Bringing in former NFL quarterback and coach Turk Schonert and CFL coaching legend Don Matthews as consultants won’t take any pressure off Montreal Alouettes pivot Troy Smith, at least for now.
The Heisman Trophy winner who was given the starting job as the retired Anthony Calvillo’s replacement this season will be under the gun when the Alouettes (1-3) put their league-worst offence up against the injury-plagued Toronto Argonauts (1-4) on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium.
Coach Tom Higgins has suggested he may be a little quicker with the hook if Smith falters, with Alex Brink the likely replacement.
“Pressure can take you two ways: It can either put you in a situation where you’re not yourself, or it can make you a better person,” said Smith. “I choose to not only be optimistic, but constantly be in a positive light.
“I won’t let what’s going on change my character. I want to stay positive. I know the only way we’re going to win is if I come out guns blazing and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Alouettes have scored a league-low 70 points over four games. They have the fewest touchdowns (5), first downs (61) and net offence (1,053 yards) and they are last in average time of possession (21:58).
In their last game, a 41-5 loss in Vancouver two weeks ago, Smith completed only five of 17 passes for 45 yards. The offence gained only 115 net yards.
Much of that was to be expected as the team adjusted to life without all-time passing leader Calvillo. It didn’t help that the offensive co-ordinator hired in the off-season, Rick Worman, was fired during training camp, leaving the job to the inexperienced Ryan Dinwiddie.
General manager Jim Popp said at the time he would look for some help in guidance and game-planning for Dinwiddie, and that arrived this week in the form of 57-year-old Schonert, who was a quarterbacks coach with five NFL clubs and was OC for the Buffalo Bills in 2008.
It may be a while before Schonert learns the 12-man game and can add his input, however. He will watch Friday’s game from the spotters’ box.
Smith didn’t seem all that impressed with the moves.
“My opinion doesn’t really mean anything in the big scheme of things,” he said. “Obviously, the people who are above the coaches saw fit to do some of these things.
“So, they’re here. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’re looking to doing more positive things in future.”
And Higgins wasn’t fazed at the notion of having Matthews looking over his shoulder. The two once worked together with the Edmonton Eskimos and coached against each other in successive Grey Cup games in 2002 and 2003, each winning one.
“Don is here to look at things from a different perspective,” Higgins said of the 75-year-old Matthews. “Don brings an attitude and a swagger that’s really fun to have. He’s already said he straightened out a couple of guys.
“When you’re secure in your own skin, as I am, I have no illusions that I’ll be here for 10 years. It’s about winning. I don’t worry about my job. Whatever happens, happens. I’m not threatened by anyone, by Don or by Turk.”
The Alouettes aren’t hurting for talent on offence. They have a solid line, a proven string of receivers and one of the CFL’s best running backs in Brandon Whitaker. The feeling is that when they get a quarterback up to speed, the offence will start to produce.
Offensive tackle Josh Bourke says Schonert’s experience is impressive, and there is a lot that needs fixing.
“I don’t think we’ve developed enough drives consistently to get into a rhythm,” said Bourke. “We’re just not good enough on offence to get down early and get away from the best thing we do best, which is run the ball.
“As long as we can stay in games and keep it close and not get away from our game plan, we can be all right.”
Receiver Brandon London pointed to missed assignments, which was especially evident against B.C.
“We have the skill, and RD (Dinwiddie) is calling some good plays, but someone can do the wrong thing at the wrong point and mess up the whole offence,” he said. “That’s kind of what’s been happening, and it’s been everybody.”
The Argonauts’ woes are easy to trace, and they mostly have to do with injuries.
They are missing prime receivers Andre Durie, Jason Barnes and Chad Owens, whose absence has also hurt the kick return game. They also have injuries at running back. And having the inexperienced Matt Sewell in the key position of left tackle also hurt, as quarterback Ricky Ray was savaged in a 37-9 loss at Saskatchewan last week.
Ray has thrown four interceptions in his last two games, the same number he threw in his previous 19.
Montreal will be without injured receiver S.J. Green, but will have receiver Duran Carter back from injury.
The last time Toronto and Montreal met when both were at least two games under .500 was on Oct. 17, 1981, according to the CFL.
The Argos were 1-12 and the Als 2-11. Toronto won the game 20-14. Montreal ended up making the playoffs at 3-13, the worst record of any playoff team in CFL history.