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Als looking for respect in season-opener after dismal record last year

Als looking for respect in season-opener after dismal record last year
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Montreal Alouettes QB Kevin Glenn throws a pass during CFL pre-season action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on June 8, 2016. Kevin King / Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun

WINNIPEG – Somehow, they seem so ideally suited for each other at this stage, almost symbiotically linked. Kevin Glenn, the veteran quarterback that doesn’t seem to garner the respect he deserves, and the Alouettes, a team nobody seems to believe is capable of winning this season.

“Glenn has my respect,” receiver S.J. Green proclaimed. “I’ve watched many quarterbacks come and go in this league. The role he has played and how he has been treated, in my opinion, it’s disrespectful. He’s always been willing to prove the doubters wrong.

“I’m proud to have him on the team. He makes our job a lot easier.”

The path to respectability and greatness, both for Glenn and the Als, begins Friday night (8:30 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio-690), when Montreal launches its regular season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.

The 37-year-old Glenn, acquired last October in a trade from Saskatchewan, has passed for 46,266 yards over 15 Canadian Football League seasons. He was the league leader in 2007 and has completed 62.4 per cent of his passes, throwing for 255 touchdowns while being intercepted 182 times. But he never has won a Grey Cup, reaching the championship game just once.

The Als, meanwhile, used to reach the title game on a regular basis but haven’t won the Cup – yet alone qualified for the game – since 2010 and are coming off a 6-12 record, failing to make the playoffs for the first time since the franchise returned to Montreal in 1996. Many media members believe the team faces an uphill battle in the East Division.

“Respect?” said Glenn. “No, not all the time. I don’t know why and it doesn’t bother me. When all is said and done, I bet there’s a lot of people that came before me and will come after me who will say, ‘man, I’d love to have that guy’s career’.”

As for being taken lightly or considered a darkhorse in the league, Glenn doesn’t put much stock in that either, stating nobody can predict the future. Predictably, Glenn said he has no doubts about the team. Neither, of course, does the Als’ architect – general manager and head coach Jim Popp.

“We feel we have as good a shot as anybody to win and represent the East Division. Every team should feel that way,” Popp said. “I’m excited about the team we have. We just have to go out there and play the game. If we distribute the ball evenly and don’t turn it over, we’ll be tough to stop.

“If people perceive us as being the underdog, I don’t pay attention to that. There’s pressure all the time. You have to win. The players know that. There’s always that fear of losing to the underdog.”

And make no doubt about it, the pressure’s firmly planted at the feet of Popp. It’s his team and he’s coaching it from the beginning this season – not parachuting in to replace the fired Tom Higgins or Dan Hawkins. He picked the players and the co-ordinators. Should it fail, he must take and assume full responsibility.

“It’s pressure every year,” Popp reiterated. “The pressure to win or the need to win, personally, can’t overtake anything from the outside pressure. You need and have to win all the time. In Montreal, where we’ve set the standard so high, everyone expects you to be that way every year.”

If the Als struggle, it probably will be due to breakdowns along the offensive line and in the secondary. Both areas are being highly scrutinized approaching a new season.

Montreal’s attempting to overcome the free-agent defection of left-tackle Josh Bourke to Toronto, combined with centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain starting the season on the six-game injured list while recovering from knee surgery. Jacob Ruby, with one CFL start, will attempt to replace Bourke. Right guard Philippe Gagnon, the second-overall draft pick in May, is a true rookie.

“Guys have to play at some point if you feel they’re talented enough,” Popp said. “They may get their butts handed to them a couple of times. We knew the chances and changes we might have to make. We knew our situation at centre.”

The Als, meanwhile, will start a pair of rookies – Jonathon Mincy and Ethan Davis – on the corners following the departures of Dominique Ellis and Mitchell White. Davis will play the boundary. Jovon Johnson, a free-agent addition from Ottawa who was expected to play the other corner, will move next to him at halfback. Veteran Billy Parker remains on the wide-side to assist Mincy.

Only last Monday, the Als had Davis and fellow rookie Greg Henderson, since injured, both playing on the boundary.

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Popp said. “I know they’re young and they don’t have experience in the league. I’m sure they’re going to have their ups and downs but we have a lot of confidence in them.

“We’re not going to change our defensive plan. We’re very excited about the young DBs we kept. Every team has to go through that. I’m sure if they get burned or have a problem it’ll be highlighted. Every team has rookies playing at some position or spot.”

While the Als are hoping to rebound from a sub-par season, consider the Blue Bombers’ plight. Winnipeg has failed to make the playoffs the last four seasons and has gone a quarter-century since winning their last Cup.

Predictably, management blew the team up – again – over the winter. Winnipeg signed six players alone last February on the opening day of free agency, the most of any CFL team. The Bombers go into the season with 11 new starters among the 24 players on offence and defence. That includes a new kicker and return-specialist, not to mention a new offensive co-ordinator in Paul LaPolice.

“The number of years between championships escapes me, but it’s been a while, hasn’t it?” asked receiver Weston Dressler, signed following his release by Saskatchewan. “Cleveland just won an NBA championship after (the city endured a drought of) 52 years. It doesn’t matter how long as long as you get the right group at the right time.

“It can happen now.”

Notes – Winnipeg running-back Andrew Harris has been medically cleared to face the Als. He suffered a suspected hamstring injury earlier this week at practice. … The Als have placed rush-end DeQuin Evans on the six-game injured list. He has a torn muscle in the back of the leg that leads to his ankle.

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