Als QB Adams Jr. embracing pressure as playoffs loom

Als QB Adams Jr. embracing pressure as playoffs loom
“Not everyone gets to feel this pressure,” the Alouettes’ quarterback said. “Understand that you’re blessed and you have a great opportunity.

“Pressure’s a privilege and only the privileged get (to experience) pressure. I’m excited for this opportunity.”

Sunday afternoon (1 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio 690) Adams, in his first season as a team’s starter, will also experience his first Canadian Football League playoff game, when the Als host the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division semifinal.

The visitors, conversely, are led by 33-year-old Trevor Harris, now in his eighth season. Signed by Edmonton as a free agent last February, Harris has 10 post-season games on his résumé, including three trips to the Grey Cup.

But don’t believe for a moment this stage will be too big for Adams, only 26. He’s had numerous obstacles to overcome while trying to establish himself with Montreal in 2016, then Saskatchewan and Hamilton. And don’t believe he hasn’t learned how to win. Comeback victories this season at Calgary and against Winnipeg dispelled that myth.

Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. passes during practice in Montreal on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

“I wake up every game day with butterflies in my stomach. After a while, I’ll relax,” Adams admitted. “When I get into that stadium, I don’t know how I’ll feel. But at the end of the day I don’t want to let my team down, these fans down.

“Everyone on this team, we’re all winners. I’m a winner and I’m going to fight until the end.”

There can be no denying Adams is a winner in the regular season, just as it can’t be disputed no other starting quarterback was able to lead the Als to victory, although Matthew Shiltz replaced Adams late in the second quarter against Ottawa last week and kept Montreal ahead.

Now Adams must take the next step in his evolution, proving he can become a money player in the playoffs, when a team’s faced with elimination. There are no guarantees. Even the legendary Anthony Calvillo won only three of eight championship-game appearances.

“I just have to be ready,” Adams said.

Als head coach Khari Jones, who spent 11 seasons in the CFL playing quarterback, has no doubt Adams will rise to the occasion.

Jones, who has proven to be an inspiring motivational figure in his first year as a head coach, said he’s unlikely to say anything prophetic to Adams. Instead, Jones said, he’ll wait to see how Adams handles his first few offensive series and will then react accordingly, if necessary.

If Jones says anything, he’ll advise Adams he’s not required to single-handedly lead the Als to victory.

“Make sure he’s doing the same things that got him here,” Jones said. “I still want us to play the same way. That goes for the quarterback position. You sometimes put so much on your shoulders.

“You just want him to go and play like he’s been playing. He’s done a lot of really good things this year. If there’s bumps in the road, that’s okay, too. You just figure it out and make adjustments. He’s had some games where things didn’t go well for a little bit and he’s turned it around. I’m very confident with him. I don’t put too much emphasis on the playoff game. I just like the way he’s playing up to this point.”

Alouettes head coach Khari Jones smiles during practice in Montreal on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

While the Als completed the season with a 10-8 record — two more victories than the Eskimos, who qualified as a crossover playoff team given the futility of both Toronto and Ottawa — they alternated between losses and wins since mid-September.

Again, this doesn’t faze Jones. The Als have known for weeks they were destined to finish second in the division, arguably losing the sense of urgency the players brought into many games. And Jones reminded everyone he also toyed with his roster at times down the stretch, resting several regulars.

“If we were playing for something and doing all those things, I might look at it differently,” Jones said. “I’m not too worried about the patterns. Teams have lost and won going into the playoffs. It’s just how you play on that day. I want to make sure we come out and we’re the same team we were most of the season.”

Jones will likely wait until Saturday, or later, to determine the status of veteran receiver DeVier Posey. He missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury but practiced both Thursday and Friday. Mario Alford, not Shakeir Ryan, will be the kick returner.
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