Alouettes have ensured they won't come up short at fullback this season
After going almost half a season without a true fullback last year, the Montreal Alouettes will rely on a group of players to fill the role in new head coach Jason Maas' offence.
The loss of Christophe Normand, who was released after being accused of luring a teenager for sexual purposes, left a gaping hole in the Alouettes' backfield last season. The team had already been without the services of tailback William Stanback, who was injured in last year's opener.
Alexandre Gagné, called up as a special-teams backup, played fullback for a few games, as did running back Jeshrun Antwi. The team also used a sixth lineman on occasion. But none of these players had much experience creating space for a ball carrier or serving as a blocker on pass plays.
That won't be the case this season.
The Alouettes brought back James Tuck, who started his career in Montreal but played mostly under Maas in Edmonton, as well as drafting Rouge et Or alum David Dallaire with their second-round pick, 13th overall, and Jacob Mason (5th round, 39th) this year.
Those three, in addition to Gagné, have been sharing reps at Alouettes training camp at CEGEP de Trois-rivières' Diablos Stadium.
“Tuck, Dallaire, Mason, Gagné have all done a good job so far,” Maas said this week. I'll even add Régis Cibasu and some offensive linemen at that position to make sure our offence has a full-fledged fullback.”
Maas is adamant that his fullback will do more than just block.
“That's why we went out and got James Tuck, because he's the guy with the most experience in the system we want to play.
“But I would say Gagné has improved greatly, as has Mason. Gagné, who is one of the key players on special teams, has done very well when used. Obviously, Cibasu's size (six foot three, 232 pounds) makes him perfect to use there. We're very excited about this group.”
Running backs coach Tyrell Sutton singled out Tuck.
“Obviously Tuck is the most experienced of the group,” he said, “on the field and with coach Maas' system, but he shares his knowledge with the younger guys.”
Maas said the Alouettes see fullback as an offensive key.
“It's an important position, one that we're going to use a lot,” Maas said.
“We're going to use a lot of offensive formations and it's important that all personnel can become a potential weapon. Any time you have an athlete who can do something other than block at that position, who can carry the ball or catch passes, you owe it to yourself to use them. That's what we want to do.”
Tuck, who has the physicality for the job at six feet, 230 pounds. said the role is “much more than being a blocker, but it's true that at its core, it's a blocking position. It's a tough position, it takes character. What we want is for (QB) Cody (Fajardo) to stay on his feet and open up the lane for our ball carrier.”
With Stanback healthy, it's no secret the Alouettes hope to rely on the ground game this season. But in Maas' system, the fullback will be more of an option.
“It's not a big adjustment for me because it's very similar to what we were doing with the Rouge et Or, especially last season,” said Dallaire, who is six foot three and 217 pounds. Mostly you have to learn the schemes, but it's a system I'm very comfortable in.”
He's happy to be coming to a club where his position is valued.
“It was one of my wishes to be under a coach who values the play of the fullback. In that respect, it's mission accomplished!”