Perhaps this is what the future of the Montreal Alouettes looks like.
If so, it has a cannon arm, escape-artist elusiveness, and estimable improvisational skills.
Its name is Troy Smith.
In this most curious of seasons for the Alouettes, Smith became the fourth quarterback to pilot the team to a victory – this time a 36-5 squashing of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – and the latest to make his case for the starter’s job in place of the injured Anthony Calvillo.
Smith’s somehow feels more compelling than those of either Tanner Marsh or Josh Neiswander, the other putative Calvillo replacements.
The 29-year-old has started on some of football’s biggest stages, the NCAA championship game and the National Football League , his poise and evident physical talents will tantalize Als fans.
The sample size is far too small for grand predictions, but Smith has the assets to be a dominant CFL pivot.
Though Smith had an indifferent opening few minutes – his first three pass attempts fell incomplete, and Montreal’s opening three possessions stalled short of a first down – everything clicked into place midway through the first quarter.
First he connected with Bo Bowling for a 12-yard strike, then he rifled a ball to a wide-open S.J. Green, who cantered 64 yards for a touchdown.
Barely three minutes later, Smith threw a one-yard bullet to Green to make it 14-0. (Bowling, who came out of retirement two weeks ago, set up the score with a 34-yard punt return).
“He has an arm on him, we have to play to his strengths and be ready for that ball,” Green said.
On the next drive, Smith showed off the rocket arm and slippery running ability that won him the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State in 2006 and the starter’s job with the Baltimore Ravens (a bout with Lemierre’s Syndrome, a rare and potentially fatal throat disease, opened the door to some guy named Joe Flacco).
But no play encapsulated Smith’s promise better than a 32-yard pass to Duron Carter late in the second quarter.
The completion capped off a scramble in which he first flummoxed Hamilton defensive lineman Torrey Davis, then danced around Brian Bulcke, buying time until he could spot Carter on a crossing route across the middle.
One play later, Smith threw a sideline hitch pass to Arland Bruce.
Bruce shimmied around a defender and trotted 36 yards to the end zone, which made the score 31-3 at the half.
“He got out of the pocket, he got back in the pocket, he saw he had time and hit Carter ... when you have a quarterback that can scramble around, keep his eyes upfield and make a play ... we felt that was what Troy could give us,” said coach and general manager Jim Popp.
Smith joined the Als on Aug. 14, and has spent the intervening months acclimating to the CFL and working himself into playing shape (he had been out of football since being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers in June of 2012, and was working for his alma mater).
There have been a few cameos over the past month – he threw 12 passes, completing six, for a touchdown and two interceptions – now Popp has decided it’s time to give Smith a chance.
So does the 6-foot, 225-pounder consider himself a CFL quarterback now?
“It’s getting there, there’s a lot more to go,” he smiled after the game.
Asked to rate his performance, he said “I give myself a strong C-plus. There’s a lot of mistakes you guys didn’t see, [offensive co-ordinator] Mike Miller’s going to have me [in his office].
“But I’ll be okay,” laughed Smith, who ended the game 17-for-35 with 247 yards passing, three TDs and no interceptions.
Popp acknowledged that some plays “just came off wrong” and that Smith isn’t fully up to speed – the Ticats’ largesse on Sunday, where they incurred 12 penalties for 113 yards, including a pair for roughing Smith that extended drives, will have papered over several flaws.
“We set ourselves up for failure, that’s just the way we played,” said Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris, who ended up being replaced by Dan Lefevour in the late going.
With Calvillo ruled out for the year with post-concussion symptoms, Smith will likely shoulder the load in the remaining two regular-season games, in Guelph against the Tiger-Cats next week, and in Toronto to close out the season.
While it might be imprudent to read too much into it, he also inherited Calvillo’s locker in the Als’ home dressing room on Sunday.
Montreal entered their date with Hamilton knowing that they had made the playoffs – Winnipeg’s loss to Toronto ensured they would qualify for the post-season despite their worst season since 2007.
The win was only their fourth win at home this season; beating Hamilton, however, was only the first step in trying to cement a home playoff date.
Winning their remaining two games would be enough to cinch it – and with Smith and running back Tyrell Sutton, who scored a first-half touchdown on which he rumbled over and through a trio of Ticat defenders, the Als like their chances even if neither player is completely familiar with the offence..
“We’ve got enough of the offence in to make some plays,” Smith said.
On the strength of his first CFL start, it’s hard to argue he’s wrong.