.”
Smith “came here to learn this year”, but is being “fast-tracked” in the words of Popp, if one handoff in his first CFL appearance (“I worked up one pellet of sweat” Smith joked with me a few weeks ago) and two reverse tosses to Arland Bruce in his 2nd appearance can be considered fast-tracked.
“I’m not thinking about 2014, this is 2013,” says Smith. “Not too long ago as a team we set goals. The key number is 1. Literally one day at a time, one win at a time, to get our first Grey Cup together.”
Troy has now had prolonged exposure to the CFL for what amounts to a training camp and pre-season period, but not enough mind-meld opportunity with his mentor Anthony Calvillo, who may have clearance to resume treadmill workouts by the end of the week.
“I know what it means and what it takes to play the position. As a man and as a friend Anthony’s been very good to me, very dear to me so far...but we have to be able to fill his void even though those are huge shoes.”
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL 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.