Montreal Alouettes’ head coach Jason Maas has faced criticism for his lack of commitment to the running game as a play-caller, but it will be difficult for him to keep the ball off the ground in 2023 with a healthy William Stanback in the backfield.
The Alouettes’ superstar running back endured the worst season of his professional career in 2022 but has come into training camp more than 10 pounds lighter and primed for a resurgence.
“I expect great things,” Maas told the Montreal media this week. “I think anytime William is on the field, he’s a tremendous back and even at heavier weights, he’s proven he can carry the rock and do his job. But obviously, a lean, mean version of him is probably even better.”
The six-foot, 233-pound Stanback has been a workhorse since arriving in Montreal prior to the 2018 season, amassing 478 carries for 2,916 yards and nine touchdowns in 47 career games. He crossed the thousand-yard mark in both the 2019 and 2021 seasons, leading the CFL with 193 carries for 1,176 yards during the shortened post-pandemic year.
However, the 28-year-old’s hopes for a repeat performance were dashed almost instantly in 2022 after he suffered a broken ankle in the first half of the team’s season opener against Calgary. The injury held Stanback out of the lineup until Week 18 and he was limited upon his return, finishing the season with just 34 carries for 153 yards and a score while adding six receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.
The underwhelming return to the field caused the two-time CFL all-star to take a renewed approach to offseason training, eliciting excitement throughout the organization. The back’s trimmed-down physique was done of his own volition and was not at the request of his new head coach.
“Honestly, the first time I talked to William, one of the first things he said is, ‘I’m gonna get myself in shape, the best shape I’ve ever been in.’ That was music to my ears when you’re a head coach and you hear that,” Maas recalled.
“I was already excited to have him to begin with and I knew he dealt with a little bit of an injury the year before but even when he came back, he was still himself.”
Despite his slow finish to the regular season, Stanback proved effective in both of the Alouettes’ playoff contests. He carried 22 times for 150 yards and a score in the postseason, nearly matching his regular season totals.
Montreal’s new play caller believes that will carry over into the 2023 season and has big plans for the team’s top offensive weapon.
“He’s fired up and ready to play. We’ve told him what the offence should look like with him back there and I think he’s excited about that and we’re excited about him,” Maas said. “It’s really just about being able to grind through the whole regular season and playoffs with him and I think the better shape you are in as a player, the more opportunities there are for that to be something you can do.”
While Maas will be more than happy if the version of Stanback that shows up is the same that took the field last year, the possibility of the league’s best ball carrier getting even better is tantalizing.
“He’s the only one that knows what version you saw last year, what we saw of him,” the coach teased. “When I hear that he’s back in shape and he feels most confident? Well, watch out, that’s all I can say.”