'It's been a crazy year' … Collaros to start at quarterback for Bombers
To all those who have expressed genuine concern for his safety and future well-being, Zach Collaros is thankful.
“I appreciate people’s concern but I trust the doctors and the specialists that I’ve seen,” the veteran quarterback said Thursday, a day ahead of his first start with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Collaros, 31, will start in place of injured quarterback Chris Streveler when the 10-7 Bombers host the 11-5 Calgary Stampeders at IG Field Friday night.
He’s a player with a history of concussions, including one suffered at the beginning of this season and one at the end of last season, both while he was with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
He was traded from the Riders to the Toronto Argonauts while still recovering from a head shot he took in Week 1 from Simoni Lawrence of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — who was suspended for two games — and was then dealt to the Bombers on Oct. 9 after they lost Matt Nichols to a season-ending injury.
Rest assured, Collaros has not entered lightly into a decision to keep playing.
“Hats off to every doctor I’ve worked with throughout this whole process,” he said. “This has been a crazy year. Especially, the Argos organization did a good job of checking those boxes off. They were very thorough with it and I appreciate that. It definitely gave me some ease and especially my wife.”
Streveler, who took over at quarterback after Nichols went down in mid-August, suffered an ankle injury last Saturday in a 37-33 loss to the Stampeders. The 24-year-old run-first quarterback was unable to practice this week, which gives the Bombers the perfect opportunity to see what Collaros can do before the playoffs begin in two weeks.
“Another day,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said of Streveler. “He could have played Saturday, maybe.”
Collaros was brought to the Bombers as insurance after Nichols underwent season-ending shoulder surgery late last month.
While Streveler is still considered the No. 1 quarterback as he’s been in the system all season long and has started eight games, Collaros brings a veteran presence and a more prolific arm to the passing game.
He has thrown for 16,758 yards in an eight-year CFL career. However, the most games he has ever played in a season is 14 and his injury history is not insignificant.
“He’s been on a team that’s won the Grey Cup, another that went to a Grey Cup,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “He’s been through this time of year before, lots of times. He’s a good quarterback and with his type of character he fit right in here pretty quickly.”
When Collaros was acquired, he didn’t really have a sense of what his role would be in Winnipeg. It was possible he would just remain at third-string, if all went well with Streveler and rookie backup Sean McGuire.
“There wasn’t a lot of talk about it when it happened,” Collaros said. “I talked to (general manager) Kyle (Walters) briefly and he said ‘We’re really happy to have you.’ I really didn’t know what they wanted and that’s why I just really wanted to get in there with the playbook, understand what’s going on.
“It’s been a crazy two weeks.”
Now, if Collaros performs well on Friday, there’s a chance he could play in the playoffs for the Bombers. O’Shea will have to go with whichever quarterback he believes gives his team the best chance to win.
“It’s helpful for Zach for sure and he’ll get in there and we’ll see what he knows,” O’Shea said. “I don’t think it’s gonna be perfect. I don’t think it’s perfect for any quarterback, any game. He’s got a good chance to run the offence because he’s picked it up very quickly.”
The Bombers need a win on Friday to keep any hope alive of hosting a playoff game. That’s still a long shot in reality though, so the more important thing is for the Bombers to play well in front of their home fans and go into the playoffs on a high note.
Collaros admits there will be some nerves, jumping into a game at such an important point in the season, with a new team.
“Getting a completion, taking a hit, all those things seem to calm me down,” he said.
“Getting in the huddle, getting the play call, articulating that, having everybody waiting for it there, breaking the huddle and getting out there and executing it the way you’re supposed to. Just being out there, and the camaraderie. It’s a real thing and you understand what guys miss about it when they are done playing.”
Finally, Collaros was asked what he’ll remember most about this highly unusual season.
“I guess it depends on how it ends,” he said.
Bighill says Collaros bring details that make things come together
Adam Bighill has faced Zach Collaros many times over the last eight years and what he sees in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ latest quarterback is great professionalism.
“He’s done it for multiple teams on multiple occasions,” Bighill said ahead of Friday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders, where Collaros will make his Bombers debut.
“Getting wins, throwing for 300-plus yards, using his legs to extend plays, being a great leader.
“Out here, you can hear him communicating, talking to his receivers, telling them what he wants and what he sees. Those are the little details that make it all come together.”
Collaros appears to have fit in well with the Bombers, though he’s only been around practice for a couple weeks.
“It’s been great,” offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick said. “In the meeting rooms, just hearing him say things the way we see it, we’re all on the same page. You can tell he’s been in the league a long time.
“I’m actually excited. I don’t want to make Matt (Nichols) or (Chris) Streveler feel bad, but I’m excited to see what he can do.”
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