MONTREAL — Khari Jones and the Montreal Alouettes will have to wait a little longer to resume play.
The CFL kicks off the 2021 season, after cancelling the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19, on Thursday night when Winnipeg hosts Hamilton in a Grey Cup rematch.
The league will stage a 14-game regular season culminating in the Grey Cup being held in Hamilton on Dec. 12.
But the Alouettes will be spectators during the opening week. Montreal plays its first game in Edmonton on Aug. 14 and won't stage its first home contest until Aug. 27 when it hosts Hamilton.
"We're hoping it (opening-week bye) is a good thing and we're feeling like it's a good thing," Jones, entering his second season as Montreal's head coach, said during a recent videoconference. "It's going to allow our guys to get their legs back under them.
"We had a pretty tough camp ... Now they can get their bodies back and rest. You just hope you're able to keep that spark that you had coming out of camp and so that will be the biggest thing we concentrate on."
Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. believes the late start should help the Alouettes.
“I think it could be an advantage for two reasons,” he said. “First, we’re going to get out of training camp without having played football for so long ... so we get an extra week to come together, get into the training room to make sure we’re good.
“Secondly, we get to watch our opponent for the next week. Nobody gets to watch us and we get to watch what they did. Initially, I’m not going to lie, when I saw it, I was like, 'Oh no.' Then I thought about it and was like, 'OK, that’s smart. We can do that.'"
The 2019 season was one to remember for the Alouettes, who emerged as one of the CFL's biggest surprises. Jones took over as head coach just prior to the season opener after Mike Sherman and the organization parted ways. Adams Jr. started that year backing up Antonio Pipkin.
But Adams Jr. took over as the starter when Pipkin was injured as Montreal (10-8) finished second in the East Division standing. It was not only the franchise's best record since 2012 but it reached the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Montreal's promising season ended with a 37-29 home loss to Edmonton in the East semifinal. But the club appeared to find its starter as Adams Jr. finished with 3,942 passing yards, 24 TDs and 13 interceptions while rushing for 12 touchdowns, tying him for the league lead.
"I thought he (Adams) was really solid in camp and came in ready to go, in shape and feeling good," Jones said. "He put the work in and you can tell so I was really happy to see how he came into camp."
Montreal will have plenty of veterans back on offence, including running back William Stanback, who ran for 1,049 yards in 2019 before signing with the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
"It allows me a lot of leeway as a play-caller to be able to call running plays when people might think I would throw passes and vice versa," Jones said about the versatility Stanback offers for play-calling in the offence.
"When you have confidence that you can gain those tough yards and can gain big yards at times, it opens a world of possibilities. We tasted that a little bit in 2019 and I think we'll grow from there."
Eugene Lewis (72 catches, 1,133 yards, five TDs), Quan Bray (58 catches, 818 yards, six TDs) and sophomore Jake Weineke (41 catches, 569 yards, eight TDs) will all help boost Montreal's receiving corps.
But like other CFL teams, the Alouettes have some holes to fill with off-season retirements and roster moves. Canadian offensive linemen Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Trey Rutherford, Andrew Becker and Zach Wilkinson all hung up their cleats. Montreal opted against offering veteran defensive lineman John Bowman a contract and Canadian linebacker Henoc Muamba signed with Toronto as a free agent.
There are also questions about the kicking game. Veteran Boris Bede was dealt to Toronto in February 2020 for Canadian Tyler Crapigna. The Alouettes released Crapigna during training camp and currently have Canadian David Cote and Global player Joseph Zema as the lone kickers on the active roster.
The club did add Canadian offensive lineman David Foucault and American defensive tackle Almondo Sewell. The six-foot-eight, 319-pound Foucault played collegiately at Montreal for Als GM Danny Maciocia and spent time in the NFL (2014 with Carolina) and CFL (2017-19 with B.C.) before joining the Alouettes.
Sewell, 34, signed with Montreal after nine seasons with Edmonton. A six-time CFL all-star, Sewell has registered 282 tackles, 60 sacks and two forced fumbles in 139 career games and helped Edmonton win the 2015 Grey Cup.
"He (Sewell) comes as advertised," Jones said. "For a guy who's been in the league as long as he has to perform the way he did day in and day out at camp was pretty commendable."
And in January, 2020 first-round pick Marc-Antoine Dequoy signed a three-year deal with Montreal, The six-foot-three, 190-pound defensive back helped the Montreal Carabins win the 2019 Vanier Cup before signing as a free agent with the NFL's Green Bay Packers.
Given it's been roughly 21 months since Montreal last played football, Jones said waiting another week for a season to begin isn't that difficult.
"No, I'll take it," he said.
"I know they (the players) are tired of seeing each other a little bit so it will be fun to see another team. You just hope you're able to keep that spark that you had coming out of camp and so that will be the biggest thing we concentrate on."
The Montreal Alouettes open the CFL season in Edmonton on Aug. 14. Some facts.
General manager: Danny Maciocia (entering first season)
Head coach; Khari Jones (entering second season).
2019: Posted 10-8 record to finish second in East Division. Lost 37-29 to Edmonton in conference semifinal.
Home Field: Percival Molson Memorial Stadium (capacity 23,420)
Additions: DT Almondo Sewell, OL Dave Foucault, RB William Stanback.
Departures: OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Trey Rutherford and Zach Wilkinson, LB Henoc Muamba, DL John Bowman; K/P Boris Bede, WR DeVier Posey.
Players to watch: QB Vernon Adams Jr., Stanback, DL Woody Baron and Sewell,
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press