Alouettes and RedBlacks kick off 2015 campaign

Jun 24, 2015 - 3:04 PM Montreal, QC (Sports Network) - The wait is over, as the Ottawa RedBlacks and the Montreal Alouettes kick off the 2015 CFL regular season on Thursday night at Percival-Molson Stadium.

For the RedBlacks, this will be the second campaign for the club, although there has been a team playing in Ottawa previously in the league. Last year there was quite a bit of growing pains for head coach Rick Campbell and his crew, producing a grand total of just two wins in 18 opportunities.

Ottawa was by far the lowest-scoring team in the CFL with a mere 15.4 ppg. A major issue was trying to buy time for quarterback Henry Burris in the pocket so he might find someone to throw to down the field. Unfortunately for Burris, while finishing fourth in the league with 3,728 passing yards, he registered an efficiency rating of only 78.7 due to the fact that he had more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11).

The depth chart shows Thomas DeMarco and Danny O'Brien as backups for an aging Burris who began his career with Calgary back in 1998 and has gone on to become one of the most accomplished gunslingers in the league with more than 55,000 yards and 335 majors through the air.

At least for the opener, the RedBlacks will be without the services of Marcus Henry, their leading receiver from 2014 who caught 67 balls for 824 yards, but only two touchdowns. Wide receiver Chris Williams could be a player to watch. although he has not been in the league since he played for Hamilton in 2012, instead appearing on the rosters for both the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears of the NFL.

Finding themselves playing from behind more often than not in 2014, the RedBlacks did little in the way of running the ball, averaging a league low 82.4 ypg. Chevon Walker (101 carries, 458 yards, three TDs) might be more comfortable now with the club, but so too should be Jeremiah Johnson (348 yards, two TDs).

Sadly, the RedBlacks have concerns not only on offense but on defense as well, after allowing a league high 372.7 ypg. Opponents generated 25.8 ppg versus Ottawa, which in turn kept the ball out of the hands of the RedBlacks offense, a vicious cycle that could rear its ugly head once more in 2015.

It also didn't help that the squad was dead last in turnovers, showing a minus-18 in that department.

The Alouettes were much more favorable when it came to miscues, displaying a plus-seven on the campaign thanks to a league-high 22 fumble recoveries. Winston Venable and Jerald Brown tied for the league high with four fumble returns and the good news for Montreal is that both are returning to action in 2015.

In addition to being one of the more opportunistic squads as far as turnovers were concerned, the Als also placed third in quarterbacks sacks with 51, thanks in large part to defensive end John Bowman who led the program with both 12 sacks and five forced fumbles.

With those three key figures again spearheading the defense, the attention turns once more to the offense for Montreal. Collectively, the Alouettes had the worst pass efficiency rating at 74.4, completing a league low 53.9 percent. The problem was having too many chefs in the kitchen, or too many quarterbacks handling the ball as it were.

Montreal got off to an awful start last season, again trying to figure out who would be playing quarterback and leading it into the future, dropping seven of the first eight out of the gate. There was reason for optimism down the stretch as the team made the playoffs and crushed British Columbia by a lopsided score of 50-17, but only a week later the Als were on their way from following a 40-24 setback versus Hamilton.

Beginning in late August it was Jonathan Crompton's job to lose at quarterback and for the most part he was able to stand up to all the battles. The signal- caller even played just days after his former fiancee succumbed to ovarian cancer. Crompton more than proved his ability to lead in adversity as he guided the Als to a 38-31 come-from-behind win over Hamilton, a team that was eventually headed for the Grey Cup title game.

Backing up Crompton will be former Tiger-Cat Dan LeFevour, as well as Brandon Bridge, at least to start off.

Once again the key play makers down the field will be S.J. Green and the newly-acquired Fred Stamps, two guys who have become synonymous with exciting, highlight worthy football the last few years. Stamps makes his way over from Edmonton where he produced 496 receptions for almost 8,000 yards and 49 TDs since 2007. Add in Nik Lewis, a transfer from Calgary where he notched 805 receptions and 11,250 yards in his career, and there are plenty of quality options for the Als to turn to.

However, one troubling move to take place in the last few weeks for Montreal was a suspension of defensive end Michael Sam. The first openly gay player to make it onto an NFL roster, Sam had trouble sticking around with St. Louis and the Cowboys, so he eventually signed a two-year contract with the Als. Unfortunately, not three weeks into his tenure Sam disappeared, leaving camp for personal reasons.

Sam had been given permission to return home to Texas and the team left the door open for him to return when he was ready, but as time passed it sounded more as though the Als were moving on without him.

Montreal head coach Tim Higgins could have another distraction on his hands on the offensive side of the ball, having hired former quarterback Anthony Calvillo to be his receivers coach, but that would be a good thing.

The Alouettes won all three meetings last season, although scoring was relatively minimal given how explosive games can become. The Als posted a 20-10 triumph at home in late August and then grabbed a 15-7 victory on the road in September and a 23-17 triumph at Ottawa the following month.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!