As the 2023 season approaches, CFL.ca is here to catch you up with the Five Things To Know series. Each article will look at key storylines facing each team this season, while examining off-season movement and where your team might stand in 2023.
TORONTO — After too much turbulence around them over the last four years, the Montreal Alouetttes are finally in calm skies.
The most important storyline around the Alouettes through this off-season had been its ownership. With the franchise falling back into the league’s hands for the second time since 2019, the team was purchased by Pierre Karl Péladeau on March 10. Péladeau’s purchase brought some much-needed stability after a rocky off-season that saw a number of players note that uncertainty as a factor in their leaving in free agency.
There have been small but encouraging signs of that stability in the last few weeks. The Als have been active in extending players that general manager Danny Maciocia wants on his team longer term. On Tuesday, it was Global punter Joseph Zema. On Monday it was linebacker Brian Harelimana. Kicker David Cote was extended last week and defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy through 2025 on March 31.
On March 28, Mark Weightman was named team president and CEO, replacing Mario Cecchini as he became the commissioner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
As the Als emerge from their tumultuous winter, they head into the 2023 season with reasons for optimism. Through some legitimate challenges over the last few months, Maciocia has assembled a team that could surprise more than a few naysayers. It’s impossible to predict in April where any team will land in the standings, let alone when there’s been some significant roster change and the addition of a new coach (more on that below). Here are five more things to know about the Alouettes for the 2023 season.
» Free Agency movement: Montreal Alouettes
» O’Leary: Fajardo embraces new opportunity with Als
» Morris: Tyson Philpot looking to add to toolbox in 2023
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Cody Fajardo is a man on a mission
His French may be a little rough around the edges, but don’t hold it against him, Als fans. Cody Fajardo will be a fascinating figure to watch this season. He went into the 2022 season with Grey Cup hopes and finished it on the bench, watching the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ season fall woefully short of expectations. He heads to Montreal with questions that he’ll be eager to answer. Were the Riders’ offensive shortcomings his fault, or was Fajardo the victim of an offensive line failure, run down and eventually run off the field as he took the bulk of the 77 sacks the team surrendered last year? At his best, Fajardo is a big-armed, fleet-footed quarterback. With proper protection in front of him — Nick Callendar, Pier-Olivier Lestage, Kristian Matte and Landon Rice will argue they can provide that — will Fajardo get back to his 2019 form, when he led the CFL in passing yards? If he can revisit that version of himself, we might be quick to forget about the team’s tough times earlier this year.
Jason Maas is a head coach again
It’s been four years since Jason Maas had a head coaching job. He manned the sidelines in Edmonton from 2016-2019, while holding on to the offensive coordinator role as well. In that time, Michael Reilly enjoyed three consecutive seasons of 5,500-plus passing yards and picked up Most Outstanding Player honours in 2017. When Reilly jumped to the Lions in free agency in 2019, Trevor Harris slid in and posted over 4,000 yards passing in 13 games played under Maas.
Maas’ return to a head coaching role coincides with his reunion of sorts with Fajardo, whom he worked with through the last two seasons in Saskatchewan as the Riders’ OC. With Maas serving as head coach and Anthony Calvillo moving into the offensive coordinator role, the Als’ offence will have no shortage of a been-there, done-all-of-that level of experience.
Finally, Maas should have a great level of comfort in Montreal. He played for Maciocia in Edmonton, where defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Noel Thorpe was stationed as well. He’s also known Calvillo for years and while the Riders didn’t have the success they’d hoped for over the last two years, he’s worked closely with Fajardo. As we said with Fajardo, Maas’ return to a head coaching role will be another must-follow storyline this season.
Big year from Stanback?
The 2022 season felt like it was William Stanback‘s for the taking. The 28-year-old running back was coming off of an 1,176-yard season on the ground in 2021 in just 12 games played. In the Als’ season-opener against the Stamps last year, he went down with an ankle injury that limited him to all but five games. A fully healthy and available Stanback can make a tremendous difference in the Als’ offence, especially this season with a new quarterback and some new faces in the receiving corps. Having a wrecking ball of a running back to hand off to could help Fajardo find his way in Calvillo’s offence in the early weeks of 2023.
Speaking of that receiving corps
The departure of Eugene Lewis was a tough one for the Alouettes. Lewis racked up 3,400 receiving yards in Montreal over the last three seasons, catching passes from Vernon Adams Jr. and Trevor Harris along the way. Regardless of your quarterback, you could count on Lewis for production (something he went into last week with CFL.ca’s Don Landry).
That void also presents itself as opportunity for this year’s receiving corps. Coming over from an excellent season in Winnipeg that was limited by injuries, veteran receiver Greg Ellingson is a great candidate to make those No. 1 receiver-type plays. He’s not the only candidate on the roster, though. A pair of National receivers, in Kaion Julien-Grant (517 yards and three touchdowns) and Tyson Philpot (459 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie) will have a tremendous chance to increase their respective roles in the offence this season. Further down the line, timing-wise, we could see Reggie White Jr. make his way into this mix. The team’s second-leading receiver last year (722 yards and two touchdowns), White suffered a season-ending knee injury on Thanksgiving Weekend. Based on the recovery of athletes that have gone through similar issues, the 26-year-old could factor into the team’s plans for the second half or final stretch of the season.
Some solid defensive pieces
While free agency provided some early obstacles for Maciocia, he managed to make some strong defensive additions. That was highlighted by landing former Hamilton Tiger-Cat and 2022 East Division All-Star cornerback Jumal Rolle. He joins a defensive back corps that features Ciante Evans, the freshly-extended Dequoy and Wesley Sutton and Nafees Lyon or Najee Murray could see their numbers increase from last year.
Linebacker/DB Tyrice Beverette is another Als face to watch this year. The 28-year-old had a breakout season in Montreal in 2022, after spending the previous two in Hamilton. His 56 tackles were a career-best and his first CFL interception went all the way back against Edmonton for a touchdown and a win in Week 17. He seemed to come into his own as the season progressed. His two sacks and two forced fumbles in the Als’ Eastern Semi-Final win over Hamilton were game-changing.
If the new pieces on offence take some time to come together this year, the Als’ defence could feature prominently at the start of the season.