The conventional theory of offseason tweaks to a football team is identifying areas where you're weak and reinforcing them while largely leaving your strengths alone. Yet, we've seen several departures from that mould this offseason, and much like B.C. Lions' general manager Wally Buono's decision to further strengthen his already-solid secondary, Montreal Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp's moves to load up his linebacking corps might well pay off. The Alouettes' linebackers were generally seen as one of the team's top strengths heading into this offseason, with Shea Emry, Chip Cox, Ramon Guzman and Diamond Ferri all set to return, Marc-Olivier Brouillette pushing for a bigger role and others contributing depth. That didn't stop Popp from signing linebackers Rod Davis and Mark Restelli from Edmonton, though, and while somewhat against conventional wisdom, it could well pay off for the team.
There are two key points to consider here. First, Montreal may well be switching to a base 3-4 defensive front (three linemen, four linebackers) under new defensive coordinator (and former Winnipeg head coach) Jeff Reinebold, and those sorts of schemes rely not only on having quality linebackers, but on having a substantial quantity of linebackers to handle injuries, different situations and the like. In the standard CFL 4-3, this might be too many linebackers for one team, but in a 3-4, it makes some more sense. The second critical point is that many of these guys aren't limited to just playing linebacker; Davis may see time at defensive end, Ferri can play safety and Brouillette is a versatile special-teams ace, so they can find ways to contribute even if not in the starting linebacking corps. That doesn't mean that there won't be a trade or a release to thin down the herd a bit, but it's not inconceivable that all of the Alouettes' key seven guys (Emry, Cox, Guzman, Ferri, Davis, Restelli and Brouillette) could all still be on the roster when their season kicks off July 1.
Popp appears to be following the school of picking players based on the best player available rather than positional need or scheme desires, and that often can pay off. That might be particularly true in the CFL, too, given the fluidity of the league's personnel; top players won't necessarily be with your team forever, as they may hit free agency or test the NFL waters (as Restelli did with Miami last offseason), and a positional surplus can quickly turn into a deficit. Moreover, a wide variety of schemes can work if they use your personnel effectively; 4-3 or 3-4 fronts aren't necessarily inherently superior to the other, but each requires some different personnel groupings. With additions like Restelli and Davis, the Alouettes now have an even deeper linebacking corps that could thrive in a 3-4, and their other big signing, defensive tackle Aaron Hunt, could be a very effective nose tackle. Most importantly, though, Popp has rounded up a wide collection of impressive talent, as he usually has. If head coach Marc Trestman and his staff can effectively mould and utilize that talent, it could be a very good year in Montreal.