Montreal faces lowly Toronto in Moncton on Sunday, a team that has lost seven of eight games this season.
MONCTON, N.B. — At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Bo Lokombo has always looked the part of a professional athlete. But through five Canadian Football League seasons, he hasn’t always been able to establish himself as a regular defensive contributor.
That’s all about to potentially change.
A season-ending knee injury to safety Taylor Loffler has created an opening in the Alouettes’ secondary. Head coach Khari Jones wants to keep it a Canadian position, and Lokombo is going to get the first opportunity to fill that role, starting Sunday (noon, TSN, RDS, TSN Radio-690) when Montreal meets the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos are considered the home team in the game, billed as Touchdown Atlantic, to be played at Moncton’s Stade Croix Bleue Medavie Stadium. The 10,000-seat facility could be the future temporary home of the Atlantic Schooners, awarded a conditional franchise based out of Halifax, while a more permanent venue is being constructed.
“Obviously, having the opportunity to start … is what you want. Getting this opportunity to start at safety is tremendous. I’m definitely going to live up to it,” said the 28-year-old Lokombo, who was born in Zaire, then spent a year as a child in Sherbrooke before the family moved to Abbotsford, B.C.
“I’ve done it before. I can do it,” he insisted. “It’s not too much of a challenge for me. I feel good about it. You can tell the players and coaches have confidence in me. They wouldn’t put me back there if they didn’t feel I could play. I feel good about it. It’s the next man up — and I’m the man for it.”
Loffler suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last Saturday, at Calgary, and is scheduled for surgery. The Als attempted to immediately replace him with Cauchy Muamba, since released, before turning to American Jarnor Jones, who remains on the roster and plays on special teams.
Montreal also dresses Canadian safety Ty Cranston, a draft choice in his second season with the team.
Lokombo spent four seasons with British Columbia, mostly on special teams, but became a situational package player on defence last year, playing both linebacker and safety. He always has been athletic on the field, but struggled to receive additional playing time.
“If you bring value, they’re going to want to use you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or not. It’s all about being a valuable guy and team player.”
Lokombo came from a big-time college program at Oregon before being selected by the Lions in the third round of the 2013 draft. He spent three seasons with B.C. before trying his luck in the NFL, bouncing between three teams in less than a year, highlighted by a month-long stint on Baltimore’s practice roster. He returned to the Lions before signing last winter with Montreal as a free agent.
Lokombo said the fit coming east felt right.
“The biggest thing for me was starting over. I felt I’d done everything I could in B.C.,” he said. “I felt the Alouettes were going in the right direction. I wanted to be a part of that. I felt like it was a good decision.”
Lokombo’s insertion is the biggest move on defence. Offensively, tailback William Stanback returns from missing two games with a heel injury. Both he and Jeremiah Johnson are on the active roster.
Offensive-tackle Tony Washington will miss the game for personal reasons and will be replaced by Chris Schleuger, who moves from the right to left side. Jones has decided to use only one import on the line. Spencer Wilson and Landon Rice will play right tackle.
And, although starting quarterback Vernon Adams practiced sparingly this week because of a quad issue, neither Jones nor the player believe it will become a factor during the game.
“Nothing’s going to change,” Jones said. “He’s feeling pretty good. By the end of the week he was moving pretty well. I don’t think there will be ill effects. And he has one more day to recover.
“I’ll call the game the same. I know Vernon will play the game the same.”
This game marks the Als’ return to the field for the first time since their electrifying come-from-behind overtime win against Calgary, the defending Grey Cup champions. But now, Montreal must face a team that has lost seven of eight games this season — albeit one that undoubtedly will be playing with some desperation as it attempts to salvage its year.
Jones insisted his team won’t suffer a letdown.
“We have to turn the page,” he said. “This is a new week, a whole new feeling. We’ll see where this game goes and what we need to do to make it work. I want them to know they’re battle tested. Feel good about that and they can come out on top of a tight game. I hope they carry that with them the rest of the season.”
Argos head coach Corey Chamblin said he has seen growth and improvement in his team. Playing in a weak East Division, Toronto can still contend for a playoff berth. A win would move the Argos four points behind Montreal.
“I think we understand where we are right now,” he said. “I’m very confident in the roster we have. The preparation. It’s time for us to get into that winning column.”
Note: Als Canadian tailback Ryder Stone suffered a concussion and has been placed on the six-game injured list.