November 20, 2012

Moffat: Off-season of uncertainty ahead for Als

“This one stings.” – Coach Trestman.

“I don’t like Thanksgiving,” confesses Jamel Richardson.  “Every time you go home for Thanksgiving, that means you lost.  You aren’t going to the Grey Cup so…it’s tough.”

Garbage Bag Day, the most humbling ritual in pro sports came less than 24 hours after the Argonauts stunned the Alouettes in the Eastern Final at Olympic Stadium.

Decision Looming

“I always tell myself that if my body’s hurting and it’s very difficult to get out of bed week in and week out and it’s not fun, then that’s going to play a major role. But you don’t know that until the end of the season. During the season when things are banged up you don’t think about it, you have to get ready for the next game. Now that the season’s over, this is when you start to feel everything.”

– Anthony Calvillo

Through the emotion and the disappointment came a sense that a team with a dozen potential free agents may not have to go through nearly as much transition during this off-season as last.

GM Jim Popp insisted he would carry no regrets into the off-season, not even after ex-Alouette defector Chad Owens set a Toronto receiving record and Als returner du jour Trent Guy failed to spark any field position advantage.

“This is the first time since 1998-99 that we haven’t made it to Grey Cup in two straight years,” noted Popp, who made no secret of the fact that he will have his work cut out for him throughout the coming months.

Quarterbacks Anthony Calvillo and Adrian McPherson, offensive lineman Jeff Perrett and Andrew Woodruff, defensive backs Seth Williams and Dwight Anderson as well as receiver Brian Bratton are all among those in need of new contracts.

At least one Alouette player revealed he will carry some baggage over the winter, while another is being urged to lay his burden down.

“It’s very disheartening, man, to know this team won’t be back together, I think that’s the hardest part of it all,” said All-Star safety Kyries Hebert.

“Knowing this was the last time we’ll have this group of guys together and this was our shot.  We didn’t take advantage of this opportunity.”

What made headlines all over the city of Montreal was the Als’ final offensive play of the season.

On that play, Calvillo hit Bratton for what seemed like a sure game-tying touchdown strike, only to see the ball hit Bratton in the chest then fall to the Olympic Stadium turf, immediately silencing the 50,000 fans on hand.

Jamel Richardson offered advice for the usually sure-handed receiver, who was unfairly captured as the image of failure of the Als’ second-straight early playoff exit.

“Football doesn’t come down to one play,” reminded Richardson. “At the end of the day Bratton should use this as motivation.  Use this as a building block for him to come in next year and kill this league.”

“He should play with a chip on his shoulder, but he shouldn’t shoulder this loss.  This was a total team loss.”  

Dwight Anderson echoed Richardson’s team-loss sentiment.

“No doubt we’re the better team than the Argonauts…but that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” said Anderson, who hopes to sit down with Popp and would love to get a contract extension done soon.

“I really enjoyed being part of this organization and this city and I hope to be a part of it for a few more years.”

Those were the kinds of words that would not or could not flow form Calvillo’s mouth.  He’ll take two weeks to unplug and confer with his wife Alexia regarding his future in the CFL.  

The truth is Head Coach Marc Trestman and Popp, not to mention Calvillo’s teammates will be stunned if he announces a sudden retirement…as sudden as it can be for a quarterback at age 40.
“I don’t want this thing to drag on,” Calvillo admits.

Popp needs to know because the biggest chunk of salary cap space is invested in the QB position.  The GM won’t be surprised if both Calvillo and McPherson are back in 2013.

“I feel there was unbelievable ‘buy-in’ collectively from everyone so it’s kind of hard to see everyone packing up their things,” admitted McPherson, who certainly deserves a shot at No. 1 status somewhere.

If the Als needed evidence the healing has already begun, they needed only look in their midst.  After suffering a scary injury in the Eastern Final, linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette appeared, stiff-necked, but a welcome sight the day after he was rolled off the turf on a stretcher.

“It was definitely a scary incident,” admits the Montreal-native.  “All you can see is the ceiling of the Big O and the next thing you know there are 10 or 15 people around you and they’re calling in the ambulance.  I got pretty nervous…but we expect a full recovery over the next week or so.”

“I actually found out the end result while I was still strapped down in the hospital, so it was a tough pill to swallow.  At the end of the day I came out with my health and a lot of the guys here did also.  It was a game I think we deserved to win.”

The Alouette to shine the brightest in defeat, Chris Jennings, wants only to prove himself all over again, and to prove that healing is bonding.  His overtures to Popp were rejected before training camp 2012, but when the injury plague opened up Brandon Whitaker’s job, Jennings seized opportunity.   
“I can only control my training and what I do, but Brandon’s my guy,” said Jennings, who bolted for the NFL from the obscurity of the Als’ practice roster when he and Whitaker were stuck behind Avon Cobourne.  

“We came here together in 2009—I was here in 2008, came back in ’09 and he was here with me and I love that cat.  He grinds real hard, he works real hard and I work real hard.”

“We’re going to link up together in the off-season and try to work out together and hopefully come back and be a 1-2 punch.  We have Noel Devine that could be a 1-2-3 punch and we have so many weapons in this offence and we could contribute in so many ways that it’s scary.”

Unless the Als can find some fixes on defense and the return game, they may need all those weapons for #13 in 2013.