Alouettes a mystery wrapped in an enigma

It’s hard to tell what to make of the Montreal Alouettes.

On the positive side, they will start the 2016 season with a veteran quarterback in place. Kevin Glenn will throw to an already strong receiving group that has Duran Carter back after a year in the NFL. And they still have last season’s CFL-leading rusher Tyrell Sutton and top kick returner Stefan Logan.

On the down side, they lost star tackle Josh Bourke, leaving them with a largely young, untested offensive line. And there is no proven backup if 37-year-old Glenn gets injured.

General manager Jim Popp, who took over as head coach from the fired Tom Higgins last August, has much to prove with a 19-27 record in four stints on the sidelines, including 3-7 last season when the Alouettes missed the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.

In training camp, of course, everything has been seen in a positive light, starting with Glenn.

Montreal’s 2015 campaign went down the drain when both starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton and his backup Dan LeFevour were injured in the season opener. A succession of quarterbacks followed until Popp acquired Glenn from Saskatchewan late in a 6-12 season

Having him with the team from the start of camp to run offensive co-ordinator Anthony Calvillo’s new offence should help.

“You go through training camp, get to know the receivers, how they run routes,” said Glenn. “A lot of times they don’t see me in the pocket, they just see the ball come out, so they have to get used to that to.

“It’s always better when you come in at the beginning than getting traded with three games left in the season.”

Backing up are Rakeem Cato, who had good moments in eight starts as a rookie, Canadian Brandon Bridge and newcomer Vernon Adams, a former standout at the University of Oregon.

Glenn has no shortage of passing targets with Carter and veterans S.J. Green and Nik Lewis. They also brought back slotback Kenny Stafford from Edmonton, where he was third in the league with nine touchdown catches.

“I feel we’re going to be explosive and score a lot this year,” said Lewis.

Having a veteran pivot is key because the offensive line, long a major strength, has become a question mark.

As well as losing Bourke, the key left tackle who protects the quarterback’s blind side, they will start without injured centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain. Second-year tackle Jacob Ruby replaces Bourke, with veteran Jeff Perrett at right tackle. The guards are Philip Blake and Philippe Gagnon, this year’s first round draft pick from Laval University. They signed veteran centre Dominic Picard only to see him retire, so guard Kristian Matte will do the snaps.

The defence remains a strength, especially linebackers Chip Cox, Winston Venable, Kyries Hebert and Bear Woods. Defensive end John Bowman led the CFL with 19 sacks and will line up with Alan-Michael Cash, Gabriel Knapton and likely Vaughn Martin in a group that has usually been strong against the run.

The defensive backfield lost veteran Jerald Brown but added Jovon Johnson.

Special teams improved dramatically last season under co-ordinator Kavis Reed, both with Logan’s returns and tighter kick coverage. Strong-legged Boris Bede returns as the placekicker and punter.

The coaching staff will also be watched, and not just Popp. Quarterback legend Calvillo begins his first season as offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach. But in a surprise move, veteran Jacques Chapdelaine was hired to be his special adviser.

With Calvillo looking like the eventual successor as head coach, defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe reportedly tried to leave but was held to his contract by Popp.

Their job is to bring a team back to respectability that dominated the East for more than a decade and won three Grey Cups.

“It’s been a long off-season,” said Lewis, vowing to “get that taste out of your mouth.”

– CP

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