MONTREAL — Veteran defensive end John Bowman has seen his fair share of coaches throughout his 14-year CFL career. But he says there’s something special about new Montreal Alouettes head coach Khari Jones.
Bowman showered Jones with praise ahead of Saturday’s clash between the Alouettes (2-2) and the Edmonton Eskimos (3-1) — a rematch of the season opener, which Edmonton won 32-25.
After losing the second game of the season, the Alouettes have recorded back-to-back victories over East Division opponents Hamilton and Ottawa. Montreal has not won three straight CFL games since the end of the 2016 season.
"Out of all the coaches I’ve played for, he might be one of the only ones who has played in the CFL," said Bowman of Jones. "He knows what’s going on. He knows the reads. He’s relatable. He retired the same year I got in, so he’s not that far removed from the game."
Jones played 11 seasons as a CFL quarterback with the B.C. Lions, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Calgary Stampeders, Eskimos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He retired in 2007.
The 48-year-old from Indiana was thrust into the head coaching job right after the pre-season when the Als fired Mike Sherman, who had a 5-13 record last year. Jones also does double duty as the team’s offensive co-ordinator.
He was given even more responsibilities this week following the sudden dismissal of general manager Kavis Reed. Jones now plays a part in the team’s day-to-day management duties, including roster moves.
One major change under Jones’ new regime: team practices are much shorter but more intense than before. The other: the newly confident Alouettes are beginning to win games again. It took Montreal 10 weeks to win two games last season.
"He can relate to the players, he knows how to win, and he just empowers the players," Bowman said. "He gives the players a lot of freedom and a lot of say-so on offence."
Jones confirmed this week that Vernon Adams Jr. would get another start at quarterback. Week 1 starter Antonio Pipkin, who injured his ankle in the opener against Edmonton, is nearing a return.
Adams has taken charge of Montreal’s offence in Pipkin’s absence and is really beginning to hit his stride. The 26-year-old completed 23 of 30 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns to lead Montreal to a 36-19 win over the Redblacks last week. He also added two rushing touchdowns.
Adams deflected accolades to his teammates this week, especially William Stanback. The second-year running back leads the league with 457 rushing yards.
"Stanback has taken a lot of pressure off of me," said Adams, now in his second stint with the Als. "The defence has to be on their toes because they don’t know what’s going down. And Khari’s just calling a great game. There’s definitely progress between everybody and myself. We’re all just getting better."
If Adams continues to find ways to win, Jones will have a difficult decision to make when Pipkin is fully healthy.
"It’s really cool to see him reach a level that I knew he could get to," said Jones. "But he’s still growing. That’s the fun part. He’s still trying to get better. We still look at plays and say ‘hey, you could have done this on that one.’ I like where his mind is right now. I think he’s in a good place as a quarterback in this league."
Adams will go up against the league’s best defence on Saturday, with Edmonton leading the CFL in fewest yards allowed — an average 222 yards per game. The Eskimos are also second in sacks with 16.
"Those guys (on defence) are playing at a very high level," Edmonton coach Jason Maas told the team’s website this week. "They’re expecting success when they go out on that field. That’s what the standard is being set as. We have great leaders on that side of the ball."
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (3-1) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (2-2)
Saturday, Percival Molson Stadium
NO PICKS: Through four games this season, Edmonton QB Trevor Harris has yet to throw an interception in 156 pass attempts.
LOGAN CUT: The Alouettes released veteran kick returner Stefan Logan earlier this week. The 38-year-old holds team records for kickoff return yards and punt return yards.
RAY DAY: Edmonton announced this week that they would honour CFL legend Ricky Ray by inscribing his name on the Eskimos Wall of Honour.
A WINNING RECORD: A victory over the Eskimos on Saturday would put the Alouettes above .500 for the first time since the opening game of the 2017 season.
FOOD DRIVE: Prior to kickoff on Saturday, the Alouettes are holding their annual food drive. Fans are invited to bring non-perishable food items to Percival Molson Stadium.