January 11, 2023

3 players that improved in 2022

With any team, there are players that take a step forward throughout a season. The 2022 Alouettes were no exception. There are several players that progressed, and they should continue to get better going forward.

Obviously, I couldn’t list every player I thought improved, but here are three guys who stood out to me this year.

Kaion Julien-Grant – WR:

As a starter in 2021, Kaion Julien-Grant made eight catches for 133 yards and zero touchdowns. In 2022, he finished with 36 receptions for 517 yards and three touchdowns. His yards after the catch jumped from 50 in 2021 to 323 last season.

There’s no doubt that the hashmarks being moved helped Julien-Grant’s production because it allowed him to play closer to the quarterback, but it was also clear that he gained in confidence.

The 26-year-old brought an element of speed that was lacking in the Alouettes offence in 2021. The offensive staff made a point of getting quick passes out wide to Julien-Grant, and he showed that he could make plays when he had the rock in his hands.

As good as he was last season, there’s still room for him to grow in this offence. The former second-round one pick is one of many free agents at his position though. In a salary cap world, it’s impossible to bring everyone back, so if Julien-Grant were to re-sign, he could potentially see a greater number of targets in 2023.

“His strength is his deceptive ability to make the first defender miss or to break the first tackle,” director of national scouting P.Y. Lavergne said. “He gives you consistent positive yardage after the catch.”

Marc-Antoine Dequoy – S:

This was Dequoy’s second season with the Alouettes, but it was his first as a starter. The 28-year-old also had to learn a new position on the fly, as he was a field-side defensive back at the University of Montreal during his college days.

Dequoy wasn’t perfect, but he always seemed to be around the football. His ball skills are impressive for a defensive player, which is obvious considering he led the team in interceptions, with four.

His speed is what separates him from the other safeties in the CFL, as he’s shown an ability to close the gap between himself and an opposing ball carrier. He isn’t shy about jumping up on the line of scrimmage to make a play either.

“Dequoy’s vision has improved a lot which makes him more comfortable at the free safety position,” Lavergne added. “He played half-back in college, so that transition (to safety) was new to him. His rare athletic ability and his speed allow him to make plays all over the field.”

In 17 games, the 28-year-old made 38 defensive tackles, four on special teams, four interceptions, one fumble recovery and one touchdown.

Nick Callender – OT:

Callender played in five games with the Alouettes during the 2021 season. Last year, he made the roster out of training camp, but he didn’t suit up in the first two games of the year.

With the Als heading into their home opener with a record of 0-2, the coaching staff decide to insert Callender at left tackle. Not only did the Alouettes stomp the Saskatchewan Roughriders in that game, but it was the start of a strong season for Callender, who didn’t miss another start after that point.

The 28-year-old did a nice job protecting quarterback Trevor Harris’ blind side throughout the regular season and in the playoffs.

After he took over at tackle, the Als had continuity at most of the positions up front, but there were some changes at left guard because of the arrival of P-O Lestage and the injury to Philippe Gagnon. Changing the guard makes things a little more difficult for the tackle playing next to him, but no one ever got the sense that Callender struggled because of the changes.

“The big challenge for the offensive linemen, especially the American ones, is to adjust to the yard off the ball,” Lavergne said. “He was getting more and more consistent and comfortable with that extra space. There’s nothing like live game repetitions to gain that experience. Over the course of the season, you could see that he was getting more comfortable as a blind-side blocker.”