Alouettes receivers unconcerned with uncertainty at quarterback

Montreal Alouettes defensive back Justin Gibbons tries to break up a pass intended for wide receiver Jamal Robinson during training camp in Montreal on Friday, May 25, 2018. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Speculation on who will be the starting quarterback has been the main topic at the Montreal Alouettes camp, but the players who will catch their passes aren’t sweating over it.

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Veteran Drew Willy and second-year pivot Matt Shiltz, back-ups to the departed Darian Durant on last year’s 3-15 team, are the clear front-runners for the job.

“It’s like a 1A, 1B situation,” Chris Williams said Friday.

“What’s really important for us receivers is feeling comfortable with each guy.”

“Whoever gets in, we’ll have a good rapport and it’s nice to have a guy you can trust in that backup role. We experienced that in Ottawa (in 2016) when Hank (Henry Burris) went down and Trevor (Harris) stepped in and we didn’t miss a beat.”

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“Drew, Shiltz, we played with those guys last year,” said slotback B.J. Cunningham. “We have great chemistry with those guys, so whichever they put out there, we’re going to be just fine.”

The Alouettes hope to have a solid receiving group to help them along, although the retirement of veteran Nik Lewis removed a dependable short-range option.

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Cunningham, who was among the few Alouettes on offence to shine last season with 1,128 receiving yards, and Ernest Jackson are back as the slotbacks.

Defensive lineman Gabe Knapton was traded to the B.C. Lions on Dec. 12 for Williams to add much-needed speed.

“We have a lot of seasoned veterans, guys who played in the league and won Grey Cups,” said Cunningham. “Up and coming guys like (wide receiver) Geno Lewis and guys like me who want to be one of those winning veterans.

“You bring all those guys together and it’s kind of dangerous with the offence we’ve got. I’m really excited for our team.”

Williams is looking to rebound from a sub-par 2017 campaign with the Lions. The 30-year-old was a CFL star as a receiver and kick returner with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2011 and 2012. After a spell in the NFL, he was a 1,000-yard receiver again in 2015 and 2016 for the Ottawa Redblacks.

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But, coming off a knee injury, he managed only 38 catches for 415 yards last season.

‘We’re working really hard’

New coach Mike Sherman hopes the five-foot-nine 155-pound Williams can be the deep threat the team was missing.

“The number one thing Chris brings is that he’s a very explosive receiver,” said Sherman. “We have a lot of tall receivers that have a great catching radius in my mind, but they don’t have the speed that Chris has.

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“Chris gives us an option, if people want to play us man to man and blitz, to be able to run by some people. He’s shown a lot of explosiveness in practice and ability to track down the deep balls, so he really offers us a tremendous weapon.”

Willy called Williams “an elite receiver. Every year he’s one of the top guys in the league. He has world class speed, but he also runs really good routes and catches the ball.”

Montreal Alouettes wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, centre, chats with wide receiver Chris Williams during training camp in Montreal on Friday, May 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

In Montreal, Williams was reunited with Jackson and fullback Patrick Lavoie, who played together on the Redblacks 2016 Grey Cup team.

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This time, the challenge is to help get the CFL’s last-place club back into the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“It’s been great so far,” said Williams. “We’re working really hard.”

“You just get that sense that we have something special brewing here.”

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