Er­ratic Als con­fi­dent of turn­around

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - HERB ZURKOWSKY hzurkowsky@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Her­bZurkowsky1

As he pre­pares for the sec­ond half of his first reg­u­lar sea­son as a gen­eral manager, Kavis Reed be­lieves there’s time to re­verse the Alou­ettes’ in­con­sis­tent trend. And Reed firmly be­lieves quar­ter­back Dar­ian Du­rant and head coach Jacques Chapde­laine will lead the resur­gence.

“I be­lieve whole­heart­edly coach Chapde­laine is, and will be, a very good head coach. Ab­so­lutely with Mon­treal,” Reed said. “We knew go­ing into this there would be op­por­tu­ni­ties to have lulls and some tur­bu­lence. His per­son­al­ity lends it­self to some­one who stays the course, doesn’t get too high or low. He un­der­stands prob­lem solv­ing.

“I have the ut­most con­fi­dence in him. I know ev­ery­one says you don’t want to give a vote of con­fi­dence to ev­ery­one, but this is sin­cere,” Reed added. “His foot­ball in­tel­lect, his un­der­stand­ing of prob­lem solv­ing, gives me ev­ery con­fi­dence this team’s go­ing to be right there at the end.”

The Als launch the sec­ond half of their sched­ule Thurs­day night (7:30 p.m., TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN5, RDS, TSN Ra­dio 690) when they host the Ot­tawa Red­blacks at Mol­son Sta­dium. The teams meet in two of the next three weeks, both in Mon­treal, and the de­fend­ing Grey Cup cham­pi­ons have al­ready de­feated the Als once this sea­son.

Mon­treal’s on a two-game los­ing streak, while the Red­blacks have won their last two. The teams are sep­a­rated by one point in the weak East Divi­sion, where only the top two teams will qual­ify for the play­offs. The Als hold a game in hand on Ot­tawa.

There was a feel­ing of op­ti­mism sur­round­ing the Als not so long ago. Chapde­laine went 4-2 af­ter re­plac­ing Jim Popp last sea­son. Then the team ac­quired Du­rant in a trade last win­ter from Saskatchewan. He was sup­posed to bring pro­duc­tiv­ity to a team that has gone through a carousel of piv­ots since An­thony Calvillo.

A year later, the Als most cer­tainly are a more com­pet­i­tive team but should Mon­treal miss the play­offs, that would be a third suc­ces­sive sea­son.

Du­rant has passed for 2,386 yards and 13 touch­downs, but also has been in­ter­cepted 10 times. He and the Als have par­tic­u­larly strug­gled in the first quar­ter. “The per­son throw­ing the ball’s al­ways go­ing to be blamed,” Reed said. “But are we run­ning the right routes at the right depth? Is the tim­ing cor­rect? Is the pro­tec­tion there? All these things that are around make good quar­ter­back play.

“We would have hoped his ef­fi­ciency would be bet­ter, that his play would be bet­ter. We also un­der­stand there’s a lot of things around it that cre­ate those in­ef­fi­cien­cies.”

Reed said he never an­tic­i­pated the team be­ing this er­ratic or in­con­sis­tent. They’ve taken too many penal­ties and con­tinue mak­ing crit­i­cal mis­takes at in­op­por­tune times. Mon­treal is mi­nus-6 in turnovers, with only six fumble re­cov­er­ies and three in­ter­cep­tions. The Als have com­mit­ted five fum­bles and the afore­men­tioned 10 in­ter­cep­tions.

But geog­ra­phy re­mains on their side, as no team has taken con­trol of the divi­sion. Toronto, Ot­tawa and Mon­treal each have six losses. The Als had hoped to es­tab­lish them­selves in Au­gust, but will es­cape with no bet­ter than a 2-2 record. They can only hope Septem­ber’s more kind. But three of their four games are on the road, where they’ve yet to win.

“We all know in CFL his­tory ... the team that fixes it in Septem­ber has an op­por­tu­nity to be suc­cess­ful and play in the fi­nal game of our cal­en­dar,” Reed said.

No Als player has said they must win both games against Ot­tawa, but fall­ing three points be­hind the Red­blacks, com­pounded with los­ing the sea­son se­ries, would mean Mon­treal must hope for an Arg­onauts col­lapse. Hamil­ton (0-8) no longer fig­ures in the equa­tion.

The Als, in other words, still con­trol their des­tiny. But time’s run­ning out.

“This is the time of the sea­son, af­ter Labour Day, where there’s no more mul­li­gans. No more doovers. You have to make sure you take care of busi­ness,” Du­rant said. “This is a very im­por­tant time for our team and a very im­por­tant game. We re­al­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of it. We’ll be ready to go.”

When these teams met on July 19 in Ot­tawa, the Red­blacks pre­vailed, 24-19. But the Als threat­ened late, march­ing to the home team’s eight-yard line be­fore a third-down quar­ter­back sneak by backup Ver­non Adams, since traded to Saskatchewan, proved fu­tile.

Still there were some pos­i­tive signs that night. Du­rant passed for a sea­son-high 452 yards and two touch­downs, but was in­ter­cepted twice. Both Ernest Jack­son and B.J. Cun­ning­ham pro­duced 100 yards in re­cep­tions.

“We need to start the sec­ond half of the sea­son with a bang,” said tail­back Tyrell Sut­ton, who re­turns to the start­ing ros­ter af­ter a one-game in­jury ab­sence. “We’re a re­silient team. We haven’t lost (more than one game) by more than a touch­down. We just took (Win­nipeg) that’s 7-2 to dou­ble over­time. And we should have beaten them both times.

“We’re right there, on the cusp of turn­ing the ta­ble.”

Notes — Tail­back Bran­don Rut­ley has been placed on the dis­abled list by Mon­treal, while guard Matt Vonk is the lat­est to go on the sixgame in­jured list (knee) . ... Rookie Matt Shiltz will dress for the first time, al­beit as the third-string QB. He re­places Ja­cory Har­ris, on the one-game IR.

Jacques Chapde­laine

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