MONTREAL — No one needs to tell Troy Smith he has to play better.
The Heisman Trophy-winner replacing future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo at quarterback completed fewer than half his passes as the Montreal Alouettes offence fired blanks in its CFL season opener last week in Calgary.
Smith hopes to start clicking with his receivers and moving the ball when the Alouettes take on the B.C. Lions in a bounce-back game for both teams at Percival Molson Stadium on Friday night.
“It falls on my shoulders as a quarterback,” said Smith, who put up only 148 passing yards in a 29-8 loss to the Stampeders. “I have to do a better job of decision-making and distributing the ball.
“We have weapons all over the field, but if we don’t protect and get the ball out on time, these weapons mean nothing. So it’s on me.”
The Lions’ 35-year-old pivot Kevin Glenn may be thinking the same. His team took an early 14-0 lead but he then threw four interceptions in a 27-20 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos. It was only the third time the Lions lost at home since 2011.
And this week the Lions go into the game with the virtually unknown Ryan Cave playing the key position on the offensive line, left tackle. Cave was rushed in this week after Andre Ramsey fractured an ankle, Cave had only two practices with his new team.
The upside is that Cave spent most of training camp with the Alouettes and knows the players he will be trying to block.
“Everyone knows there’s a new guy on the offensive line who’s had two days of practice, but he’s a very intelligent guy, very football smart,” said Glenn. “He’s picked up the scheme and blocking assignments very quickly.
“We’ll see what happens in a game but I have confidence he’ll do well.”
The Alouettes got a break on Thursday when CFL disciplinarians elected to give linebacker Kyries Hebert a fine rather than a suspension for his clothesline tackle on Calgary’s Jon Cornish.
So the stage is set for yet another in a long history of close battles between the Alouettes and Lions in Montreal. Last season, a last-play Sean Whyte field goal gave Montreal a 39-38 win.
B.C. coach Mike Benevides played film of that game to his players as a reminder.
“What happened last year was BS,” said Benevides. “We had multiple turnovers and didn’t score off it.
“We became unglued somewhat and, at the end of the game, there’s a quarterback that hadn’t played a lot (Tanner Marsh) who finds a way to get into field goal range and beat you. You can’t let that happen.”
Smith was tabbed as the Alouettes starter going into their first season since 2000 without CFL al-time passing leader Calvillo behind centre.
He had an impressive array of receivers led by S.J. Green, but wasn’t able to find them consistently, often overthrowing them. The team’s lone touchdown by running back Steven Lumbala came on the final play of the game after pair of Calgary roughing calls put the ball on the one.
“More reps, more practice,” was Smith’s answer to what he needs to find his groove. “As a quarterback, I think staring down the eye of adversity and understanding that only you can surface yourself out should be fun.
“Anybody who is worth their weight in marbles would not want to dig themselves into a situation like this, but would love to dig themselves out.”
How long first-year coach Tom Higgins will stick with Smith if the offence doesn’t click remains to be seen. Marsh is the backup, and third stringer Alex Brink has CFL experience.
When asked about it, Higgins didn’t rule it out. But he expects that Smith only needs time and experience with CFL football to succeed.
“I don’t know if we’re going to a two-quarterback system,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s not the case.
“But Troy has been under pressure before. It’s about production. It’s about us giving him an opportunity to be successful. I think we have the ability to run the football. We need to do that. We need to get the ball out of Troy’s hand quicker in certain situations, but also give him an opportunity to air the ball out.”
The Alouettes will be without key receiver Duran Carter, as well as safety Mike Edem, with ankle injuries.
The Lions have started the season without No. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay, who is on the six-game injured list with a shoulder injury. The 35-year-old Glenn completed 18 of 28 passes for 251 yards against the Eskimos, including 102 yards to Andrew Harris.
Cutting down on turnovers will be the top priority, although that will be a challenge against a ball-hungry Montreal defence.
“They’re an attack defence,” said Glenn. “They come after you.
“They want to disrupt the offence and cause turnovers, and that’s one thing we learned last week, that we can’t turn the ball over and win.”
Former Lions defensive end Chris Wilson will likely line up across from Cave, but linebackers like Hebert and Chip Cox will no doubt also test the newcomer as he tries to play one of the most difficult positions on the field with little practice time.
Benevides is confident the six-foot-five 345-pound Cave won’t be trampled.
“With the challenge a very good Montreal defence presents, at least his advantage is that he’s seen those men and what they can do,” said Benevides. “Yeah, it’s not an ideal world to have a professional player playing after two days with the program, but that’s the challenge we have to face.
“He’s done a good job. He’s a smart player, a big player. In three days of knowing him, I like him a lot.”