Als face steep learning curve

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Perhaps it's best not to tell them.

Maybe the best strategy for Richie Hall is to try and keep his players, who arrived here last night with the annual jazz festival a downtown distraction, as blissfully ignorant as possible.

Maybe you don't want all these new players to think about the fact the Eskimos' last game at Percival Molson Stadium ended up a 40-4 loss.

It's probably best that they don't know that the Eskimos lost the Alouettes season opener here 33-9 in 2004. Or that they've also been beaten 37-14, 34-6 and 45-15 here so far this decade as well.

You probably also don't want them to know that the Als have only lost two of their last dozen home openers or that they specialize in getting out of the gate great with a veteran team with a nucleus of guys like Anthony Calvillo, Ben Cahoon and Bryan Chiu on offence who come together early.

LEAD THE LEAGUE

They also don't need to know that the Als lead the league with 101 wins this decade or that they made it to the Grey Cup in six of those nine seasons.

When you come here with 11 new starters, including two more rookies replacing CFL experienced newcomers Jesse Lumsden and Scott Gordon, for an Alouettes home opener you should be quaking in your cleats.

The Eskimos, in two pre-season games and the lid-lifter against Winnipeg, haven't seen a real CFL veteran quarterback. Now they face Calvillo, the CFL award winner as most outstanding player last year.

Calvillo, last week in Calgary, said the Montreal playbook increased dramatically in size this year.

Proof of that was Calvillo scoring touchdowns on his first two drives of the game and taking a 17-0 lead early en route to scoring 40 points against the defending Grey Cup champions in their own park.

"That offence last week was as crisp as a mid-season team," said Eskimos' defensive co-ordinator Jim Daley.

Rookie head coach Richie Hall has this advice leading all those new players into this game.

"Don't look at who they are. Look at who we can become," he says. "The challenge is just to go out there and do what you're supposed to do. If you don't go out there and do what you're supposed to do, then you'll be in trouble."

He says the approach is simple.

"You're young. Go out and play."

Veteran Dario Romero, who started his career with the Eskimos, went to the NFL with Miami and then played with Montreal in '06 and '07 before returning to Edmonton last year, says these newbies aren't going in blindfolded.

"We know what we're going into. They're a well-oiled machine. They haven't had a lot of retooling. We know there's going to be a lot of motion. They're going to try to get our guys out of position. We can't get confused with that.

"Communication is going to be crucial with the new guys. It's a big test," said Romero.

Defensive co-ordinator Daley says he can't wait to see how his defence, with eight new starters, does in tomorrow's tilt against the team which defeated Edmonton 36-26 in Olympic Stadium in last season's crossover edition of the Eastern Final.

"The reality is that most of this group is new but very good. It's a challenge this group has accepted," he said.

"This is a very interesting group. We had a very good performance from Lamar Herron, a rookie right out of school.

"Bobby Keyes had a good game. And the guy we voted Player of the Game on defence was Greg Peach, who is also straight out of school. That was very well received by everybody.

"We're just telling them to go play and don't worry about stuff. That's what they did in the first game and our guys responded really well. Maurice Lloyd had a great game. The guys right out of school just went out and played."

VETERAN QUARTERBACK

Daley says it's true his defence hasn't seen a good veteran CFL quarterback yes.

"Except for the fact we see one every day. They've seen one every day for three weeks in Ricky Ray and Jason Maas."

Bottom line, says Daley, is it's a litmus test.

"You couldn't ask for a better situation to find out how much work you have to do or how far you've come as a team in a short time."

There is that about it.


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