Alouettes’ B-team comes up short against Redblacks: six thoughts on the preseason loss

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Montreal Alouettes came to Ottawa hoping to compete with a roster full of backups and depth players. Not only did they do that, they came close to winning.

I’m not sure how the game will be perceived on the local side, but the Als can leave with a lot of positives after that 19-13 loss in the nation’s capital. Here are my thoughts on the game.

Different players, same defence

There are very few spots open on the defensive side of the ball, but the players sure did make decisions hard for Noel Thorpe.

Life was very difficult for Dru Brown and his starting offence out of the gate. They stopped the running game, put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and hit receivers hard across the middle.

Jordan Domineck and Bryce Cosby earned themselves lots of brownie points during the first half. The former knocked down a pass before totally embarrassing left tackle Dino Boyd to get to Brown. The latter was always near the ball and making plays, punishing Dominique Rhymes on what would have otherwise been a routine catch. 

Ottawa played with their starters for three quarters but didn’t manage to score a single offensive touchdown. A lot of credit once again to Thorpe for this system.

No movement on the DB battle

Nafees Lyon, Najee Murray, Dionte Ruffin, and Cre’Von LeBlanc are four players in the mix for starting jobs in the secondary on June 6. The first three have an advantage, having played last season with the team, but the NFL veteran LeBlanc had a really good camp.

Murray recorded an interception Friday night, but it was after a tipped ball came his direction. That sums up the highlights for the four players. Jason Maas surely got little clarity after this game, but he will need to make important decisions before Saturday night.

Tough start for Evans

On Thursday, Maas told the media that Davis Alexander wouldn’t play unless he felt better on game day. It didn’t happen, as Caleb Evans got the nod to lead the offence. 

The fight for the QB2 position is still alive and Evans had a chance to confirm his spot. However, he may have lost ground, as his performance wasn’t at the level expected. He exited the game after four drives, during which he accumulated 32 yards on four throws. Most of the time, he was escaping the pocket and running to get yardage. None of his drives led to points. 

James Morgan’s arrival in the game changed the dynamic of the offence. Maas said before the game that he liked the rookie’s demeanour and his arm. Both were on full display in Ottawa. 

His first pass of the game was a dime to Nicholas Gendron, who dropped the ball in the end zone. He delivered another great ball into the hands of Charleston Rambo early in the third quarter. 

However, he was also stopped twice on third down and threw a pick-six to Tobias Harris. Jovan Santos-Knox tipped the ball prior to it being intercepted, but it still wasn’t a play you want on your resume. 

Rambo should have a spot

Last year, Austin Mack and Quartney Davis had great training camps and earned a spot on the roster — the former as a starter and the latter on the practice squad. While Charleston Rambo most likely won’t start Thursday night in Winnipeg, he’s done more than enough to stick around.

Again on Friday night, he was the most productive receiver with 62 yards on three catches. He made a beautiful grab at the beginning of the third quarter after beating Monshandrik Hunter, an experienced CFL defensive back. At the end of the game, he forced two penalties for pass interference by running a better route than the DBs.

The Alouettes need depth at the receiving position, and Rambo fits the bill. At 24, he has time to grow and become an impactful player in the CFL.

The good and the bad of special teams

Special teams coordinator Byron Archambault is likely to have mixed feelings about this game. 

In the return game, he may have found a backup to James Letcher Jr. Tyjon Lindsey had two great punt returns, running with purpose and getting the Als into good field position. He only caught two balls as a receiver, but it might be enough to get onto the practice squad. 

On the negative side, the Als’ punt coverage strategies will need some adjustments after Friday night. DeVonte Dedmon will be a problem all season long, but they let him have too much space to work with. He was able to pick up his full speed without even being touched. 

Short week of preparation and what’s next

Part of the reason most of the projected starters didn’t make the trip to Ottawa is the short week of preparation before the first game of the season on Thursday. The Als will have two full practices before taking the plane to Winnipeg. Since most of the team knows the playbook well, the extra reps were not necessary.

The first game of the CFL season will be played at the newly named Princess Auto Stadium in Winnipeg on Thursday, June 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET. 

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.