June 22, 2011

Moffat: Competition among friends in Montreal

Rick Moffat

MONTREAL — Just as emotion can either fuel or betray a football player, so too can comradeship ease or intensify internal competition. Filling out the precious few available starting jobs with the Montreal Alouettes could explode at the former home of high octane Avon Cobourne, especially when there are so many players seeking scarce available slots.

One need only to look at Ahman Green to see how difficult it will be to secure a coveted roster spot. The greatest running back in Green Bay Packers history was so confident that he drove his own car to Rookie Camp. But Green was the CFL equivalent of Cash for Clunkers.

Then there’s Brandon Whitaker, who may be compared to the Smart Car, but he’s replacing a luxury SUV of sorts. You need speed and mobility to catch and you’d better pass protect. Cobourne’s understudy will give more than just a drive-by courtesy call to his mentor.

“Being Avon’s backup the last two years I’ve learned a lot,” says the Oklahoma native whose 63 touches pale in comparison to Cobourne’s 528 holds on the rock. Whitaker has his believers though. His yards per carry was better than Cobourne’s each of the last two seasons.

“That’s Big Bro right there. We’ll definitely talk (before the game) and once we go our separate ways its war. And then we’re brothers again. That’s something I learned from him.”

There is also undeniable affection among the Alouettes competing for a starting job. Fellow running back Emmanuel Marc is a “great friend” to Whitaker, who also describes Yvenson Bernard – “YB” – as a good friend.

Then there’s DeAndra’ Cobb, who Whitaker calls “The Godfather.” Cobb traded spaces with Cobourne only to suffer injury trouble.

According to Marc, who like Whitaker spent most of 2010 on the practice roster, the RBs “set a standard that we’ll push each other.”

“Sure we were shocked when we heard Avon was leaving. But we love the pressure being on us. But we have to show we can block as well as run.”

As the battle continues, it is beginning to look like Marc may have the physical edge that could see him win over the long haul.

Similarly, the Als’ kicking competition balances friendship and rivalry, which is familiar footing for Sandro DeAngelis and his relationship with Sean Whyte.

“We’re professionals and all adults — mature adults here,” said DeAngelis. “The kicking fraternity is like goalies in hockey: everybody thinks that we’re weird and we don’t understand what’s going on with football players.”

“But we understand each other cause our role is so much different from the rest of the team. I just try to bring the best attitude. You want to help this team win and at the end of the day it’s all about collecting beautiful rings.”

“At the beginning it was a struggle for me,” admits Whyte. “Trying to find a rhythm with the guys. I just turned it around halfway through camp. I feel I punted well in the first game — obviously I want that field goal back.”

The ex-Lion narrowly missed his first attempt at Molson Stadium, but no one cares about “how close” — it’s “how many” and from “how far” for CFL kickers.

The former rugby player from White Rock, B.C. wasn’t shy about getting involved in special teams coverage. Although not a requisite, it’s clear that if you can help with the chores it can only help your cause.

Nor is he shy about crediting a former Alouette kicker from the ‘70s, Don Sweet with helping him prepare for the battle of his football life.

“My kicking coach has always told me great things about Montreal,” said Whyte. “He said ‘Go and have a good time, you’re gonna enjoy yourself’.”

“Field goals we worked on finding the rhythm and getting a routine going every time I kick. But punting he has totally changed me. I love punting now and it’s just because of Don Sweet. I can’t tell what he’s done. then everybody would be good at punting.”

As for the long shot to win a job in the secondary, look no further than Max Lerner. He starred in MTV’s reality show “Two-A-Days” during his senior year of high school in Hoover, Alabama.

“I was one of the main characters,” said Lerner. “It was pretty stressful, always having the camera in your face but it worked out pretty well for exposure so I’m glad I did it.”

Lerner was the only one from the show who landed a scholarship. He went to Furman where he continues to work out in off-seasons with Alouette Brian Bratton.

It remains to be seen who wins another weekly audition for the director, Jim Popp.