This may not quite be the end of the road, but you don’t need to squint to see where the smooth pavement runs out.
When it does, the going could get very bumpy indeed for the Montreal Alouettes.
Franchise quarterback Anthony Calvillo is coping with a concussion, one of eight Als players who had to be helped from the field in Regina last weekend.
The Als, already mired in their worst start in recent memory, could be down as many as 10 of their 24 opening-day starters against the B.C. Lions on Thursday (including linebacker Kyries Hebert and receiver Brandon London), but it’s Calvillo’s injury that hurts the most – and raises the thorniest questions.
He turns a venerable 41 on Friday, and it’s worth remembering he said after his last concussion that the injury gave him pause as to whether to continue playing.
Calvillo’s days in the CFL will end, as these things must, but should that day come sooner than anyone expects, the backup plan has been hastily sketched in pencil, with an eraser close at hand.
Last week, the Als signed former NFLer and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, a credible option, but he’s still well short of game shape and has watched only two CFL games in his life.
Former third-stringer Josh Neiswander and rookie Tanner Marsh are the only other quarterbacks in the fold, the latest entries on a long list of players brought in to play in Calvillo’s shadow.
“There’s no perfect system to it. In Montreal, we’ve been fortunate, we’ve been spoiled. We’ve had Tracy Ham and Anthony Calvillo, one guy’s in the Hall of Fame and the other one will be,” Montreal head coach and general manager Jim Popp said.
Indeed, the Als made a seamless transition to Calvillo in 1998, when Ham retired, and have been spared the revolving door other teams have endured.
“I don’t know how anybody knows who the next quarterback is, no matter how much you’ve planned for it, until you’re forced to play with them and then they start winning for you. How did Edmonton get their quarterback? Because B.C. had him and he had to play,” Popp said of Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, who got his start as Travis Lulay’s backup in Vancouver.
Some teams, like the Lions, have had particular success in grooming a successor to their quarterback of the moment – Lulay backed up Casey Printers, who played ahead of and then backed up Buck Pierce – but the Als haven’t had to worry unduly about their succession plan because of Calvillo’s consistency and longevity.
But Calvillo has suffered significant injuries in each of the last four seasons, even if he has mostly avoided missing long stretches of games.
In 2010, it was a bruised sternum, which led to the discovery of a cancerous thyroid gland. In 2011, he suffered a concussion and said after the season it was the first time he’d contemplated retirement. Last season, he tore the labrum in his left shoulder, and this year, he was slowed by pain in his throwing shoulder before he was concussed.
So why haven’t the Als been more active?
In fairness, Popp has had 24 other quarterbacks on the roster since 1998, and at least a dozen more in training camp. It’s just that none has been the obvious long-term answer, although for a time it was felt Adrian McPherson might be (he’s now playing arena football).
Some of that surely has to do with the paucity of players willing to accept low wages to bide their time behind a guy who takes most of the reps in practice.
Perhaps it’s because management and ownership have made it clear Calvillo can keep the job as long as it suits him; he’s signed through 2014, and it’s hard to provide assurances to a would-be successor.
It’s not known how long Calvillo will sit, although Popp has effectively ruled him out of Thursday’s home tilt.
The reins will likely fall to Neiswander, a third-year pro who took his first regular-season snap last weekend in relief (he tossed two interceptions and finished 12-for-30 with 147 yards).
“If you ask any backup in the league … you always prepare like you’re going to play, because even if you don’t you’re going to build a solid foundation for the future,” the 26-year-old said.
A commendable outlook, but the future can be brutish and short when you’re vying to become the Next One.