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Alouettes confident for next season with Jonathan Crompton at quarterback

11/24/2014 06:26 EST | Updated 01/24/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Jonathan Crompton is looking forward to having a full season with the Montreal Alouettes, even if it is without favourite receiver Duran Carter or quarterbacks coach Jeff Garcia.

The long-haired pivot, who joined the Alouettes midway through the CFL season and put up a 9-3 record as a starter, will be listed as the top quarterback in training camp next spring.

With a full training camp under his belt, the Alouettes will see if he has what it takes to get them back to the Grey Cup game after a four-year absence.

"It'll be huge," Crompton said Monday as the Alouettes cleared out their locker-room stalls following their elimination from the CFL playoffs. "We have a good core group of guys, so I'm excited about the future of this team. We have a high ceiling on where we can go."

The Alouettes season ended Sunday with a 40-24 defeat in Hamilton in the East Division final.

The team that started the campaign 1-7 battled back to finish the regular season 9-9 and win the East semifinal over the B.C. Lions before falling to Hamilton. The comeback coincided with the arrival of the sometimes erratic but surprisingly effective Crompton behind centre.

He was helped by guidance from in-season hire quarterbacks coach Garcia, although the former CFL and NFL star is expected to find a coaching job closer to his family in San Diego.

Garcia's replacement may end up being former Alouettes great Anthony Calvillo, who is expected to take up coaching, although no contract has yet been signed.

It is among many changes expected on a team that spent most of the season adjusting to a coaching change and Calvillo's retirement after the 2013 campaign.

General manager Jim Popp put out a list of 20 players whose contracts are up, including top receivers Carter and S.J. Green, linebackers Chip Cox, Bear Woods and Winston Venable, cornerback Geoff Tisdale, defensive back Jerald Brown and running back Tyrell Sutton.

Popp considers Cox, Woods and Green the top priorities to re-sign, but expects to lose Carter.

"Because of the interest that's come from NFL teams, and also based on my evaluation as a player, I expect he'll have his choice of where to sign and that he'll be going to an NFL camp," Popp said of Carter, who led the team and was third in the CFL with 1,030 receiving yards. "If things don't work out, the door's open for him to return here."

Green, who caught three touchdown passes in the East final, would be a big fish on the market if he's not signed before Feb. 15.

"I'd like to come back, but we'll see how it goes," said Green, who looks forward to working with Crompton from the start of camp. "Last year, we thought we had a quarterback (Troy Smith). Now we have a quarterback this organization believes in and who I believe in. We have a lot to look forward to."

It was a bizarre season. It started in the off-season, when team owner Bob Wetenhall waited until late in the winter to announced that Tom Higgins, who had not coached in six years, was the head coach.

Then offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman was fired during training camp and replaced by the inexperienced Ryan Dinwiddie.

Once the season began, it became clear that former Heisman Trophy winner Smith was not getting the job done at quarterback.

Garcia and Turk Scoenert were brought in to bolster the coaching staff and, with Crompton at quarterback and thanks to the solid play of the defence, they managed to have a respectable season.

"Who knows what Crompton could have achieved in the first half of the season, having a training camp and having a solid situation," said Garcia. "Nothing about this year was very solid until the second half. He's got a tremendous upside. I think we've just seen a sample of what he's capable of."

Higgins agreed, saying the starting job will be Crompton's to lose in camp.

"He allowed us the opportunity to get to an Eastern final, along with a lot of other people," said Higgins. "Sometimes it takes time to develop. He might have had a lot of yards (in the East final), but I think he'd tell you it was not as good a game as he can play. There were three interceptions and there were times he threw the ball (into traffic) and we got lucky."

Higgins, who will be back, wants more depth in Canadian talent and on the offensive line, which he said is starting to age.

He expects changes to the coaching staff, but hasn't decided whether to continue handling special teams. The punt coverage took heat for Brandon Banks' two return TDs in the East final.

"It's not like we let him score," said defensive lineman John Bowman. "Everybody fought their heart out, but the guy just made plays. He's a great returner."

And as for controversy over the Alouettes' pre-game trash talking, which Higgins wasn't crazy about, Woods said it was overblown.

"If you put a microphone in my face, I'm going to say we're going to win," said Woods. "Where I come from, that's not trash talk. I'm not afraid to be confident. I truly believed we were going to win that game and I was truly wrong, but I don't regret that at all."

One who expects to be back is former NFL star Chad Johnson, who hardly saw the ball playing the far side wide receiver and then suffered a concussion and a groin injury that will need surgery.

"I had fun," said Johnson.

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