Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman addresses his players at the end of practice in Montreal on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
Two things jumped out at Mike Sherman following his first live taste of a Canadian Football League game: the pace and the amount of time spent on special teams.
“The number of special teams plays that become offensive plays, that’s a huge component of what you do. That was my awakening to the CFL — how many times the special teams are out there, trying to make plays,” the Alouettes’ head coach said following Thursday night’s 27-7 exhibition game loss at Ottawa.
“We were a little behind on the clock,” said Sherman, whose team was assessed a delay of game penalty to begin the second half, obviously too late in its departure from the dressing room. “That’s something we’ve got to clean up. We’re getting the play in, but we’re not getting to the line of scrimmage fast enough. We need to fix that.”
Actually, this team has plenty of work ahead in the upcoming week — its last of training camp — as it prepares for a home exhibition game next Saturday afternoon against Hamilton.
People on social media are already beginning to panic over the Als’ failure to score a touchdown against the Redblacks. Drew Willy, who is expected to be Montreal’s starting quarterback, drove the visitors downfield on his only two series, although both ended in Boris Bede field goals.
On the first, he had the Als perched at the Ottawa 14 before they took a time-count infraction. Two plays later, Willy was sacked for an eight-yard loss.
Matt Shiltz, who replaced Willy and played well into the third quarter, engineered one impressive drive before halftime. It consisted of 11 plays, originating at the Montreal 35. But with the ball at the Redblacks’ seven-yard line, a pass for Eugene Lewis was tipped and intercepted.
Shiltz’s opening drive of the second half had potential, thanks to a 41-yard completion to Lewis despite double-coverage. But the Als failed to advance beyond the Ottawa 29 before Zack Medeiros — no threat to Bede — missed a 37-yard field goal.
“I’m not concerned at all,” said receiver Ernest Jackson, who failed to catch a pass in his limited playing time. “The first offence came out there and we did great. We drove the ball down twice. We had a lot of injuries, so a lot of guys were thrown in there. There’s going to be some chaos on the field.”
The Als cancelled their Friday walkthrough, so the state of the injured wasn’t known. But T.J. Graham, who was in line to start at receiver, had his left arm in a sling and likely suffered a shoulder injury.
The Als certainly have work to do on defence and special teams, but everything should be taken in perspective, given the amount of players who were utilized.
Ottawa quarterbacks passed for 307 yards — an impressive total, considering veteran starter Trevor Harris was knocked out of the game on the second series with a knee injury. There were Redblacks receivers open down the middle throughout the game, and they also capitalized on some big plays by the sidelines.
Defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler’s system is considered complicated, and it will take time before the players are comfortable.
“I know we’re going to have a great secondary,” said safety Jermaine Robinson, who intercepted a pass. “It’s going to be a good team.”
The Als also allowed two big punt returns — a 34-yarder by Kieren Duncan and a 27-yarder by R.J. Shelton.
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