LIVESTREAM CFL Season Opener: Montreal Alouettes @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers, June 7, 02:30 CET (2:30 am, 8:30 pm EDT)

WINNIPEG — It’s hard to imagine a better way to begin the 2024 Canadian Football League season than with a Grey Cup rematch.

When the Montreal Alouettes make their way to Princess Auto Stadium in Winnipeg to face the Blue Bombers on Thursday night, they’ll do so as defending champions for the first time since the 2011 season.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo silenced any doubters in his first season in Montreal and is carrying plenty of confidence into the opener.

“I think we have the best team in the CFL and I’ll always say that,” Fajardo told reporters earlier this week.  “I believe what this team can do and I watched this team work for three weeks in Saint-Jérôme. So, I’m extremely excited to go out there and try to earn that right.”

» Depth Chart: MTL | WPG
» Game Notes: Montreal at Winnipeg

Fajardo finished his first season in La belle province with 3,847 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, including 290 yards and three touchdowns in the Grey Cup.

While he’ll be without his top receiver from 2023 in Austin Mack, who left for the NFL in January, the Als pivot still has plenty of options downfield.

Tyler SneadCole Spieker and Tyson Philpot cemented themselves as viable targets a year ago. Snead finished second behind Mack in receiving yards with 788 and Philpot was third with 532. All three of them had over 50 receiving yards in the Grey Cup with Philpot and Spieker scoring decisive touchdowns.

With options downfield, the Blue Bombers secondary will lean heavily on Evan Holm and Deatrick Nichols to lead the pass defence. It’s a secondary well equipped to stop opposing offences despite losing Demerio Houston to Calgary in the off-season.

Watch live. Montreal Alouettes @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers, June 7, 02:30 CET (2:30 am, 8:30 pm EDT)

When head coach Jason Maas turn to the run, he can do so by committee through Jeshrun Antwi and Walter Fletcher. The pair combined for 495 yards a year ago and will need to step up to fill in for the departed William Stanback.

Antwi and Fletcher are going to be tested right away against an experience Bombers front as veterans Willie Jefferson and Jake Thomas return on the defensive line.

As much as the off-season can bring about change, much stayed the same on the offensive side of the ball for the Bombers.

Quarterback Zach Collaros is back with a chip on his shoulder after his team fell in back-to-back Grey Cups.

Collaros has eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in two straight seasons and led the league in touchdown passes with 33 a year ago.

The receiving corps will also be familiar come Thursday’s game, with Dalton SchoenNic DemskiKenny Lawler and Drew Wolitarsky lining up at wideout. Schoen and Demski are both coming off strong campaigns, having pulled down 1,222 and 1,006 receiving yards, respectively, while Lawler led all Bombers receivers in yards during last year’s Grey Cup.

As if the talent in the receiving game wasn’t strong enough, the Bombers went out and used their first pick in the 2024 draft on Connecticut receiver Kevens Clercius who will make his CFL debut against Montreal.

Defensive backs Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Kabion Ento, who finished first and second in interceptions for the Als, lead a skilled secondary that includes playmakers Reggie Stubblefield and Tyrice Beverette at linebacker.

To open up the pass, Mike O’Shea can feel good about going to the ground with Brady Oliveira. The 2023 Most Outstanding Canadian is fully ready after signing an extension with the team in the off-season.

He’s been among the best at the running back position the past few seasons, putting together two 1,000-plus yard seasons. If the Bombers hope to get back to the Grey Cup, they’ll need similar performances from their top rusher.

“I’m a competitor man,” Oliveira told reporters.“You want to be out here and you want to compete. For me, I want to work on my craft every single day and strive to be the best running back I can be. I’m ready to go.”

Defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson and Shawn Lemon will need to contain Oliveira, while Darnell Sankey and the aforementioned Stubblefield provide the required support.

Redemption will be on the mind of the Blue Bombers when they open the season and begin the climb back to what they hope is a fifth straight Grey Cup appearance.

The Als, meanwhile, look to build on their championship performance and jump out to an early lead in the East Division.

Watch live. Montreal Alouettes @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers, June 7, 02:30 CET (2:30 am, 8:30 pm EDT)

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