September 2016 – Hey Jacques…No Pressure Bud.

When in Week 2 of the 2015 season Rakeem Cato led the Montreal Alouettes to a 29-11 victory over Calgary,  the defending Grey Cup Champs, it was the last time Alouettes fans rose EN MASSE, and gave the team AND their quarterback a throaty and exuberant standing ovation. In truth, only Marsh Madness stands out before that, reminding us that although AC may be washout as a coach, he knew how to put butts in the stands, and when appropriate, raise them out of their seats in adulation.

But while Tanner Marsh may have scrambled our brains with his high school exuberance, Cato’s skills at the time were a revelation. How could this team NOT be on the road to success, with a quarterback that could play like THIS:

Yep…Cato was for REAL alright. From his 1st TD pass in the league, a little roll to his left, twisting his upper body on the run and throwing a STRIKE to Sam Giguere OR that INSANE lob pass to Giguere along the sidelines on the run OR his 2nd TD pass, a half roll to his right and a dart to Lewis…it was OBVIOUS that this kid had skills beyond the commonplace.

But while OC Turk Schonert received ample praise for his playcalling after the upset by a rookie quarterback over the defending Champs…both HE and Tom Higgins spent the ensuing weeks dismantling the crucial elements of Cato’s success, and nail-gunning his ass in the pocket. As Tom Higgins so eloquently put it:

Turk and I are going to have a competition to see who chokes you first.

What was a “suggestion” under the red-faced Schonert became the LAW of MOSES under Calvillo who, when he ascended to the position of offensive-coordinator, from Cato’s perspective, couldn’t have appeared more legit if his playbook had been carved into stone tablets.

Unfortunately…if Cato’s 1st game against the Stamps was the ONLY time when his skillset was utilized to something approaching it’s maximum potential, his progressive retreat into the “safe and comfortable” womb of the pocket has stifled and suffocated those very abilities. The results have been predictably DISASTROUS.

Not to mention the INCREASED burden on a young and inexperienced offensive line, who’s duty on EVERY down (it seems) is ALWAYS to drop back to protect the quarterback. Invariable. Unrelenting. Predictable.

While Schonert and subsequently Calvillo were accurate in blaming Cato for missing reads, or opportunities to make a play…they NEVER turned that glaring light of criticism on themselves, to ask what THEY might do to put the young quarterback in a position to succeed. And while questions often abounded about defenses “figuring Cato out” and “has Cato plateau’d already” I DARE anyone to find a single instance of an Alouettes coach asking himself if there could POSSIBLY be another way of running the offence that would suit Cato better…and bring success to this team.

THAT deflection of blame…even to the point of castigating a 22 year old rookie quarterback…is frankly TYPICAL of a Jim Popp team, if not the man himself. If Jacques Chapdelaine does ANYTHING to improve player relations with management, THAT needs to go…

Cato (or Adams) is a QB who, as a young man, should be using his athletic abilities to attack, NOT be forced to read the field like a veteran…like a Ricky Ray or yes, an Anthony Calvillo. The expectations are too great…and speak MORE to a lack in the coaching ranks, and unreasonable expectations of a development in progress. A veteran quarterback eventually stops running, largely because he no longer needs to. A young quarterback uses his legs because, as we all know, it takes experience to learn NOT TO HAVE TO.

This essential dichotomy, as undeniable as a physical law, has been COMPLETELY ignored by the Alouettes in the case of Rakeem Cato, and every bit as much going back to Troy Smith, Tanner Marsh and Jonathan Crompton.

Regarding Crompton, Jim Popp tried to bullshit us into giving Schonert the credit that so OBVIOUSLY belonged to Jeff Garcia for the Alouettes’ MIRACULOUS comeback 2 seasons ago. It was WIDELY acknowledged at the time that Garcia’s mentoring of Crompton, and most specifically his helping the young quarterback be poised and calm, and when necessary, use what athleticism he possessed to attack defenses and use his legs as a weapon…that THIS was what ULTIMATELY turned the Alouettes season around that year…going from a 1-7 start to finishing 9-9, making the playoffs and competing for the East title.

This year we should BE so lucky.

Sure…in 2014 Crompton, Garcia and the Alouettes had more than half a season to turn things around. At 3-9, with six games remaining, Chapdelaine has a MUCH “tighter window”. But while Andrew Wetenhall declared that all the owners want to see (in judging Chapdelaine’s fitness to continue in the job for 2017) is that some discipline and order is brought BACK to this chaotic franchise…I wouldn’t fool myself, bud.

You know as well as I do, discipline, structure, order and hierarchy are the easy “first step”. One thing is obvious after only ONE practice: after spending their ENTIRE playing careers in one gridiron program or another, NOBODY in pro football is a stranger to, nor has a deep seated resentment towards THAT aspect of football life.  Let’s face it, if a free-spirited, class clown like Duron Carter openly welcomes the return of “hierarchy” on this team, it’s something EVERYONE agrees was well overdue.

