There's no doubt in Troy Smith's mind he'll be the Montreal Alouettes starting quarterback when training camp opens in June.
"In my mind, that's the only way I will prepare," he said via telephone from Columbus, Ohio. "That's the only way I think I will do the team justice.
"When you think the way you're supposed to, that's when you help the team most. When you hold back, when you don't allow yourself to reach your full potential obviously you hinder the team. I want to do nothing but help the team and the only way I can is thinking as the starter."
Montreal agreed with Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, and youngster Tanner Marsh on three-year contracts Friday. Both took significant snaps with the club in 2013 after incumbent Anthony Calvillo suffered a season-ending concussion.
Montreal continues to await official word from Calvillo, 41, regarding his CFL future. But in November, pro football's all-time passing leader admitted he's leaning towards retirement.
Jim Popp, Montreal's head coach and GM, said there was plenty to like about Smith's play last season.
"I'm very impressed with Troy's leadership, communication skills and ability to grab his teammates' attention," Popp said. "Last season, Troy quickly proved to us he can adapt to the CFL and showed great promise for the future."
Smith, 29, joined the Alouettes roughly midway through the season and took over as the starter Oct. 20, compiling a 2-1 record. Montreal finished third in the East Division with an 8-11 record and the six-foot, 225-pound Smith was under centre for the club's 19-16 overtime loss to Hamilton in the conference semifinal.
Late in the fourth quarter, game officials missed a pass interference call in the end zone on Montreal's Duron Carter. Instead of getting the ball at the Hamilton one-yard line with a chance for the go-ahead touchdown, the Alouettes had to settle for a field goal to force overtime.
"Losing on a fluke call does nothing but leave a bitter taste in my mouth," Smith said. "Playing last year makes me a little more hungry, a little more thirsty about having the chance and possibility to get to the Grey Cup.
Marsh began his rookie season third on Montreal's depth chart behind Calvillo and backup Josh Neiswander. On Aug. 22, the former Arkansas Tech star came off the bench to rally Montreal to a thrilling 39-38 home win over B.C., his 57-yard completion to Eric Deslauriers setting up the game-winning field goal.
The six-foot-four, 218-pound Marsh finished his rookie season completing 56-of-106 passes for 972 yards with three TDs and eight interceptions. He also ran for 125 yards and two TDs on 21 carries.
Heady stuff considering Marsh arrived in Montreal with low expectations.
"I was just hoping to make the practice squad," he said via telephone from Russellville, Ark. "The next thing you know, a year later I sign an extension, which is pretty darn awesome."
Popp said Marsh impressed with both his legs and arm.
"We're excited about Tanner," he said. "We're looking forward to seeing his athletic skills and his dual-threat ability as he continues to develop into what we feel will be a premier player.
"His performance versus B.C. made him an instant icon in Montreal. Marsh Madness continues."
But Marsh understands he'll return to Montreal in 2014 with no guarantees.
"I got an extension so obviously they have faith in me," he said. "It gives me a chance to come back next year and compete.
"It gives me a little confidence to come in and compete and know I have a chance to be the quarterback with the Montreal Alouettes for the next three years."
Marsh has no indication what Calvillo will ultimately decide but admitted he was stunned by Calvillo's football knowledge.
"The biggest thing I learned last year was I have a lot to learn," Marsh said. "I remember A.C. and I going over reads and every little thing.
"After that first meeting, I was like, 'Wow, there's a reason why he's the best.' I learned more from him than I could even describe."