MONTREAL — After missing the playoffs for a second straight year, the Montreal Alouettes were due for a shakeup.
What they got was more like an earthquake.
A new general manager, a new quarterback and a load of new players.
“It’s football,” said linebacker Chip Cox, one of the few veterans still with the club. “It’s just what happens.
“When new front office people come in they want different people. That’s what it is.”
Owners Bob and Andrew Wetenhall gave the club its first jolt by firing Jim Popp, the team’s only GM since rejoining the CFL in 1996. Then they handed the job to special teams co-ordinator Kavis Reed on the understanding that he keep Jacques Chapdelaine, who replaced Popp as head coach last September.
Then Reed made three major off-season moves, acquiring veteran quarterback Darian Durant from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, all-star tackle Jovan Olafioye from the B.C. Lions and star receiver Ernest Jackson from the Ottawa Redblacks.
But to rebuild the offence, he took apart one of the CFL’s best defences. Mainstay linebackers Winston Venable and Bear Woods, defensive linemen Alan-Michael Cash and Aaron Lavarius and safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette were let go.
Unproven Anthony Sarao is the new middle linebacker, between aging returnees Cox and Kyries Hebert, while CFL veteran Keith Shologan moves in as defensive tackle. The club’s all-time sacks leader John Bowman is back for a 12th campaign.
While the defence may not be as airtight as in past years, a better attack may keep the ball longer and give them more rest.
“It’ll help the Alouettes having a stable offence,” said Cox. “We’re not looking for the defence’s job to be light.
“If we have to go out and pitch a shutout we’ll do the best the can. It’s football and we’re a team.”
Acquiring Durant was the boldest move. The Alouettes have not had a proven top-level quarterback since Anthony Calvillo retired in 2013, going through more than a dozen pivots since then. Signing veteran Kevin Glenn in 2016 didn’t pan out, but now they’ll try again with Durant.
The 34-year-old spent his first 11 seasons with the Roughriders, winning a Grey Cup in Regina in 2013. He has had injury troubles the last three seasons, including a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener, but he played in 15 games last season and passed for nearly 4,000 yards on a last-place team.
Durant turned a knee and was sidelined a week during training camp, but says he’s close to top form for the season opener, which coincidentally will be against Saskatchewan.
“I didn’t feel any effects from it,” said Durant, who easily took to Chapdelaine’s system because the two worked together with the Riders in 2015. “I’m looking forward to another week of rest and getting ready to go.”
The receiving corps lost stalwart S.J. Green but gained Jackson to go with returnees Nik Lewis, B.J. Cunningham, Tiquan Underwood and the currently injured Samuel Giguere.
The offensive line, a rock of consistency when Montreal was a league power in the 2000s, needed major work. It’s been shored up with Americans at both tackle positions — Olafioye and Brian Simmons.
Strong-legged kicker Boris Bede, who endured a nasty field goals slump last season, looks to have his confidence back. And veteran Stefan Logan is back to return kicks.
Chapdelaine, who spent most of his career as an offensive co-ordinator, went 4-2 after taking over last season. Vernon Adams, who went 3-0 down the stretch as the starter, is Durant’s backup for now, although the coach likes newcomer Matt Shiltz and they reportedly may sign former NFL pivot Josh Freeman.
Chapdelaine has kept the offensive co-ordinator job and his son Justin is the new receivers coach. Noel Thorpe is back as defensive co-ordinator with newcomer Bruce Reed handling special teams. Calvillo is now quarterbacks coach and former defensive back Billy Parker is a defensive assistant coach.