Alfieri: What will the Alouettes defence look like in 2023?

Most of the major changes that occurred during free agency happened on the offensive side of the ball, but the Alouettes defence will also look different in certain positions heading into 2023. What are the biggest changes? Where do those pieces fit? Let’s take a look.

Let’s start at middle linebacker, where the Alouettes added veteran Avery Williams. Micah Awe, who signed with Calgary, played that position for most of the second half of the season.

Over the last two years, Williams has put together 89 and 92-tackle seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks. Through four seasons and 59 games, he has 293 tackles, six quarterback sacks, two interceptions and six forced fumbles.

In two of Williams’ four seasons in Ottawa, he worked with current Alouettes defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe. That was a big reason why he decided to make the move to Montreal.

“(Thorpe) really lets (the defensive line) go and create havoc,” the 28-year-old said earlier this month. “When you have that, as a linebacker, it just makes you feel different. If they’re creating havoc up front, I can adjust based on what they’re doing. Our (our secondary) was playing so well that year. He had them in a position to win. He never puts you in a position to lose, he always puts you in position to win. Me coming in as a 22-year-old rookie, not knowing my head from my tail, and then having Kyries Hebert, he’s a former Montreal Alouette, to just groom me to the league, and coach Thorpe has coached him before. Just having those two guys always putting me in a position to win…it was just surreal to me.”

Tyrice Beverette, who re-signed with the Als prior to the start of free agency, is an option to start beside Williams at weak-side linebacker, but Chris Ackie and Tyrell Richards can line up there too. It’s going to be interesting to see who will replace Adarius Pickett at strong-side linebacker in 2023.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see a returning veteran like Wesley Sutton and Najee Murray potentially slide into that spot, but it could also be one of the CFL rookies that are coming to training camp.

There will be some changes in the secondary, too. Sutton and Nafees Lyon both re-signed with the Als before the start of free agency, while Murray and Marc-Antoine Dequoy were already under contract for 2023.

The Als added two veterans in free agency, as they inked former Ticat corners Jumal Rolle and Ciante Evans. Rolle, 28, spent the first four seasons of his CFL career with Hamilton. Evans, 30, was with the Alouettes in 2019, but he played with the Tiger-Cats in 2021 and 2022.

The secondary can change based on who replaces Pickett, but there certainly appears to be a lot of depth and quality at each position. Only two corners, two defensive half-backs and one safety can start. Dequoy, if healthy, will be the safety, which leaves Rolle, Evans, Sutton, Murray, Lyon, Raheem Wilson (recovering from knee surgery), Dionte Ruffin (former Calgary Stampeder), Kenneth Durden, and CFL rookies like Kabion Ento and Jeremy Webb for five spots if you include the SAM linebacker position.

Finally, there wasn’t too much change on the defensive line this winter. Jamal Davis II, who began last season with the Los Angeles Chargers of the NFL, will begin training camp with the Als. Veterans Nick Usher and Almondo Sewell will be back at defensive end and defensive tackle respectively, while second-year pro Mustafa Johnson will also play inside. Jabari Ellis, who played in two games last season, could be an option at defensive tackle as well. He blocked a punt for a touchdown in the regular season finale against Toronto. Nick Heninger, who spent most of last season on the practice roster, has a great opportunity to stick at defensive end, too.

The fact that Thorpe is back at defensive coordinator gives the Als some form of continuity. He replaced Barron Miles after a Week 4 loss to Saskatchewan, so having him around from the start of training camp should only make things easier for everyone on defence.