Five Things To Know: Montreal Alouettes
As the 2022 season approaches, CFL.ca is getting you up to speed on where each team stands after a hectic off-season that saw players crisscross the country. Five Things To Know will catch you up on where your team left off in 2021, the moves it made and what it might accomplish in 2022.
MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes may have looked around in mid-February when the free agency dust had begun to settle and not recognized what was around them. The Alouettes’ resurgence in 2019 set things in motion and last year’s first-place finish from the Toronto Argonauts, coupled with the ongoing dominance that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have shown, playing in back-to-back Grey Cups, have been two big pieces in the East losing its doormat status.
Then the Ottawa REDBLACKS rebuilt themselves in free agency, snagging a few key Alouette players in that process. For the first time in many, many years, the East looks tough from top to bottom. Last season saw the East fight off a Western crossover for the first time since 2015. Whether we see the same thing happen again this year remains to be seen, but it seems that the East has finally shed itself of teams that are the free spot on the CFL bingo card.
Another thing that remains to be seen is where the Alouettes will fit in this new, tougher division. We know they stand to be an excellent offence again. They have a head coach in Khari Jones that, like his starting quarterback, seeks out the big moments and has no problems taking risks in them. There’s been some significant change on the defensive side of the ball and as of this week, some change within special teams, too.
As we try to determine the Als’ spot in the East this year, here are five things to know about them and what will impact their season.
A new special teams coordinator
The Alouettes announced on Monday that Jeff Reinebold would not be working as their special teams coordinator this season, naming Byron Archambault as his replacement. Archambault played for Als’ GM Danny Maciocia at the Universite de Montreal and was a part of the Carabins’ 2014 Vanier Cup-winning team. When injuries forced his retirement from the CFL as a player, Archambault joined the Carabins as a special teams coordinator, then joined Maciocia with the Als in 2020.
He joined the coaching staff last season and was slated to be the team’s linebackers and special teams assistant this year. While it’s a tremendous opportunity for the 31-year-old coach, Reinebold leaves big, accomplished shoes to fill, having worked in the CFL primarily as a special teams coordinator after coming into the league with the BC Lions in 1991. It was especially enticing to think about what Reinebold could have done with returner Mario Alford, who has shown tremendous potential in limited work over the last three seasons.
Archambault could get a lot out of Alford and the entire special teams unit this year and beyond, but the feeling of certainty that Reinebold created left with him on Monday. Special teams will be a unit to keep an eye on through training camp and into the start of the season.
An insurance policy at QB
Vernon Adams was in the midst of a good year, coming off of a big overtime win against Hamilton when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in October. In short order, Maciocia traded for Trevor Harris out of Edmonton and let the veteran pivot finish out the Als’ season, which came to a close at Tim Hortons Field in the Eastern Semi-Final.
Harris was released by the team in December but returned in free agency, creating arguably the deepest QB tandem in the league. Some have wondered if it will work, having two players that have been established starters in the league on the same roster. Assuming it does, the Als find themselves in a good position. They saw firsthand how quickly an injury can impact a team. Having a veteran backup that’s played at a very high level in this league — Harris has broken the 4,000-yard passing mark five times in his career and surpassed the 5,000-yard mark once — is only a positive.
Having a burgeoning star QB like Adams working on a day-to-day basis with someone like Harris and under the continued tutelage of a former MOP QB in Jones, should only help Adams develop as the team’s No. 1 guy.
A new look on defence
The free agency losses of Pat Levels, Money Hunter, Ty Cranston and Tyqwan Glass will create significant change in the defensive backfield. David Menard‘s breakthrough season on the Als’ d-line led to him heading to the Lions in free agency, with Woody Baron following suit. That of course creates opportunities for others. Najee Murray had three interceptions to lead the team last year. Rodney Randle Jr. had a pair of interceptions last year and will look to push that total up this season. There’s also room for National LB Chris Ackie to continue to grow. The 30-year-old had a career best six sacks last year and pulled in a pair of interceptions.
A chance for some offensive stars to shine bright
The Als’ offence showed itself to be full of talent last season. William Stanback (1,176 yards) led the league in rushing, while Eugene Lewis (964 yards) and Jake Wieneke (898) showed themselves to be consistent playmakers on a weekly basis. With all of the key consistencies back around them (coach, offensive system, starting quarterback) and an 18-game schedule in front of them, the sky should be the limit for the Als’ offence, those three players in particular. Should Adams stay healthy, he could be at the front of the pack for passing yards as well.
A highly-coveted rookie
We sometimes see a No. 1 pick in the CFL Draft generate a lot of buzz in April and May, then not hear about them again for a season or two, while they find their footing in the league. That may not be the case with Tyrell Richards. Maciocia and the Als went after the talented linebacker from Syracuse, trading up from the No. 4 spot to get Edmonton’s first overall pick, surrendering the draft rights to OL Carter O’Donnell in the process.
While Richards sat out the 2021 college football season, what he showed in the CFL Combine presented by New Era had teams and pundits talking about him for weeks after. A big (six-foot-three, 232 pounds), adaptable linebacker that can rove forward or backward as needed in the defence could prove to be extremely valuable. There may be some adjustment time required, but if Richards can get into the game this season and make an impact, it’d be a big bonus for Jones and defensive coordinator Barron Miles; especially after the team lost a number of key defensive pieces from their 2021 run.