Continuing our CFL Camp Countdown series of training camp previews, here's a look at the Montreal Alouettes, based off this week's conference call with general manager Jim Popp, head coach Marc Trestman and team president Ray Lalonde.
— The Alouettes' decision to stock up on Canadian quarterbacks has already been covered here, but there were plenty of other interesting moments on Wednesday's call. Perhaps the most notable overall theme revolved around how this team's going through substantial change; after winning back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010, they lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, and they've already seen plenty of offseason turnover. Offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich left to take the head job in Toronto, offensive line coach Jonathan Himebauch followed (and then jumped to the NCAA), and defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar departed for the Purdue Boilermakers. New coordinators Marcus Brady (offence) and Jeff Reinebold will definitely bring somewhat different styles and their own innovations to the table, but Trestman said that the Alouettes' way of doing things will largely remain a constant.
"We have a whole new chemistry on our staff this year," Trestman said. "There is a reinforcement process of, yes, coaching the coaches into the way we do things."
— There has been plenty of roster turnover, too, and that's kept Popp busy.
"Football operations has been quite exciting and challenging to say the least," Popp said.
However, it's hardly unprecedented, especially for a guy who's been with the same franchise since 1994 when it was still in Baltimore.
"We've gone, through our 17 years, through makeovers a handful of times," Popp said. "We've been fortunate to keep making it to the playoffs and winning."
— Not all turnover is negative, though. Popp said he's been thrilled with the amount of talented players he's been able to reel in so far, particularly those off the Alouettes' negotiation list like former West Virginia star running back Noel Devine.
"We've had a lot of success signing players this offseason," he said. "We seemed to hit the jackpot."
— Popp said while the Alouettes have seen substantial turnover, only one side of the ball is primarily affected.
"Our entire offence is back," he said. "Most of the changes will be defensive."
— Popp also made some interesting comments about the league's draft, saying he'd like to see it go more rounds and he'd like to move away from drafting NCAA underclassmen. Both suggestions seem reasonable from this point of view, as there are always plenty of talented players who go undrafted, and NCAA underclassmen are ridiculously hard to project (as the degree of NFL interest in them is never clear). Popp was asked about his Twitter comment that only 29 of 52 E-Camp participants were drafted as well, and he said that wasn't intended as a criticism of the E-Camp selection process.
"It's not a knock at anything," he said. "It's just an interesting fact that I put out there."
— Popp said he thinks that low ratio is because many E-Camp invitees are intriguing high-risk, high-reward players who may not work out for whatever reason; once teams see them in person, they may decide they're not worth the gamble, but there's still value to bringing those players to E-Camp and letting teams see them.
"Some of the guys that end up at our E-Camp are curiosity factors," he said.
— A guy the Alouettes did draft was Laval back Patrick Lavoie (taken 11th overall), who's likely to wind up as a CFL fullback. Popp said they see him as an immediate contributor on special teams, and perhaps more.
"He surely has the potential to come in and help on special teams," Popp said. "Our offensive system is extremely complicated, so we'll have to see how quickly he picks that up."
— The Alouettes have brought in plenty of NFL veterans over the years, and only some have turned out well. Trestman said the biggest key there is players' attitudes; NFL vets can't coast and expect to earn a job up here, but those who take the CFL seriously and work hard to make the adjustment often do well.
"This is not just a unique league; it's a special place," he said.
— Overall, Popp said he was disappointed with the Alouettes' first-round exit last year, as he thinks that squad had the potential to go further. He doesn't think there were fundamental issues with the team, though, and that has him optimistic for this season.
"Things just kind of happened," he said. "We had a chance to win [the Grey Cup], but a lot of things had to happen."
— Popp said there's still just one goal for a successful season, though.
"Every year we don't win the championship, I'm not very happy."