The CFL Grey Cup is happening this weekend and as the Montreal Alouettes are not a part of the game it is as good a time as any to evaluate their season. It was a season of transition for the Alouettes and all in all it has to be considered a successful one.
2014 was the first year A.C. What I mean by A.C. is that it was the first year in sixteen in which the Alouettes were going to have to start the season without him under center. The all-star and future Hall of Famer was the constant in the Montreal teams that were always near the top of the CFL. To make matters more uncertain the team also had to adjust to a new head coach. Tom Higgins was hired as the new Montreal Alouettes head coach and his system of play would have to be learned then implemented.
Over the course of the first 8 games of the season the transition was a painful one. The team found itself at an awful 1-7 and in last place in the East. Thankfully none of the team in the East was doing well and Montreal, despite the awful record, still had a chance to make the playoffs. Miraculously it seemed like the team was able to turn things around and finish the season on an improbable 9-2 run. The run coincided with Jonathan Crompton being named as the team’s starting quarterback.
The quarterback position in Montreal has been a challenge since the retirement of Calvillo. At the beginning of the season former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith was named the team’s starting quarterback. An injury and the poor start led to back-up Alex Brink taking over. That experiment did not work either. Finally, almost by default Jonathan Crompton was handed the job. Miraculously the team began to win and win and win. Crompton proved himself to be a reliable game manager who rarely turned over the ball. This is just what the team needed and coupled with their near the top of the league defense they were now a force to be reckoned with.
This brought them up to 2nd place in the East and hosting the Eastern semi-finals against the crossover B.C. Lions at Percival Molson Stadium. The Lions too featured a, pardon the pun, ferocious defense. Most experts predicted that this would be a low scoring, field position battle of a game. Boy, were they ever wrong. Montreal destroyed the Lions 50-17. The defense was incredible and the offense scored more points than it had all season in a single game.
Next up was the Eastern Finals against the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Two very similar teams in that they had struggled at the beginning of the season and then finished very strong. In the end Hamilton, who were pretty much undefeatable at home, won the game due to special teams. Montreal lost 40-24.
So here we are evaluating the season. Bottom line is they made it to the last 4 teams and that has to be considered a success. Doubly so with the start they had. In Jonathan Crompton they found a quarterback that despite his less than gaudy stats proved himself to be a leader and someone the players rallied behind. The defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe’s troop proved strong enough to win games almost on their own. The wide receiver corps and offensive line were amongst the best in the league. Coach Tom Higgins seemed to be a man with a plan and one that the players played for.
Now that the offseason has begun for the Als it causes us to look towards 2015. A very busy man will be general manager Jim Popp. He has a boatload of free agents he has to begin negotiating with. Players like linebacker Bear Woods and wide receiver Duron Carter are expected to get offers from the NFL, so probably will not be back with the team next year. They are big parts of the team and will have to be replaced. There are also a lot of free agents to either cut ties with or try and resign like wide receiver S.J. Green, linebacker Chip Cox, running back Tyrell Sutton, wide receiver Eric Deslauriers, defensive back Geoff Tisdale, defensive lineman Scott Paxson, and defensive end Aaron Lavarias. There are some players that Montreal has on its negotiation list who are very interesting. Players like defensive end Michael Sam are there and if they don’t get a sniff from the NFL might be interested in coming to the CFL. I don’t think anyone who has been an Alouettes’ fan should be worried as Jim Popp has proven over and over again that he is able to unearth gems; he keeps plugging any and all holes.
2015 will be another mystery and adventure for players and fans alike. Buckle in!