MONTREAL -- It has been two years since the Montreal Alouettes have been to the Grey Cup game.
That wouldn't be unusual for most Canadian Football League teams, but it hasn't happened to the Alouettes since 2000.
And general manager Jim Popp doesn't want three in a row.
"We won our division last year, we didn't win our playoff game, but we've been right there," Popp said. "We all felt we should have been in five straight Grey Cups."
'We won our division last year, we didn't win our playoff game, but we've been right there. We all felt we should have been in five straight Grey Cups'
-- Als GM Jim Popp
The Alouettes were first in the East Division at 11-7 last season but were beaten at home in the division final by the eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.
But it wasn't that defeat that sparked a big change in Montreal.
Rather, it was coach Marc Trestman finally landing his dream job as an NFL head coach with the Chicago Bears.
Trestman's departure after five years brought in former U.S. college coach Dan Hawkins. Like his predecessor, Hawkins enters the CFL with no experience with the 12-man game.
The difference is that this time he will be well-supported with a staff of 11 co-ordinators and assistants.
Among them is former Winnipeg head coach Doug Berry, who was hired as Hawkins' senior adviser and who could likely step into the top job if needed.
The offence is almost unchanged from a year ago, except for the addition of 35-year-old receiver Arland Bruce III to replace the departed Brian Bratton.
It all hinges on the health of quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the league's all-time passing leader who turns 41 on Aug. 23.
Calvillo is hardly slowing down. He wasn't fast to begin with. And last season he topped, 5,000 yards passing for the seventh time, completing 333 for 5,082 yards, 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
He is coming off surgery to his non-throwing shoulder but looked sharp in the pre-season.
Calvillo has his offensive line intact and his solid array of tall receivers in S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson and Brandon London. Adding Bruce was a bonus.
There were changes in the defensive backfield with the signing of veteran cornerbacks Byron Parker and Geoff Tisdale. Dwight Anderson and Seth Williams are gone.
The biggest change may be moving bruising tackler Kyries Hebert from safety to outside linebacker.
Canadian Shea Emry remains at middle linebacker with Chip Cox also back, and with the versatile Marc-Olivier Brouillette slotting in wherever he's needed.
Popp wants stability on defence after going through a succession of defensive co-ordinators in recent years. Each one changed the system so that new players were needed to fit the co-ordinator's style. Jeff Reinebold is out, and the new co-ordinator is Noel Thorpe.
"With coaches, co-ordinators and philosophies, that there hasn't been the consistency we had on offence," said Popp. "You're trying to find a coach that maybe fits the personnel better.
"That was thought out much better this time around. Reinebold is a very good coach, it just didn't work. We were very good some weeks and others we weren't. But that's our league. The best co-ordinators have had 500-yard games against them. But you want consistency, not a roller coaster."
Popp hopes better special teams and defence will bring the Alouettes back to the Grey Cup game, where they've been eight times in 13 years, winning in 2002, 2009 and 2010.
-- The Canadian Press