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Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter (84) is stopped by New York Jets linebacker James Darling (51) after catching a pass from Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon for a first down in the first quarter of a game at the Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, California on December 2, 2002. (STR)
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter (84) is stopped by New York Jets linebacker James Darling (51) after catching a pass from Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon for a first down in the first quarter of a game at the Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, California on December 2, 2002. (STR)

Alouettes set to rise above the rest Add to ...

The first and most obvious thing is that these guys are big - really big.

The worse news for CFL pass defences is that they're also fast, strong, and have all logged time on pro football's biggest stage, the NFL.

In a case of the rich getting richer, the reigning Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes have brought in a cadre of imposing, experienced receivers to fill the considerable void left by future Hall of Famer Ben Cahoon, who retired after last season.

Brandon London, formerly of the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, is listed at 6 foot 4, 210 pounds; Dallas Baker, another former Steeler, is 6 foot 3, 210; Prechae Rodriguez, who most recently played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, is 6 foot 5, 208, and Jerry Porter, who played in a Super Bowl for the Oakland Raiders, is 6 foot 2, 220.

"I'm the small guy," laughed the 32-year-old Porter, who says he has completely recovered from a major hamstring injury that cut short his NFL career two years ago while a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I'm sure they can do it without me, but I'd rather they do it with me, though," Porter said.

Added Baker, who has impressed since training camp officially opened on Sunday, "coming out of college you're the man, but in the NFL it doesn't matter what you did before. And it's the same thing here."

Considering the 6-foot-3, 215 pound bull in a china shop that is Jamel Richardson, and the explosive, sure-handed 6-foot-2 S.J. Green are already pencilled into the Als' starting lineup (along with deep threat Brian Bratton, a relative shrimp at 5 foot 10), opposing defensive backs will be spending a lot of time in the shade, looking up.

Getting bigger in the receiving corps is not a new concept, in fact it may be a CFL trend - Calgary and Winnipeg, in particular, are partial to big bodies - given only a handful of defensive backs in the league are taller than six feet.

And if the main competition this season is expected to come from Calgary, Alouettes general manager Jim Popp has done a good job of setting his team up to compete with a defence shorn of its tallest, most bruising cornerback - the 6-foot-3 Brandon Browner, who decamped for the Seattle Seahawks - and its best cover guy, Dwight Anderson, who joined Montreal as a free agent this past winter.

But there is also another key difference between the Als and the rest of the league: Montreal has the great Anthony Calvillo running the offence.

The ageless Calvillo is easing into his 18th CFL training camp, and has plenty left to play for.

The Als have played in the last three Grey Cup games, and have won the last two. Calvillo's career record in the big game is now 3-5, and he'd like to get that as close to .500 as he can before hanging up his cleats.

The 38-year-old, who had off-season surgery to remove his thyroid gland after cancerous cells were discovered, is closing in on a major milestone this season: he is just 4,221 passing yards shy of Damon Allen's all-time CFL record.

"You want to have fun with it and enjoy the moment right now … I don't want [the record]to be a distraction in my head," said the California native, whose participation in camp has been limited by a minor calf injury. "I want to be focused on winning games."

The career passing yardage mark should be within easy reach of a player who threw for almost 4,900 yards last year despite missing three games.

Particularly given the group of receivers he'll be throwing to.

"I think we all just want guys who can get open, but if you can add height to that it's an extra advantage, and not just for one guy but across the board," Calvillo said.

Head coach Marc Trestman is also back for a fourth season, and is already busy devising new wrinkles for his intricate offence - one that Porter says resembles the schemes Trestman had in Oakland.

"It's still Marc Trestman mad-scientist play-calling, he goes into the lab and concocts these plays and lo and behold, they work," said Porter, adding that his prior relationship with Trestman was "not a deciding factor but the deciding factor" in his decision to sign.

Perhaps the best news for the rest of the CFL is that there almost certainly won't be space on the roster for all the new receivers - although bringing in a pair of Canadian kickers, Sean Whyte and Sandro DeAngelis, to replace the erratic Damon Duval should open up an import spot.

Rodriguez, who is currently out with an injury, signed a free-agent contract in the off-season, and Porter inked a two-year pact, so they must be considered the favourites to hold down spots - although Baker has impressed in the early stages of camp.

There are also lingering questions about veteran receiver Kerry Watkins, who has yet to show up at camp because of a lingering injury and was placed on the suspended list.

Though the speedy Watkins, who is one of Calvillo's go-to pass catchers, will surely have a place in the team, one of the newbies will eagerly replace him if he's not in Montreal to begin the season.

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