“It’s about getting our hierarchy back … how the communication gets down to the players,” said receiver Duron Carter. “From the one practice we’ve had, you can tell it’s much better.

“We’re really good soldiers, but we need a general, someone who’s going to put us in the right way,” he continued. “We’re going to fight for him to the death. It seems like it’s going to be a real good turnaround.”

So THAT’S taken care of…and it should help. No doubt. Chapdelaine seems to have addressed in ONE practice a LARGE part of what was wrong with Jim Popp’s tenure as Head Coach. Thank you Jacques Chapdelaine.

What MAY take a little more work is getting this offence out of neutral, and to a point where it pulls it’s weight on this team. It cannot have been lost on you that you aren’t replacing ONE coach, but effectively two. And while discipline and hierarchy are in the early phases of a restoration to health, what you do with this offence will determine how long you last as Head Coach.

In truth you’re both fortunate and unfortunate to have a successful colleague in Noel Thorpe. Quite aside from the inter-personal dynamics, having the best, most aggressive defence in the league will be a blessing when you’re desperate to “recolt” wins at this late stage of the season.

However. What has been MOST damning of this ENTIRE Calvillo experiment has been the manner in which the offence has let the other two squads on this team down. If THIS ONE ELEMENT fails to show MARKED improvement…Wetenhall will have NO CHOICE but to look elsewhere next season for a Head Coach. AGAIN.

As OC in BC you worked with Casey Printers, Travis Lulay and Buck Pierce. You’d be hard pressed to find 3 more athletic, exciting and successful quarterbacks in one organization’s history, let alone in the CV of one specific coordinator.

If Jacques Chapdelaine can show that his years of experience, mostly as offensive-coordinator in BC under Wally Buono…if YOU can use that experience to bring legitimacy to this offence, and provide a framework for success for our young quarterbacks, and YES…maybe even get us CLOSE to a playoff berth…

…Bob Wetenhall and Co. would be fools to let you go.

Bonne Chance mon ami.

And go get those ARGOS!

 

UPDATE: While perusing the CFL rulebook on another matter, I came across THIS passage:

In the event that the home team permits in its stadium the use of either electronic equipment or high volume loudspeakers when the visiting team is attempting to put the ball in play, with the result that the game is delayed, the home team shall be subject to penalty for delay of game.

While I applaud Chapdelaine’s call for fans to give a “60 minute effort” in supporting our team and our defence with crowd noise…I can’t be the ONLY one who’s noticed the team’s INCREASING reliance on “electronic enhancement” to replace a dwindling fan presence.

Let’s NOT forget that rule exists, or the team runs the risk of losing an important moment, and looking like fools in the process. The margin for error is slim. We can afford NEITHER in present circumstances.

 

A SECOND UPDATE: I just had a HORRIBLE flash-forward, in which I purchase a ticket before the end of the season, and spend the ENTIRE GAME (up to the point where I’m either arrested or forcibly ejected) BELLOWING shit like, “Roll Cato/Adams out for a change you fucking IDIOT. You’re doing EXACTLY what Calvillo did!!!”

Have a heart Jacques. That would REALLY suck.

 

PROBABLY THE LAST UPDATE: While it may be silly to suggest it…here’s the Alouettes practice schedule, just in case someone wants to check it out. I can’t with my “wonky” shoulder. Practices 3 days in a row. NEVER seen that before.

Wednesday, September 28
10:50 a.m. – Practice at Parc Hébert in St-Leonard (7505, boulevard Provencher)

Thursday, September 29
10:50 a.m. – Practice at Parc Hébert in St-Leonard (7505, boulevard Provencher)

Friday, September 30
11 a.m. – Practice at Parc Hébert in St-Leonard (7505, boulevard Provencher)

Mention my name and you’ll get ABSOLUTELY nothing…except possibly assaulted.

ONE FINAL LAST UPDATE…DAMMIT: It occurs to me to add this: after all that I’ve written, and the HUNDRED different ways I’ve insisted that the Alouettes get Cato out “on the edge”, using his legs as a weapon to attack defenses, and keep him ahead of the passrush…I’d like to take this opportunity to RECANT all of that…in this way:

At THIS stage of his development, and admittedly we’ve seen him in limited action so far…I’m CONVINCED that Rakeem Cato could operate effectively as a PURE pocket passer, provided he had the protection of a solid offensive line. Sux for Calvillo.

Having watched Doug Flutie and so many others for years, I can’t help imagining how Cato might DOMINATE, if BOTH abilities, his decision making and accuracy from the pocket, AND his talent for attacking with his athleticism, were one day brought together in one COMPLETE package.

You want to become famous? Have your name spoken with some of the GREATS in Alouettes history: Levy, Matthews, Taaffe, Trestman?

MAKE Cato into the next Flutie. Or Adams Jr. if Cato doesn’t have what it takes. I guarantee you THIS. This city is READY for a NEW Alouettes legend. Create it and be BELOVED…

FOREVER

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