Saturday 20 December 2014

Don’t Mess Around With Jim!

With the Grey Cup in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is now in full swing. Every team faces different challenges, and over the course of the next nine days we will look at each team individually and what they need to do prior to the start of next season. Today, we look at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

What a difference a year makes.

At this time last year, the Montreal Alouettes were without a proven quarterback or anything resembling much of a coaching staff. To further frustrate the Als’ faithful, was the inaction and apparent lack of urgency on the part of general manager Jim Popp to remedy any of these situations.

‎These unresolved issues lingered well into the first few months of 2014, with many people beginning to question the veteran GM. While other teams were re-signing their free agents and acquiring new ones for the upcoming season, les Alouettes appeared more like Snowbirds on a winter hiatus while division opponents were actively moving forward.

Not that everything started off easy for Popp's Posse in 2014. The team fired offensive coordinator Rick Worman before the regular season even began, and replaced him tenderfoot apprentice Ryan Dinwiddie. After a rocky start to the regular season, especially offensively, directeur général‎ Popp parachuted in some veteran reinforcements in an effort to swing momentum in what appeared to be a losing battle not seen in the province since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

‎Well, we all know what happened after that. One win and seven losses to begin the 2014 campaign got turned right around, as the Als finished at 9-9 and fell one win short of a making their ninth Grey Cup appearance since the turn of the millennium after losing in Hamilton to the Tiger-Cats in the East Division Final.

To quote American songwriter and balladeer Jim Croce;
You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim
Fast forward to the present: the Als have a stable coaching foundation; new additions to the staff are just that, additions, rather than scrambling for replacements; and they appear to be solidified in many more areas than they were at the start of the 2014 campaign.

The Alouettes have been the most active club thus far in the offseason by extending and re-signing some of their potential free agents. Veteran nationals Nicolas Boulay and Eric Deslauriers will return to the Larks in 2015. Keystone veteran internationals Tyrell Sutton and Chip Cox have also been inked to deals that will see them on Crescent Street as well as in Percival Molson Stadium.

Still, some important questions remain as far as their longer than normal list of attractive veteran free agents and some tough decisions will have to be made.

Firstly, as long as it took to write this sentence is the time that it took for Duron Carter to find a home with an NFL team. No need to waste any time discussing his CFL prospects.

SJ Green is another matter altogether. I fully expect to see him back in rouge, bleu, argent et blanc for the upcoming season. But Mssr. Jim will definitely have to pay and it will be worth every penny.

Much of Brandon Rutley’s future will depend upon the health and wellbeing of another Brandon: in the name of Whitaker. If No. 2 is healthy and ready to play, that spells release for No. 33. Either way, the Alouettes are set with two solid running backs.

The one thing that Montreal lacks is that smaller, faster, quicker and shiftier inside receiver that can turn a five-yard catch across the middle into a bigger, double-digit-yard gain. They ranked near the bottom of the league when it came to YAC offensively. Current Hamilton Tiger-Cat Samuel Giguère may be an interesting, yet not cheap, acquisition for Montreal at the inside receiver spot.

But it is much of the aggressive and opportunistic Alouette defense that could be a distant memory due to free agency. Front seven players Aaron Lavarias, Scott Paxson, Bear Woods and Winston Venable along with “wily” veteran secondary standouts Jerald Brown and Geoff Tisdale are set to hit the open market. In my mind, there simply is not enough money to pay all six players to stay in la belle province. Quite frankly, each and every one of the six would be welcome additions to most any and every team across the league.

My guesses are as good as anyone’s here, but I believe that the practitioner Popp will keep his field side secondary tandem of Tisdale and Brown intact. Tackling machine Bear Woods is a must sign in order to solidify the middle of the Als’ defense which allows the others to be aggressive. That leaves both Lavarias and Venable vulnerable in the open market. Both are extremely valuable players that I believe many other teams will target, but it comes down to numbers as it always does.

Another area where Montreal needs to improve is in punt returns and the resultant field position battle. The hiring and appointing of a dedicated special teams coach will undoubtedly help in this area, yet the need for a solid punt and kick returner remains a priority.

Yet as we have seen in years past, Popp is not one to be aggressive or spend foolishly in free agency. Of course, we will all see Jim garner some attention when he picks up other teams’ discarded veterans that consensus says are all worn out and finished. Some will work out – some will not.

One thing we can be sure of is that it is not wise to tug on Superman’s cape because if the last 20 years as a personnel executive has show us anything it is that...

You Don’t Mess Around with Jim!

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