September 30, 2016 - 3:36 PM
MONTREAL - It is probably no accident that Jacques Chapdelaine's first game as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes coincides with the struggling CFL club's first sellout in three seasons.
A full house of 23,420 will be on hand when Chapdelaine, the first French-speaking Quebecer ever to coach the club, makes his CFL head coaching debut on Sunday afternoon when the Alouettes (3-9) play host to the Toronto Argonauts (5-7).
"I've got a large family and they're all buying tickets. Maybe that's what it is," Chapdelaine joked Friday.
It is the team's first sellout since seating at Percival Molson Stadium was reconfigured and trimmed for the start of the 2014 campaign.
Chapdelaine, a long-standing CFL offensive co-ordinator, made small tweaks to the attack in his first week of practice but he hopes the biggest change will be in the mindset of a team that has found ways to throw away games it could have won this season.
"I would hope that the fans see our guys playing with the level of energy that maybe we haven't had all the time," he said. "I want to see them overcoming adversity and I hope our fans see that as well.
"We've had bumps in the road some times and we've had a tendency to withdraw that energy level. As far as the X's and O's, we still have to run the ball, throw the ball, put pressure. That's not going to change."
When team owner Bob Wetenhall and his son Andrew opted to remove the head coach title from general manager Jim Popp last week — a bye week — the Alouettes were on a four-game losing streak and looked to be mired in dissension, with quarterback Rakeem Cato shouting at receivers and then walking out of practice.
On Friday, Cato was back sitting on the bench between drills with Duron Carter, Kenny Stafford and the other receivers. They may not be best friends, but they're at least civil with each other again.
"It's only normal that every now and then there'll be a disagreement, but when there's adversity it'll certainly get magnified," said Chapdelaine. "Now the guys are embracing what we're doing.
"There's an element of positivity with the guys and we'd like to take that into the game."
Or, as veteran receiver Nik Lewis put it, it's "time to put that frustration into a positive place and try to be better."
As bleak as their season has been, the Alouettes are not out of the playoff race in the weak East Division with six regular-season games to play.
They are seven points behind first-place Ottawa and six behind second-place Hamilton. Toronto is only four points ahead of the Alouettes.
The Montreal defence has been solid from the start of the season and the special teams have been decent. If Chapdelaine gets the offence up to speed, they may have a shot at moving up the standings.
"We've got Toronto, Ottawa plays B.C., Hamilton plays Calgary — it's a great chance for us to go out and gain a huge step in the right direction," said Lewis. "We play Edmonton, Toronto and Hamilton in our last six games, so it's on us to showcase what we can do."
Cato is set to make a third straight start, with Vernon Adams as backup.
For Toronto, Drew Willy is tabbed to make his first start since he was acquired from Winnipeg. Willy took over from Dan LeFevour at halftime of a 29-16 loss at Ottawa last week, going 16 for 24 for 153 yards and a touchdown.
He will be the fourth starter the Argos have used this season as veteran Ricky Ray deals with injuries. Willy started five games for the Blue Bombers before moving to Toronto three weeks ago.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Duron Carter's name.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016