Als GM always step ahead

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

It's not every CFL team that can lose two 1,000-yard receivers, its tailback and have its secondary ravaged and still be considered a Grey Cup contender.

However, Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp said he started preparing for such a scenario a year ago.

"I've got to think a year ahead of time," Popp said during yesterday's state-of-the-franchise teleconference call. "When I looked at guys like (wide receiver Jeremaine) Copeland and knew what kind of money they can demand, I started looking (for replacements)."

Copeland signed with Calgary as a free agent while wide receiver Thyron Anderson, who also had 1,000 yards receiving, is trying his luck in the NFL.

The Als acquired veteran receiver Terry Vaughn from Edmonton, signed some ex-NFL prospects and have been grooming such Canadian pass catchers as Sylvain Girard.

After ensuring that his foot had completely recovered from injury, the Als signed former Toronto running back Michael Jenkins to replace Autry Denson.

In the secondary, Montreal lost such free agents as Canadian cornerback Davis Sanchez (Edmonton) and import safety Barron Miles (B.C.) and dealt Canadian safety Will Loftus to Edmonton.

But Montreal signed defensive backs Serge Sejour (Ottawa) and Darrel Crutchfield (Edmonton) and have been grooming Canadian Richard Karikari to take over at safety.

"The MVP of our football operations has got to be Jim Popp because he has always brought in outstanding football players," said head coach Don Matthews. "And the players he's brought in are very much in demand."

The Als still have leading receiver Ben Cahoon and wide receiver Kwame Cavil -- who also boasted 1,000-yard seasons -- on board with Anthony Calvillo, who led the CFL with more than 6,000 yards passing, at the helm behind one of the best offensive lines in the league once again.

"AC (Calvillo) is a guy who distributes the ball around and there's a very good possibility that we may have five guys with 1,000 yards receiving this year," Matthews said.

Defensively, import defensive end Marc Megna returns from his knee injury to complement fellow defensive end Anwar Stewart, the CFL's top defensive player last season. And the front seven remains solid.

"We're well-covered with veterans at every position and we anticipate that our defence will take us to even newer levels this year," Matthews said.

Montreal lost last year's East Final to the Argonauts after losing Calvillo to injury and Matthews was criticized for not developing his backup quarterbacks.

"I would never jeopardize a game by putting in a backup quarterback," Matthews responded.

"If we get a big enough lead, our backup quarterback (Ted White) will go into the game."

Meanwhile, the Als have sold 17,200 season tickets, have maintained their healthy sponsorship support and plans to expand Percival Molson Stadium should be completed by 2007, said club president Larry Smith.


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