It’s been a whirlwind few days for Josh Neiswander and the Montreal Alouettes.
Neiswander will be Montreal’s starting quarterback Thursday night when it hosts the B.C. Lions. He’ll make his debut as a CFL starter because incumbent Anthony Calvillo is out with concussion sustained in Saturday’s 24-21 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Neiswander, in his third season with the team, completed 12-of-30 passes in his first CFL regular-season action for 147 yards with two interceptions.
Trouble is, Calvillo wasn’t the only Alouette injured. Also going down were receiver Brandon London (concussion), linebackers Bryn Roy (knee), Jonathan Beaulieu-Richard (ankle) and Kyries Hebert (knee), long-snapper Martin Bedard (shoulder), tackle Josh Bourke (knee) and safety Mike Edem (shoulder).
And earlier this month, veteran receiver Jamel Richardson suffered a season-ending knee injury.
London, Hebert, Bedard and Bryn won’t play versus B.C. Neither will running back Brandon Whitaker, who continues to recover from a separated shoulder.
The absence of Calvillo, London and Whitaker certainly isn’t good news for Montreal (2-5), whose offence has struggled mightily this season. The Alouettes are ranked last in total offensive yards, passing and fumbles lost, tied for last in interceptions and are second-last in points scored.
Hardly an ideal situation for a young quarterback to come into. And that’s not taking into consideration facing a veteran Lions’ defence that’s tops in the CFL in fewest yards allowed and second overall in fewest points allowed.
Earlier this year, Toronto backup Zach Collaros completed 21-of-25 passes for 253 yards and three TDs in a 38-12 home win over B.C. (5-2). However, Collaros not only had the benefit of a full week of practice to prepare for his first career CFL start but the Argos’ offence wasn’t nearly as beat up as Montreal’s is.
Working in Montreal’s favour, though, is a defence that was pretty solid against Saskatchewan, save for allowing Taj Smith’s 65-yard TD grab with 1:02 remaining to tie the score 21-21.
Lions’ quarterback Travis Lulay hasn’t broken the 300-yard passing plateau in any game this year. B.C. is also playing within a five-day stretch — it beat Calgary 26-22 on Saturday — but is healthier
Pick — B.C.
Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts, Friday night
A rematch of last year’s Grey Cup game, which Toronto won 35-22 at Rogers Centre. But Calgary (5-2) will be without veteran receiver Nik Lewis, who suffered a broken leg last week against B.C.
And running back Jon Cornish, the league’s top rusher last season, is questionable with a leg contusion.
Toronto (5-2) is the CFL’s hottest team, having won four straight, and quarterback Ricky Ray is on quite a roll. Ray has completed 64-of-73 passes (87.7 per cent) for 851 yards and eight TDs his last three starts.
Ray finished 30-of-35 passing for 413 yards and three TDs in Toronto’s 36-33 home win over Edmonton last week. Ray is second overall in passing with 1,768 yards with 14 TDs and no interceptions and sports a 78.1 per cent completion average.
Pick — Toronto
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saturday afternoon
It was another eventful week for Winnipeg (1-6) as offensive consultant Marcel Bellefeuille was promoted to offensive co-ordinator after Gary Crowton was fired. Bellefeuille, a former offensive co-ordinator and head coach in Hamilton, brings a knowledge of the CFL game to the Bombers’ offence but hasn’t got the luxury of time to implement any changes.
Max Hall makes his second straight start at quarterback. The former BYU star was 18-of-30 passing last week against Hamilton (3-4) for 241 yards and a TD but also was intercepted twice.
Hall certainly had eyes for Terrence Edwards as the veteran slotback had eight catches for 172 yards.
Henry Burris threw for 333 yards and a TD for Hamilton, giving him a CFL-best 2,136 yards passing. Youngster Dan LeFevour didn’t look out of play in the packages that were set up for him, completing two-of-three passes for nine yards and a TD while adding 40 yards rushing.
Pick — Hamilton
Saskatchewan Roughriders at Edmonton Eskimos, Sunday afternoon
The West Division-leading Riders (6-1) didn’t play well offensively at all last week. CFL rushing leader Kory Sheets was held under 100 yards for the first time this season while quarterback Darian Durant was just 18-of-32 passing for 250 yards and two TDs. Montreal also returned his fumble for a TD late in the game.
But with the game hanging in the balance, Durant hit Smith with a tying TD strike. That set the stage for Chris Milo’s game-winning field goal.
The expectation is the CFL’s top-scoring offence will regain its form this week despite the absence of slotback Rob Bagg (knee).
Edmonton (1-6) got a 511-yard passing performance from quarterback Mike Reilly, who also had three TD strikes versus Toronto. It’s not surprising veteran Fred Stamps — six catches, 172 yards, one touchdown — figured prominently in Reilly’s success.
The Eskimos’ defence has surrendered the most yards in the CFL and is tied for second-last with Hamilton in points allowed. That puts a lot of pressure on the unit because Saskatchewan’s offence leads the league in time of possession at almost 32 minutes per game.
Saskatchewan’s boasts the CFL’s stingiest defence, allowing just 21.4 points per game and 14 TDs, both league lows. The Riders can also get to the quarterback — more bad news for Reilly — with 23 sacks, second-most in the league.
Pick — Saskatchewan