CFL Pass

Vanstone: Another game, another hit to the head

It is a most-unpalatable tripleheader — three injurious hits to the head of a Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback in an equal number of games that matter.

Most recently, Zach Collaros was knocked out of the game on the first series of Thursday’s CFL regular-season opener against the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who won 23-17.

On the Roughriders’ third offensive play, Collaros ran up the middle and slid feet-first to the turf for a seven-yard advance. As the play was concluding, the defenceless Collaros absorbed a hit to head by linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who was deservedly issued a 25-yard penalty at 1:26 of the first quarter.

That infraction was part of Saskatchewan’s first season-opening touchdown drive since 2013, but the damage was done. This is a recording.

Collaros was also forced to leave the game Oct. 27, during the Roughriders’ 2018 regular-season finale, following a hit to the head administered by the B.C. Lions’ Odell Willis.

The hit was not flagged at first, but then-Roughriders head coach Chris Jones was successful with a challenge and a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty was finally issued.

The Roughriders’ 30-year-old pivot was forced to miss the West Division semi-final, won 23-18 by the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

In the waning seconds of that game, Roughriders signal-caller Brandon Bridge was the victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit by Winnipeg’s Jackson Jeffcoat. Again, the officials missed that one.

Although Collaros was forced to miss a total of five games as a consequence of two concussions last season, the Roughriders opted to re-sign him as a free agent on Feb. 12.

The following day, Collaros met the media and was soon asked whether the league was doing enough with regard to player safety.

“No,” he responded.

Collaros also offered his thoughts on the maximum 15 yards that a team could then be penalized if an illegal hit on a quarterback was actually detected.

“There isn’t much of a penalty for the hit,” he opined. “If you knock a guy out of the game, you stay in the game.”

The league subsequently enacted a rule that allowed for a 25-yard penalty for a direct blow to the quarterback’s head or neck — and it didn’t take long for that infraction to be called.

Three plays into the season, Collaros was walking off the field and toward the dressing room while justifiably voicing his displeasure.

Lawrence, of course, remained in the game.

Although the 15 yards has been changed to 25, the words of Collaros still resonate: “If you knock a guy out of the game, you stay in the game.”

This is justice, CFL style.

Careers can be affected, even ended, by shots to the head. There could be long-term repercussions that extend far beyond football.

In a case such as this, there is every reason to be concerned about the ramifications for Collaros, who had concussion issues even before he joined the Roughriders in 2018.

Another two head injuries were added to the list last season.

And just three plays into the 2019 campaign, it happened again.

Naturally, some second-guessing has been audible, considering that the Green and White renewed ties with an oft-concussed quarterback, only to end up using all three of their pivots — Cody Fajardo and the impressive Isaac Harker being the others — in Week 1.

But who’s to say that someone without a concussion history would have been able to withstand the hit by Lawrence?

Another 25-yarder would have been required for Lawrence to be ejected, so this much second-guessing is certainly fair game: If the officials or the Command Centre feel that a hit is serious enough to warrant a 25-yard infraction, why is the penalized player allowed to remain in the game?

Shouldn’t one such hit warrant disqualification?

Lawrence should face supplementary discipline, in the form of a league-issued suspension or fine.

But what good will that do the injured party?

This isn’t last year, when the Roughriders played back-to-back games against Hamilton. If Lawrence is suspended for any duration, he will first sit out a game June 22 when Hamilton faces the host Toronto Argonauts.

The Roughriders, meanwhile, will attempt to rebound as discussion rages about head-shaking coaching decisions — such as playing musical quarterbacks on Hamilton’s six-yard line — and, alas, another head-shaking hit.