MONTREAL — Linebacker Henoc Muamba is in a crash course to learn the Montreal defence ahead of his Alouettes debut Monday against the Toronto Argonauts.
The coveted free agent, who signed a lucrative (by CFL standards) two-year deal with Montreal on Sept. 30, is to take over the middle linebacker position that was left vacant by injuries to Bear Woods and Kyler Ellsworth this season.
"It's a long week," Muamba said Thursday of the 12-day break the Alouettes are enjoying since their crushing 39-17 loss in Ottawa on Oct. 1. "I had an opportunity to come in early and sit down with some of the coaches and get into the playbook, watch some film and see what they expect each play.
"It's been helpful. Now it's a matter of getting used to the guys around me."
Muamba had a few teams interested when he was released by the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 5. He finally accepted a deal with Montreal that included a fat signing bonus for the rest of this season and reportedly could pay up to $230,000 in 2016.
"It was the best decision for me," he said. "I'm happy.
"I'm excited about the next few weeks and the challenge that's ahead."
The challenge includes trying to help the 5-8 Alouettes get into the playoffs with only five games left in the regular season. Already three wins behind the other three East Division clubs, Montreal's best bet will be to try and get a crossover to the West Division semifinal.
Muamba not only brings proven skill to the position, but he is also Canadian, which means the Alouettes will be able to dress an extra international player at another position.
The Congo-born Muamba spent a few years in Montreal as a child before his family moved to Toronto, where he learned his football. Returning to Montreal means more opportunity to use his first language, French.
"Being in Winnipeg and the last year and a half in Indianapolis, it was tough to practice French," he said. "Even with my brothers it became English.
"But it's part of my culture. I'm getting comfortable doing interviews as well. I didn't play football when I was here, so a lot of the terminology I don't know. I never used football terms in French. I have to think about how to translate them. I'm learning."
His older brother Cauchy is a safety with the Edmonton Eskimos while his younger brother Kelvin, an undrafted receiver from Wilfrid Laurier University, was among seven players added to the Alouettes practice roster on Thursday.
Muamba was drafted first overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2001 from St. Francis Xavier University and had two strong seasons before trying his luck in the NFL. He played for the Colts in 2014 but was released after training camp this season.
The Alouettes hope he will bolster a defence that was their backbone this season until surrendering 30 or more points in a brutal span of two road games in five days last week.
"So far's he's done a good job," linebacker Kyries Hebert said of Muamba. "There hasn't been any lapses in communication and I think that's the most important thing at that position.
"We don't feel we're going to miss a beat."
Coach and general manager Jim Popp said cornerback Jonathan Hefney, on the wrong end of a collision in Ottawa, addressed his teammates before practice. Hefney will miss the rest of the season with shoulder and arm injuries.
"He's going through therapy but he has a positive attitude and that's good to see," said Popp.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press