Alfieri’s Day 4 training camp notebook: Ciante Evans shines, Cole Spieker’s bigger role

Najee Murray (12) and Cole Spieker (17)

Day 3 saw the Alouettes practice in pads for the first time in 2023, but Day 4 was a ‘lighter’ day because the players didn’t step onto the field. Instead, they got to enjoy a pool session in the afternoon on the CEGEP de Trois-Rivieres’ campus.

Even though there wasn’t any on-field activity to break down today, we’re going to analyze what we’ve seen over the first three days of training camp.

Ciante Evans fits right in:

If you’ve followed Ciante Evans’ career, you shouldn’t be surprised that he’s fit in perfectly with his new/old team.

Evans was a member of the Alouettes in 2019, but he spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This past offseason, the Als were able to bring him back when he became a free agent in February.

“I’m very appreciative and humbled to be part of any organization that accepts me,” Evans said after Tuesday’s practice. “I just come in with an open mind and an open heart and just bring what I can to the team and help out in any way I can.”

Since the start of camp, the 30-year-old has been used as the starting defensive halfback on the wide side of the field. Whether it’s in one-on-one drills against the receivers or during 12 vs. 12 drills, he has been able to make play after play.

Having Evans as a stabilizing presence on the wide side of the field is going to be important because that’s where the changes have been made in the secondary. The boundary side of the field hasn’t changed, as Nafees Lyon (corner) and Wesley Sutton (defensive halfback) are back in the same spots they were last season. On the wide side of the field, Evans is joined by Dionte Ruffin (corner), who was signed last winter after playing for the Calgary Stampeders in 2022. The pair are also joined by Najee Murray, who is new to the strong-side linebacker position (a hybrid linebacker/defensive back spot).

“I have played (that position) before so I don’t mind,” Evans said of the defensive halfback position on the field side. “I’m very flexible and I’m very open. One of the things about our defensive coordinator (Noel) Thorpe is that he tells us to learn all the positions. I’m new to his defence, but I’m learning as I continue to grow. Hopefully, the other guys that have been here can help me along the way, which they have been. It’s been great to be here so far.

“We want to be fast; we want to be aggressive; we want to be a ball-hawking unit. We want to create turnovers and we want to make plays on the football.”

Bigger role for Cole Spieker:

Last season, receiver Cole Spieker had to patiently wait for playing time. He spent most of the 2022 campaign on the practice roster, but he eventually suited up in three games, including the East Division Final against the Toronto Argonauts.

His best game came in the regular season finale in Toronto, when he accumulated six receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown.

The 26-year-old’s ability, patience and attitude have been noticed, as he’s been working with the starting offence since the beginning of training camp.

“I’m super excited,” Spieker said on Tuesday. “It’s a great feeling. I’m just ready to do whatever the coaches ask of me and do my job on the field to help support my team and teammates. I’m really excited and pumped for this season.”

Although they don’t have the exact same style, Spieker is similar to Jake Wieneke, who departed the organization in free agency last winter. They aren’t considered the fastest players on the field, but they get open thanks to their route-running ability. They also have good hands and are considered possession receivers.

“Yeah, we definitely approach the game pretty similar,” Spieker said of he and Jake Wieneke. “Last year, learning under him was huge. Just to see how he got open and how he made plays out there, it was awesome to learn from him.

“Especially being patient at the top of routes, a lot of route-running stuff, and doing different little things to get open instead of running by guys.”

It sure looks like Spieker will see a lot more targets in 2023.

Quick hits:

  • The Alouettes signed 2023 first-round pick Lwal Uguak on Wednesday. The Canadian defensive lineman played the first three years of his college football career with the Connecticut Huskies before joining the TCU Horned Frogs in 2022. He was part of the TCU team that lost to the Georgia Bulldogs in last January’s National Title Game.
  • The Als also brought in American receiver James Letcher Jr: