MONTREAL — The long list of quarterbacks who have taken snaps for the Montreal Alouettes in the past four years is about the stretch a little farther.
Rookie Matt Shiltz is to get his first Canadian Football League start, and Antonio Pipkin is to make his CFL debut when the Alouettes end the regular season with an otherwise meaningless game in Hamilton on Friday night.
Both will be looking to impress general manager and head coach Kavis Reed enough to be invited back next season.
"Every time you step on the field it’s an opportunity to show the league and your team and the coaches what you can do and why you deserve to stay," said Shiltz, who was working as an accountant last March when the Alouettes called to invite him to camp. "It’s not going to change this time.
"I’m starting and I know I’ll be taking a lot of practice reps, but my mentality is not going to change. I feel I deserve to be here and I want to show that."
Shiltz has already seen action in three games in relief of either starter Darian Durant or backup Drew Willy. He has completed 28 of 45 passes for 289 yards, including his lone touchdown toss to Samuel Giguere in a loss last week in Saskatchewan.
The future of all the quarterbacks is up in the air going into next season. Reed, who stepped in for fired head coach Jacques Chapdelaine in September, is to name a new head coach who will no doubt have his own ideas on who should be taking the snaps.
But instability behind centre has been constant since legend Anthony Calvillo played his final game on Aug. 17, 2013.
Shiltz will be the 12th quarterback to start a game for Montreal since then, joining Josh Nieswander, Troy Smith, Tanner Marsh, Jonathan Crompton, Alex Brink, Rakeem Cato, Kevin Glenn, Brandon Bridge, Vernon Adams, Durant and Willy. Others, like Dan LeFevour, Tajh Boyd and Shane Carden, took snaps in games but never started.
Still others, including Jacory Harris who was released on Sept. 7, have been on the team but never played.
"The number is the number," said Calvillo, the team’s quarterbacks coach and play-caller. "We all know that quarterback is the toughest position to fill.
"It takes a lot of dedication, preparation, hard work and consistency from that position. It’s been a challenge to find that and it’s also a challenge to be stable. We’ve had so many changes with coaches that it’s been hard to go from one guy to the next. Hopefully, there can be some stability where we can start building something like that."
Reed hoped he had stopped the carousel when he acquired 11-year veteran Durant from Saskatchewan in January, but like the rest of the Alouettes, the 35-year-old struggled. Reed has not guaranteed he will be kept on next season.
Shiltz and Pipkin will get a chance to audition, but hardly under ideal circumstances. The offensive line has been plagued with injuries all season and, with veteran Luc Brodeur-Jourdain going down last week, will be staffed by mostly backups and newcomers for the season finale.
"This is the reality — we’re down to our ninth or tenth guard this year," said Calvillo. "It’s been devastating.
"So we, as coaches, had to make sure we prepared stuff that puts these guys in a position where they have a chance for success."
Calvillo, a three-time Grey Cup winner and the league’s all-time passing leader, likes what he’s seen of both Shiltz and Pipkin.
Shiltz was working for Ernst & Young in Indianapolis after starring for Butler University when he was invited to the Alouettes winter mini-camp. The club noticed his game and his personality.
"Although he didn’t have a lot of reps at that time, mentally he was very strong," said Calvillo. "When we got to (main) camp, he carried that over.
"Every time he did something we thought ‘This guy looks special.’ The biggest thing is we didn’t want to rush him. That’s why he got on the roster later on in the season."
Pipkin was such a huge star playing Division II ball at Tiffin University that many thought he’d be picked in the NFL draft. The 22-year-old wasn’t, but the Arizona Cardinals invited the six-foot-three 225-pounder with the cannon arm to camp for a try-out.
"We thought he had something special," said Calvillo. "Not just with his zip but with his body demeanour, his attitude.
"He’s been a professional, knowing he hasn’t been playing and being on the practice roster."