SPORTS

Richardson heading for career year as Als prep to battle Bombers for first place

09/17/2011 05:29 EDT | Updated 11/17/2011 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - Jamel Richardson has been headed for a big season since he joined in the Montreal Alouettes in 2008 and it looks like this will be the one.

The six-foot-three slotback holds wide leads in catches (65) and receiving yards (1,015) heading into the Alouettes showdown for first place in the CFL East Division with the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday afternoon.

''I just try to showcase my game to the world,'' Richardson said. ''I try to give them everything.

''They're calling my number a lot more and I'm getting a lot more routes and I continue to make plays. They just seem to have faith in me.''

It is the first meeting of the season between the defending Grey Cup champion Alouettes (6-4) and the Winnipeg team that dominated the first half of the season. First place in the division will be on the line.

The Blue Bombers (7-3) are coming off a pair of crushing losses to the rival Saskatchewan Roughriders, losing back to back Banjo Bowl meetings by a combined score of 72-30. They arrived in Montreal with some of the strut missing from their Swaggerville defence.

The Bombers are without star middle linebacker Joe Lebendahn due to a knee injury and have quarterback Buck Pierce hampered by suspected bruised ribs, but the Alouettes are also hurting in the defensive backfield, with Dwight Anderson the latest casualty.

Richardson brings some gaudy numbers to his first test against Winnipeg's gifted defensive backfield, led by Jovon Johnson and Jonathan Hefney.

The 29-year-old led the CFL last season with 97 catches, one fewer than his career high set in 2008, and looks set to demolish his career-best 1,287 yards from that season.

There was talk this week that he may even break the retired Ben Cahoon's team record of 112 catches in a season set in 2003.

But while many of Cahoon's catches were over the middle, in traffic, Richardson's come from everywhere — long, short, over the centre, down the sidelines, in heavy traffic or wide open.

''He's one of our main targets so there are a lot of plays designed for him,'' said quarterback Anthony Calvillo. ''What makes my job easier is when he's wide open.

''That's just what he does. With his physical presence on the field, when teams try to pay man to man, he just tosses them around. And when they're in zone, I read it out and get the ball to the open man. But he makes catches all over the field. Short passes, deep passes. He has the size and speed to get it all done and he's putting up great numbers right now.''

Richardson spent his first four seasons with Saskatchewan but didn't play a lot on a team stacked with receivers. After losing a year in a failed bid to make the Dallas Cowboys, he signed with Montreal and right away became a key piece of the pass attack.

''Like a lot of guys on our team, J-Rich works hard,'' said coach Marc Trestman. ''He puts a lot of time into his craft and there's a sense that certain things, like route running, have developed and grown. But usually when people ask me about him I want to talk about his growth as a person and as a leader on this team because I think that's part of the reason he's having success.''

Despite the Saskatchewan setbacks, the Winnipeg defence continues to lead the CFL in many defensive categories, especially against the pass. Their 34 sacks, including 10 from Odell Willis, helps that cause, and they are also among the leaders in interceptions.

Eleven games into the season, the Alouettes missed the peak of the Swaggerville phenomenon that prompted so much trash talk this season, particularly between the Bombers and both Hamilton and B.C.

Winnipeg management may have irked the football gods when they took out a billboard add in Regina ahead of their first meeting with the Roughriders that suggested their neighbours were backward due to their records at the time: Saskatchewan's 1-7 and Winnipeg's 7-1. Then they got zapped in consecutive weeks by lightning bolts.

Montreal rush end Anwar Stewart found the Swaggerville talk amusing.

''It caused a little drama,'' he said. ''I heard the comments from (B.C.'s) Brett Johnson, (Hamilton's) Dave Stala came up with stuff. I think it's fun. It gives the CFL a little chitter-chatter, back and forth. It gives people something to talk about. It's all good.''

The Bomber defence will not only be up against the league's top passer and receiver, but also the rushing leader in Brandon Whitaker with 742 yards — 111 more than second-place Fred Reid of the Bombers.

Reid is one of the league's most talented backs, but his average of only 3.9 yards per carry is lowest among the top 18 in the CFL.

''We have a lot of respect for Fred Reid,'' said defensive tackle Eric Wilson. ''I still think he's one of the best running backs in the league and we can't let him have a breakout game.

''Our job is to shut down the run and then get after Buck.''

Pierce took some jarring hits from the 'Riders. There were doubts he would play in Montreal, but coach Paul LaPolice said this week his starter was ready, although there are concerns on how long he will last.

With Anderson down, the Alouettes have only one of the five players that started the season in the defensive secondary, Billy Parker. Backs Mark Estelle and Jerald Brown and safety Etienne Boulay are also out. Newcomer Greg Laybourn moves into Anderson's spot.

Montreal will have Canadian middle linebacker Shea Emry back after missing two games with a concussion.

Winnipeg's defence should be ready for Cavillo. Defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke and linebackers coach Casey Creehan both formerly worked for Montreal.

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