April 17, 2018

O’Leary: Freeman embraces first day jitters as Als mini-camp opens


There were introductory handshakes, trouble with remembering a slew of names and at times on Monday it showed on the field for the Montreal Alouettes. Josh Freeman loved every rusty second of it.

The former NFL standout was finally back on the field on Monday, taking part in the Als’ first day of mini-camp, in Vero Beach, Florida. He’d been out of the game for three years and turned 30 on Jan. 13 this year, the day he signed his contract with Montreal.

It was the simple things — the feel of a different football, the width of the field and an extra defender to worry about — that made him happy on Monday. That kind of awkward feeling that the first day on a job brings was something he welcomed.

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“It means a lot,” he said at the conclusion of the team’s 90-minute workout.

“There’s really no better first day on the job than coming out, being around some energetic guys, being challenged, putting in new plays and protections, route concepts. It’s obviously a handful for the first day but I’ll have a chance to go watch the film, digest and come out even smoother (on Tuesday).”

With six other quarterbacks at the mini-camp, it was a small sample size for everyone that threw the ball in Day 1. Freeman connected with receivers on shorter, cross-field passes, but put the ball a few steps ahead of the receivers that were battling to make deep catches for him. If there’s any consolation in the misplays on the deep ball, it’s that the ball had a lot of depth. There’s no question that the arm strength is there. Over the next two days, Freeman will try to zero in on his targets a little better.

“It wasn’t so much rust from a physical way. It was just more so learning new plays, new cadences,” he said.

“It just takes that type of stuff and once you get it, it becomes mindless repetitions of just doing it and you no longer think about it. (Tuesday), with having more practice with that, more work with that, I’ll be able to think about what happens more with the back end of the play and where you go to the ball.”

It wasn’t just Freeman.

Just about everywhere you looked on the field, you could find someone going through their first day on the job. Of the 34 players there on Monday, 25 are CFL rookies. GM Kavis Reed said that two more vets — receivers Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson — are expected to join the camp after they ran into flight issues and missed Monday.

So, mixed in with those red, white and blue t-shirts was a lot of green.

“You saw today that everyone’s in a kind of getting-to-know-you day. We have a lot of quarterbacks, everybody’s getting reps and it’s hard to get into a rhythm not knowing the guys you’re throwing to,” Freeman said.

Freeman takes in his first mini-camp with the Montreal Alouettes on Monday (MontrealAlouettes.com)

“But Khari (Jones, the Als’ offensive coordinator and QBs coach) did a great job of structuring the practice, scripting some plays and teaching it early today. I think as time goes on we’ll get more reps, be smoother. But it’s good to be back out there playing football.”

For his part, Sherman — a CFL rookie himself — spent much of the day observing. After a full winter of watching film and getting to know his staff and players from afar, the former NFL and NCAA coach admitted it was a little difficult to not want to go out on Day 1 of this thing, with a sprinkling of what his training camp roster will look like, and try to build Rome.

“My contact with them has probably been two emails a week, so this is good to be able…to let them see that I’m alive and well and likewise me to them,” he said, grinning at his own joke. “It was good for both parties to touch base and try to connect and start developing relationships with each other. That will hopefully bring us success.”

Reed said he wants to get down to four, maybe five quarterbacks by the end of the month, so everyone can know what to expect in training camp. Sherman has said more than once since being hired that he’ll have a decision made on the team’s starter this year within the first 7-10 days of camp. Both will be watching closely over these next two days to see what they’re getting and who’s giving it to them at the QB spot.

Reed figures that Freeman will build on what he did in his first day on the job.

He was a little bit rusty in individual throws, but he corrected those right away. I saw a lot more comfortable Josh in skelly,” he said.

“You have to relate to the fact that it’s a different ball, it’s a different speed, the angles are a little different. This was the first time he actually got to work fully in a CFL offence. It’s not something we’re overly concerned with, but hopefully he’s more crisp (on Tuesday).”