Alouettes use bye week to evaluate play in trenches

The bye week is a time for rest, relaxation, and treatment for the players, but coaches and management don’t always get the same luxury. Last week, for example, head coach Jason Maas and general manager Danny Maciocia spent a good chunk of the “break” evaluating ways they can improve the football team.

“During the bye week, we had a chance to sit down with our coaching staff and we had the opportunity to spend the week evaluating ourselves at the five-game mark,” Maciocia said after Wednesday’s practice. “We looked at our offence, special teams and defence, and throughout the week we talked about our play along the line of scrimmage. We talked about the fact that even though we’re happy with our performances on defence, we have to find a way to get to the opposing quarterback.”

Coming out of their second of three breaks, the Als have registered a league-low seven quarterback sacks through five games. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lead the league in that category with 25 sacks in seven outings.

To address the pass-rush, the Als made a significant move earlier this week as they signed the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the West Division in 2022, Shawn Lemon. The veteran defensive end finished the 2022 season with 14 sacks, four knockdowns, and five forced fumbles in 17 games with the Calgary Stampeders.

“He’s proven that he can get to the quarterback,” Maas said. “Over the last couple of years, he’s had a few sacks to his name. He’s tremendous at doing that. When he gets to the quarterback, he usually creates turnovers, too. Going out and getting a guy who is proven, who has done it, will ultimately help us, but it’s a team game too. It’s not just always on one guy to do it.”

The 34-year-old brings an abundance of experience to the Alouettes’ defence. This is his 12th season in the CFL. He is eight sacks away from reaching the 100-mark for his career. Whether the chase for 100 sacks resumes this Sunday at home against the Calgary Stampeders will be determined at practice this week.

Lemon becomes the third Akron University alum to join the Alouettes defensive line along with his former college teammate Almondo Sewell and Jamal Davis II. Lemon and Davis II will be counted on to bring pressure off the edge.

“Jamal Davis is an interesting guy,” Lemon said. “I have known Jamal since he first came to this league… We’ve always been in communication. He’s like a little brother to me. I always give him ideas about how to approach the game, so I’m just happy to work with the guys here.”

It’s important to note that the team isn’t just looking for an increase in the number of quarterback sacks they generate. Putting pressure on the opposing quarterback can have different benefits. Making the opponent pay a physical price early can wear them down as the game goes on. Limiting the amount of time, a quarterback has to throw the ball can also force a bad throw that could result in an incompletion or an interception.

“We wanted to be more active on defence,” Maciocia said. “That doesn’t only mean getting quarterback sacks. It also means that you can wear him down to the point where we make life difficult for him. When we looked at the on-field performance of some of our players and we realized that Shawn Lemon was available, we wanted to make sure we got him to Montreal.”

Injury updates:

Receivers Greg Ellingson (knee) and Tyson Philpot (leg) have both missed the first five games of the season, but both were full participants in practice on Wednesday. They are currently on the six-game injured list, which means they are eligible to come off injured reserve after Sunday’s game.

Centre Sean Jamieson (knee surgery) and defensive back Raheem Wilson (knee surgery) both returned to the practice field. Jamieson was limited on Wednesday, while Wilson participated in full.