There are confounding signs emanating from the Montreal Alouettes locker room these days, which is probably the point.
After a topsy-turvy year in which the Als went from beatable to brilliant and back again, it’s surely not a bad strategy to try and keep people guessing.
And so, as the 2011 regular season comes to a close in Vancouver on Saturday, the Als are outwardly confident even as there are also subtle indications all is not well.
For good reason: On paper, the Alouettes are in a world of trouble as they contemplate the Lions’ frothing maw.
The Als have won precisely one of their 11 games in British Columbia since the summer of 2000.
And, this week, they face the Leos without their starting left tackle – the injured Josh Bourke, who is Montreal’s nominee for the CFL outstanding Canadian and best offensive lineman awards – and receiver Kerry Watkins (ankle).
The two absentees bring Montreal’s bloated injury list to 12, including seven starters – not great news for a team trying to halt a two-game skid.
And yet, there is levity.
“The game’s at 10 o’clock at night for us, that’s late man, and I’m an old man now … you might see a couple of yawns here and there,” joked defensive lineman Anwar Stewart, an 11-year veteran.
If Stewart can afford to be facetious (“A.C. [quarterback Anthony Calvillo]is usually in bed by 10”) it’s because it can be argued the Als are on a two-game win streak in Vancouver: they came out on top 16-12 in their 2010 visit, and a refereeing bungle cost them what should have been the winning touchdown in 2009.
“I think we’ve gotten over that hump and we’re able to play out there, last year was a great example of that,” said Calvillo, whose record-setting exploits have carried him to the Als’ nomination for the CFL most outstanding player award. (There were chants of “M-V-P” from behind the closed locker-room door after practice Wednesday.)
The Lions, of course, are on a nice little 10-2 run since they opened the season with five consecutive losses, the first of which came in Montreal on opening day.
Calvillo went out of his way to compliment B.C., saying it will present a stiff test.
Not that Montreal, which needs to win and hope for a Winnipeg Blue Bombers loss earlier Saturday in order to host the East Division final, is short on optimism.
“We’re so close … we know we’re that close to getting over the edge but we need to get ourselves over that edge and it starts this Saturday,” Calvillo said.
There is a sense of resolve amid the pressure facing the Als, but there are also signs of disquiet.
Head coach Marc Trestman was unusually curt when asked about the team’s long history of heartbreak in B.C. and his attempts to simulate crowd noise in practice, snapping: “I’m going to go on to the next question.”
It’s generally hard to decipher what Trestman’s thinking or feeling, but he can’t be happy the airtight discipline he has imposed on in-house discussions appears to be fraying.
The Montreal Gazette reported this week that outspoken defensive back Dwight Anderson – one of four injured starters from the secondary – is on the outs with the head coach. The swaggering, trash-talking Anderson was always going to be a tricky fit with the strait-laced Trestman, and the newspaper quoted anonymous sources who alluded to a dressing room bust-up between the two.
The paper said veteran safety Étienne Boulay (out with a concussion) is another who may have run afoul of his coach, and that the Als parted ways last year with kick-returner Larry Taylor because Trestman disapproved of his attitude.
Whether any of this is rooted in fact is beside the point: These sorts of leaks have been as rare as hen’s teeth in Trestman’s stupendously successful three-plus seasons in charge.