Don’t believe the rumours: Danny Maciocia confident that journeyman Shawn Lemon’s personality will mesh with Alouettes’ locker room

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

For more than a decade, Shawn Lemon has bounced around professional football like a hot potato.

Despite a track record of production at nearly every destination, no franchise has held on to the veteran pass rusher for long. After changing teams a whopping 17 times since 2011, the journeyman’s reputation has become that of a strong personality some find difficult to work with.

That’s an accusation that his latest team, the Montreal Alouettes, has no interest in perpetuating. Speaking to the media on Wednesday ahead of Lemon’s introduction, general manager Danny Maciocia pushed back hard when asked about his new acquisition’s allegedly mercurial nature.

“You must always be cautious of the things you hear and the rumours that circulate. There were a lot of people who told me the same thing about Trevor Harris but that wasn’t at all what we saw in the locker room, where he was a complete teammate and leader,” Maciocia said, referencing the team’s former starting quarterback who’s now with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“For sure, before I made the decision, before I called (Lemon) and before I spoke to his agent, I made a few calls to people who had coached him, to players who have played with him, and to current Alouettes players who played with him. The information that I was able to find is that he is a good teammate who gets along well with everybody.”

The Alouettes are currently last in the league in sacks, prompting them to sign Lemon at the conclusion of their Week 7 bye. The 34-year-old had spent the first third of the season on the open market after being unexpectedly released in training camp by the B.C. Lions, who cited the construction of their Canadian ratio as the main reason.

Lemon had to wait nearly two weeks after the opening of free agency in February to even find his initial landing spot with the Lions, despite coming off a career year in 2022. He recorded a personal-best 29 defensive tackles and 14 quarterback sacks with the Calgary Stampeders to go along with five forced fumbles, earning a CFL all-star selection and the West Division nomination for Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

“You think you are worth a certain value on the open market and sometimes there are teams that view it a little differently,” Maciocia said, attempting to explain Lemon’s long stint in the wilderness. “I think there’s also the fact that he is 34 years old and teams want to invest in players that are a little bit younger. Then sometimes, like in B.C., it is a question of ratio.”

“We’re the ones who will profit from the experience he brings and the fact that he can get to the quarterback. That’s exactly what we need.”

As the season entered its second phase, Lemon’s value increased across the league. The 12-year vet revealed to the Montreal media that he was in conversations with five different CFL teams prior to deciding on the Alouettes, believing he can make an immediate impact for the East Division contender.

“I watched every game. I watched every preseason game. I watched every stream of every team in the league,” Lemon said. “This is a real aggressive defence, the offence is very explosive. What I want to do is I want to bring my skill set to not only get to the quarterback but take the ball away. I pride myself in creating turnovers, forced fumbles, for us to get the ball back in the offence’s hands.”

That is exactly why Maciocia and head coach Jason Maas settled on bringing in Lemon following an extensive internal review during the bye week. Beyond just the measly seven sacks generated by the team this year, strong overall defensive performances were hiding a lack of pressure placed on opposing quarterbacks.

Sitting just eight QB takedowns shy of becoming the 13th player in CFL history to reach the 100-sack plateau, few have ever done that better than the newest Alouette.

“When I think of Shawn Lemon, I had the chance to coach Elfrid Payton and Joe Montford in Edmonton,” Maciocia said. “These are guys who on second-and-long, you are going to unleash and give them the flexibility to do what they do best, which is get to the quarterback. That’s what I expect of him.”

Montreal (2-3) is set to host the Stampeders (2-4) on Sunday, July 30 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. There is a possibility that Lemon could make his debut in that game, with the pass rusher already believing he has a strong grasp of the playbook. However, the final decision will be in the hands of Maas, who is more concerned with the newcomer’s “gas tank.”

“It’s one thing to go to training camp and one thing to sit out. You’ve still got to be able to come out here for three days and practice and be able to play at your level,” the coach said. “Ultimately, he’s a pro. Since we signed him, he’s been in the meeting rooms, working with the coaches to be ready. That’s what’s noticeable right away when dealing with Shawn.”

With the move, Lemon is just one stop away from joining quarterback Kevin Glenn as the only players to be employed by all nine CFL franchises. All that remains is the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but he has no intention of making another move to Steeltown any time soon.

“I just had a chance to and I decided to come here, so I’m happy to be here,” Lemon said. “Hopefully, I’ll be here for a while. That’s the plan.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.