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Alouettes more focused as Chapdelaine runs first practice as head coach

Jacques Chapdelaine has replaced Jim Popp in the top job with a mandate to try to turn around a 3-9 season and make a late, desperate bid for a CFL playoff spot.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

It was all business at the Montreal Alouettes first practice with Jacques Chapdelaine as head coach on Sunday.

Players were too busy running through the plays and working on drills for much chatter or sitting around, which is how Chapdelaine wants it to be now that he has replaced Jim Popp in the top job with a mandate to try to turn around a 3-9 season and make a late, desperate bid for a CFL playoff spot.

"It's just about getting our hierarchy of football back together," said receiver Duran Carter. "With Jacques, even though it's one practice we've had, you can tell it's much better."

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He didn't say the inmates are no longer running the asylum, but only two weeks ago it looked that way when quarterback Rakeem Cato left the field after blowing up at Carter and receiver Kenny Stafford during a practice.

After that was followed by a close loss in Hamilton, team owner Bob Wetenhall and his son Andrew decided enough was enough and took advantage of a bye week to remove the head coaching title from general manager Popp's job description and hand it to Chapdelaine, the receivers coach and special adviser to offensive co-ordinator Anthony Calvillo.

Chapdelaine said he will now call the plays from the sideline with input from Calvillo, who will watch games from the press box.

"This is the type of practice we want to have – diligent, businesslike," Chapdelaine said.

The sideline benches where Cato and Carter had their squabble were gone. Chapdelaine wasn't sure who removed them but added "I wish I had thought of that."

And while Cato and the receivers may still not be pals, they all worked together without a hint of an incident.

Chapdelaine addressed the players before their first practice about the new chain of command and the importance of discipline and dedication.

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"I told them I would respect them as players and I'd certainly care about them," he said. "I explained that caring doesn't necessarily mean liking everybody, but it means putting their best interests at heart and that we would put them in a position to have success.

"What we expect of them is to make the most of it by being engaged, by being prepared. And we asked them not to be anonymous. That means making sure you make yourself seen on the field, that you stick out in a good way. And that you voice your appreciation and respect for all the guys on this team."

The Alouettes need to go on a tear in the last six games of the regular season, but reaching the post-season remains possible if only because they play in the weak East Division, where first-place Ottawa is only at .500.

The defence has been mostly solid this season and the special teams have been decent, but they have been done in by an offence that has produced fewer than 20 points in eight of 12 games. Only minor tweaks were made to the playbook Chapdelaine and Calvillo put together in the off-season, but better play calling could make a difference.

Calvillo, the CFL's all-time passing leader, keeps the offensive co-ordinator title but looks to have dropped a notch in the hierarchy.

"If I didn't have respect for [Chapdelaine] I would be like 'Okay this is something I don't like and I'm going to move forward,' but we're 3-9 and, offensively, we haven't had a lot of success and they want to look at something different," Calvillo said. "I accept that.

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"I'm accountable on offence. I'm here to support the players and the team."

He compared it to his early days as a quarterback, when he struggled in Las Vegas and Hamilton before he found his game while acting as backup to veteran Tracy Ham. Now he will take a step back to learn the offensive co-ordinator's job more thoroughly. It had appeared the Alouettes had him on a fast track to be their future head coach.

"When you look back at it now you could say 'yes, they rushed me,' but at the end of the day I said yes to this profession," he said. "I felt I could grow and make things happen and unfortunately it didn't go as planned, but it was a learning experience.

"Unfortunately it was a bit painful because we're 3-9."

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