The struggling and injury-ravaged Montreal Alouettes will get yet another look at life after Anthony Calvillo.
Five days after the CFL's all-time passing leader suffered a concussion, Josh Neiswander will once again guide Montreal's sputtering offence Thursday night when the Alouettes host the B.C. Lions at Percival Molson Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET).
Neiswander came on in relief in Saturday's 24-21 loss at Saskatchewan after Calvillo, who turns 41 on Friday, was knocked out of the game on the first play of the second quarter.
Argos head coach Milanovich defends Calvillo
Scott Milanovich came to Anthony Calvillo's defence Thursday.
The Toronto Argonauts head coach said the media criticism Calvillo has endured this season is unfair and the veteran quarterback's critics have been too quick to forget his many achievements in his 16 seasons with the Montreal Alouettes.
"I've had a hard time watching what's going on with Anthony, particularly the heat he has taken from the media," Milanovich told reporters in his news conference prior to Friday night's game with Calgary. "The guy is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and has held that organization on his shoulders for years and years.
"I feel like it's not fair to him. That's from an outsider that at one point was his coach and even today still feels protective of him."
Milanovich earned two Grey Cup rings with Montreal before leading Toronto to a CFL championship last year. He said there's much more to appreciate about Calvillo than just his ability to play football.
"I know what kind of person he is, what kind of man he is so I don't like to hear those sorts of things," Milanovich said. "As a friend, a concussion is always scary.
"I don't know the specifics of how serious it was or how long he'll be out or what his status was on the sidelines. I sent him a text this week (to say) I was thinking of him. I'm always concerned for those guys."
— The Canadian Press
Jim Popp, the Alouettes' general manager and interim head coach, elected to go with Neiswander over rookie Tanner Marsh and 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. The 26-year-old quarterback threw a pair of interceptions in the loss to Saskatchewan. He completed 12 of 30 passes for 147 yards.
"I showed up initially two and half years ago thinking I was just going to be here for three days and it was more of a tryout and for them to get a look at me, and then I ended up staying and had to have all my stuff shipped up to me," said Neiswander, a 6-foot-2, 211-pound Texan from Angelo State. "It's certainly an opportunity, as far as being here in general, that I'm grateful for and getting to play [Thursday] is something that I'm really excited about and grateful for, also."
Popp said that Marsh, a senior at Arkansas Tech last season, actually won the backup job in training camp, but he put substantial value in lessons imparted to Neiswander under coaches Marc Trestman, Scott Milanovich and Marcus Brady, as well as in being Calvillo's understudy for the last few seasons.
"Obviously Josh has more experience," Popp said. "He's been here tutoring. This is his third year. He's been under coach Trestman, Milanovich, Brady, now Mike Miller. He's been here with Anthony the whole time and he knows the ins and outs. The players know him and he's very comfortable so it's one of these situations where he got the nod this past week.
"We were planning on playing both guys and we may this game. We still want to see Tanner play some, see how he does, but we'll start with Josh and depending on how the game goes, it may go like last game, Josh may get every rep but that's how we're looking at it."
Lions share 2nd in West
The Lions arrive in Montreal on a two-game winning streak, also with four days off on a short week. Tim Brown returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in B.C.'s 26-22 win over Calgary on Saturday.
The win moved the Lions into a tie with the Stampeders for second in the West at 5-2.
Whether or not Calvillo will be on hand for the game is his own decision to make, according to Popp, who spoke to his star quarterback by phone Wednesday.
"I can report that he feels good today and that's a great sign, and it's up to him whether he comes tomorrow or not," Popp said.
Marsh completed both of his pass attempts for 33 yards in a 38-13 loss to Toronto on Aug. 3. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Texan wasn't surprised that Calvillo chose to return to the Alouettes' bench for the second half of Saturday's game despite a team doctor's suggestion that he stay out of the bright sun.
"That's A.C.," Marsh said. "He's a team player. The team always comes first. He helped Josh tremendously."
The loss to the West Division-leading Roughriders was Montreal's second in a row since Popp and owner Robert Wettenhall fired head coach Dan Hawkins on Aug. 1.
The Alouettes are third in the East at 2-5, with both wins coming under the brief and erratic reign of Hawkins, who was hired after two-time Grey Cup champion Trestman left to become head coach of the NFL's Chicago Bears.
"I think the biggest word for us is finish," Popp said. "You know that's one thing I really stress to the team. I mean we've doing it little by little but I said you've got to have vision, execution, finish. We haven't even been executing great. The vision, the practice, getting it prepared, that's one thing and you've got to do a great job of it, and I'm talking about all of us, coaches and players.
"Executing it is another plan, whether it's players executing it or coaches calling it. And then finish is finishing the game, and we haven't done that well."
Montreal centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain recognizes the Alouettes have to score touchdowns when they are within reach.
"Obviously as a group, as an offence, we all have to step up, and not because it's Neiswander or A.C.," Brodeur-Jourdain said. "As an offence we have to produce more in the red zone. We have to produce more offensively.
"The change of quarterback, I know it's a big challenge. He's a young guy but I've known him for a long time now because he's been part of this club and I've seen that his work ethic has been awesome and he's been embracing what Anthony Calvillo's been doing since he came here. Every morning I can see that Josh is here and he's watching the same stuff that Anthony is doing, and he was here this week doing all of the same routine."
Anwar Stewart, Montreal's all-time sacks leader, will be rotated in and out of the lineup in his return to the Alouettes after broadcasting the team's games earlier this season.
Stewart, who was released by Montreal prior to the 2012 season, played four games for Calgary last season, including a four-sack effort against B.C. on Oct. 26.
"Let's hope that repeats," Popp said.
In addition to Calvillo, receiver Brandon London is also out with a concussion, another one of the eight Alouettes injured in Saturday's road loss.
Long snapper Martin Bedard (separated shoulder) and special teams player Bryn Roy (knee) were both placed on the nine-game injured list. Linebacker Kyries Hebert and offensive tackle Josh Bourke will also miss Thursday's game. Both are day-to-day with knee injuries.