Hitting the Books: Collaros makes 'pretty remarkable' transition to third offence
While navigating his winding and sometimes bumpy road to the Grey Cup, Winnipeg Blue Bomber quarterback Zach Collaros has worked with three different offensive coordinators, each with their own unique schemes.
Collaros started the year operating in Stephen McAdoo’s system in Saskatchewan. When he was traded to the Toronto Argonauts at the end of July, he began to digest Jacques Chapdelaine’s schemes. Upon arriving in Winnipeg in October Collaros had a crash course in understanding Paul LaPolice’s playbook.
“It’s different,” Collaros said about his learning curve.
“From a conceptional standpoint in the pass game, a lot of teams do the same things. It’s just learning a new word for what it might have been called somewhere else.”
Collaros feeling comfortable and confident in the offence will be essential if the Blue Bombers hope to defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Sunday’s 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium.
What Collaros has managed this season is like studying philosophy under three different professors with one final exam at the end of the year.
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Former BC Lions’ quarterback Travis Lulay said the 31-year-old has made the difficult look easy.
“Zach has kind of downplayed it, the mental energy that has to go into it,” said Lulay, the former league MOP who now works in the Lions’ front office.
“Really three coordinators with kind of unique, distinctive imprints on how they run an offence. To be asked to do what he’s done in one year is pretty remarkable.”
Lulay said McAdoo’s system incorporates many of the philosophies of Marc Trestman, the former CFL coach who won Grey Cups in Montreal and Toronto, but with different terminology.
In Toronto, Chapdelaine coaches quarterbacks to read protections differently than McAdoo.
“Jacques’s system was a lot different than anything I had ever seen,” said Collaros. “Really interesting and I really learned a lot from my time there.”
LaPolice’s system in Winnipeg pre-dates Trestman’s schemes.
“There is some familiarity with concepts that I had run back in Hamilton, they just call it different things,” said Collaros, who spent four years quarterbacking the Tiger-Cats. “It’s learning the new verbiage as well as a lot of different run tags and motions. Those are the most difficult.”
A shoulder injury to starting quarterback Matt Nichols put the Bombers in the market for another quarterback. When Winnipeg acquired Collaros at the CFL trade deadline, the coaching staff knew they were pressed for time and tailored their offence to fit him.
“We wanted to make our system fit Zach,” said quarterbacks’ coach Buck Pierce. “We fit some things and did some terminology things to help him get up to speed quicker.
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“Yes, some of the terms are different, some of the ways we operate are a little different (but) it’s still football. Kudos to him for being ready when that time came.”
Collaros spent a lot of time watching film, learning in meetings, and taking practice reps to become comfortable with the Winnipeg offence.
“It’s got easier for me,” he said. “There are still some things that don’t register quickly. I have to keep prepping, memorizing and learning.
“I’m kind of a visual learner. I had to write things down, drawing up the plays, going through the reads.”
The Bombers had a 7-2 record when Nichols was hurt in an Aug. 15 win over the Lions.
Backup quarterback Chris Streveler stepped in and won three of eight games.
Collaros started the final game of the season for Winnipeg and completed 22 of 28 passes for 221 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 29-28 win over the Calgary Stampeders.
Collaros has started Winnipeg’s playoffs wins over Calgary and Saskatchewan. He’s been an efficient 28 of 46 for 460 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Lulay has been impressed.
“You can’t play well if you’re not comfortable and Zach has looked as comfortable as you can possibility look with three starts in an offence,” he said.
The Bombers have used Collaros and Streveler as a tandem. The six-foot-one, 216-pound Streveler comes in on certain packages, mostly potential running plays.
Streveler rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in the Western Semi-Final.
The decision to bring in another quarterback could have caused dissention. Streveler is more concerned about the Bombers’ success than maybe having his ego dented.
“It’s not about having an ego, it’s about the team,” said the second-year player from the University of South Dakota. “I don’t care about myself. I don’t care about stats.
“It’s about winning. He came in. He’s a veteran guy, a great guy who has fit in extremely well with our quarterback room. He offers some great insight.”
Collaros had three plays with the Riders in the season-opening game before suffering a concussion in a head-to-head hit with Hamilton’s Simoni Lawrence. That resulted in Cody Fajardo stepping in to take over Saskatchewan’s quarterbacking duties and set the stage for Collaros being traded twice in a season.
Lawrence, who was suspended for two games for the hit, sent Collaros a tweet congratulating him following Winnipeg’s win over Saskatchewan in the Western Final.
Collaros said he and Lawrence have spoken and the incident is “behind us now.”
Collaros’ season has the trappings of Hollywood script. He’s just happy he will have a hand in directing the final scene on Sunday.
“I don’t think what I did was special,” he said. “It has been a crazy year for me, there has been a lot of adversity.
“I had to rely on my family, my wife through those times. I just look back and appreciate those people. If it wasn’t for those people, maybe I wouldn’t be here.”