February 23, 2012

Moffat: Als prepare defensive counterattack

Rick Moffat

An arms race worthy of the Cold War has escalated offensive firepower in the CFL East, but the Alouettes appear to be strengthening the defensive bunkers for unconventional warfare on their own terms.

While the Ticats, Argos and Bombers have put first-strike and deep-strike capabilities on the radar, the Als are thinking Fortress Montreal. Molson Stadium could be one interesting bomb shelter in 2012.

Defence first may not override Air Trestman’s aerial assault plans, but in 2012 the best offence could also be an attacking defence to set Anthony Calvillo up with more turnovers and better field position.

Jim Popp’s shopaholic triple-play of signings for his front seven is a far cry from the NBA Miami Heat’s Lebron-Bosh-Wade overkill, but the Alouettes may have the CFL equivalent in defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold’s mind.

Rod Davis, Aaron Hunt and Mark Restelli are not all household names, but if you can’t buy a Grey Cup, you can conspire to hire a dangerous pass-rush. 

“Aaron’s a monster and Rod’s got the power – I’ve got the speed,” says Restelli, who claims he “honestly doesn’t know” if Edmonton even made him an offer to return.

“Montreal came after me hard,” he admits.

Davis and Restelli texted eachother frequently leading up to and during the first hours and days of the bidding.  

“Once Rod signed, I had all the more reason.”

Neither had any idea Hunt was in the Als’ plans, but the the former Esks ultimately were thrilled to see the five time All Star’s trash-tweeting (including an apology to his “new teammates” for all the talk over the years.)   

While the rest of the East Division is blowing its salary payload on offensive stars, the Als are avoiding “mutually assured destruction” by plotting to blowing up offences.

“Defence wins championships,” Restelli reminds. “We’ll be in every game.”

Hunt thinks the Als can be better than the defending Grey Cup champion Lions. The stud d-tackle should know. He won’t tell me just what he did to, or drank out of the Cup, but says no one has had more fun than him celebrating a victory from that choice chalice.

He does tell me he’ll take Calvillo out to dinner to make up for years of trash-talking.

“I usually aim at S.J. and J-Rich, Cobourne [S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson and Avon Cobourne] when he was there. AC don’t talk back. But once he did. I think I got in his head,” Hunt confesses with the giggles coming as repeatedly as the bull rush moves.

“I don’t trash-talk coaches… much,” laughs Hunt, before admitting he likes coach Mike Sinclair, a former NFL All-Pro, and that the Montreal d-line coach was another good reason to sign.

Would he trash talk Wally Buono if it’s Als versus Lions at the 100th Grey Cup?

“I would have to! Coaches are not exempt. I’m just joking,” Hunt reassures through more irrepressible giggling.

“Hunt’s a great team leader in the room,” says Popp, unapologetic for the releases of veterans Anwar Stewart and Eric Wilson. “There’s some of that we’ve lost with some players that aren’t with our team…we need that back in there.” 

Restelli could be the best ball of hate, muscle and hustle the Als have had since Mark Megna in the 2002 Grey Cup winning year. The buff linebacker was cut by the Dolphins last season, who insisted on trying him at safety, a position he hadn’t played since high school. 

Popp was there spying at NFL camp. The Eskimos then insisted Restelli didn’t merit his job back. Popp filed that away. Restelli’s agent already has Billy Parker content in Montreal. Why not the unwanted Eskimo?

“It killed him not to play last year when he came back from the Dolphins,” says NFL/CFL agent Bardia Ghahremani. “He can play in the NFL.”

“He’ll flash. He’ll flash on defence, he’ll flash on special teams. He flies to the ball with reckless abandon.”

Montreal doesn’t bring back the best of memories for the reknowned workout-aholic.

“The only time I played in Montreal was my second career game,” recalls Restelli. “I was nervous. I didn’t know about Calvillo. Then I keep hearing about all these records he was chasing. I had a decent game but it was an incredibly bad game for the team…we got killed. A game we wanted to forget.”

Restelli also suffered a knee injury in Montreal while tackling Cobourne. The hit looked devastating. He says he got lucky.

“This is a guy who came to us unexpectedly,” claims Popp, despite the scouting evidence to the contrary. “The contract was just right, and we felt we couldn’t pass him up. He’s just looking for a new home.” 

Restelli celebrated his new two year contract with the Als the only way he knows how – with more sweat and toil. He signed and promptly went mountain-biking in the Aliso Viejo hills, where on a clear day you can see Laguna Beach and the stunning seascapes of Orange County.

A flat tire didn’t stop Mark from chugging through a three hour ride. He just hasn’t patched the flat yet.

The “DC” Reinebold, cast by some as a CFL Dr. Strangelove, must be loving the view of his new defence too.  

And Als fans are thinking the patchwork 2011 Als defence, like the Cold War, is a thing of the past.