First & 10 | All About the QBs

The news came earlier this week and instantly sent yours truly down a quarterback rabbit hole of sorts.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats re-signed veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli a few days ago, setting up what will be an interesting training camp battle with Dane Evans – who, you may recall, just so happened to help guide the squad to the 2019 Grey Cup after Masoli was injured in a game against your Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Anyway, the news got some ideas percolating, including looking at the quarterback depth charts across the Canadian Football League. And in so doing it also provided a reminder of just how inexact predicting QB play can be in this league.

Consider, for example, the tale of Cody Fajardo of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Prior to his ascension with the Riders – following an injury to current Bombers QB Zach Collaros in the 2019 opener – Fajardo had dressed for 44 games with Toronto and B.C., with zero starts and had thrown all of 68 passes. Now he’s the darling of Rider Nation.

Nick Arbuckle had thrown 25 passes as a rookie in 2018 for the Calgary Stampeders before he stepped in and replaced an injured Bo Levi Mitchell a year later, going 4-3 in his starts and parlaying that into an opportunity with the Ottawa RedBlacks.

And in Montreal, Vernon Adams, Jr. may well be the face of the franchise now, but the start to his CFL career had more than a few bumps. He’s already been traded three times – his rights when from B.C. to Montreal in 2017, he was traded to Saskatchewan that same summer then traded to Hamilton in 2019 – and was cut by the Ticats before the Alouettes grabbed him again in June of 2018.

Here’s a quick peek at the QB depth charts across the CFL (*indicates Canadian)…

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Starter: Zach Collaros; 32 years old; 35-32-0 career won-lost-tied record – 4-0 with the Bombers, including playoffs.
CFL experience (career games dressed): Sean McGuire (18)
New: Dru Brown (Oklahoma State); Dalton Sneed (Montana)

B.C. Lions

Starter: Mike Reilly; 36 years old; 59-53-0 career won-lost-tied record
CFL experience (career games dressed): Will Arndt (18), Grant Kraemer (1)
New: Gage Gubrud (Washington State), Nathan Rourke* (Ohio, 2020 CFL Draft pick)

Edmonton Football Team

Starter: Trevor Harris; 34 years old; 37-33-2 career won-lost-tied record
CFL experience (career games dressed): Logan Kilgore (32), Antonio Pipkin (27), Jeremiah Briscoe (), Troy Williams (2)
New: none

Calgary Stampeders

Starter: Bo Levi Mitchell: 30 years old; 77-18-2 career won-lost-tied
CFL experience (career games dressed): Dakota Prukop (41), Montell Cozart (21)
New: Jake Maier (UC-Davis), Marcus McMaryion (Fresno State)

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Starter: Cody Fajardo: 28 years old; 12-4 career won-lost-tied
CFL experience (career games dressed): James Franklin (79), Isaac Harker (18),
New: Justice Hansen (Arkansas State), Mason Fine (North Texas), Tom Flacco (Towson)

Toronto Argonauts

Starter: Matt Nichols: 33 years old; 45-28-0 career won-lost-tied
CFL experience (career games dressed): McLeod Bethel-Thompson (42; pending free agent), Michael O’Connor, Tor* (9)
New: Joel Blumenthal (Southwestern Oklahoma)

Montreal Alouettes

Starter: Vernon Adams, Jr.: 28 years old; 13-6-0 career won-lost tied
CFL experience: Matthew Shiltz (39), Hugo Richard* (3)
New: Darius James Peterson (Idaho), Broc Rutter (North Central College), Philip Nelson (East Carolina.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Starter: Jeremiah Masoli: 32 years-old; 23-19-0 career won-lost-tied
CFL experience: Dane Evans (36), David Watford (30)
New: Hayden Moore (Cincinnati)

Ottawa RedBlacks

Starter: Nick Arbuckle: 27 years-old; 4-3-0 career won-lost-tied
CFL experience: Dom Davis (82)
New: Kevin Anderson (Fordham), Taryn Chistion (South Dakota), Ross Comis (UMass)

More QB chatter and other Bombers/CFL stuff in this week’s edition of First & 10…

1. Earlier this week I was part of two sessions Buck Pierce conducted with Bombers For Life and Season Ticket Members in which he provided some riveting insights into the week of preparation for coaches and some of the ideas behind offensive game planning. It was while prepping for those sessions that I asked Buck, the club’s offensive coordinator, about what the team had at the quarterback position.

“The quarterback position is obviously something we study and are always evaluating 365 days a year,” said Pierce. “What we know is as an organization and a coaching staff we have a lot of faith in the guys we have under contract. That comes from already working closely with them.

“Not everyone, besides Zach, has experience but when you look at a guy like Sean McGuire, he was part of our championship team. People can say he didn’t have a lot of game snaps, but I see him as a guy that really contributed to the success of Matt Nichols, Chris Streveler and Zach Collaros when he showed up.

“Having a guy like that in the building and the wealth of knowledge around him, he really learned how to work. We’re firm believers in making sure every quarterback – whether he steps on the field or not – is highly involved in the game plan mentally and physically ready to step in.”

2. Let’s repeat it again: the Bombers are very high on McGuire, who was re-signed in late December. McGuire threw only three passes in 2019 and that is a storyline that will continue to get trumpeted through training camp and into the ’21 season. But that lack of experience certainly doesn’t have Pierce & Co. worried.

“The fact of the matter is, yes, he has to go out there and prove himself on the field in actual game situations but what we saw was a guy who was fully capable of doing that for us,” Pierce said.

“First and foremost, you look at what he did in college and he took care of the football and won a lot of games. Then when we had him in camp we started to learn about him. I always say you evaluate quarterbacks physically from the neck down and then you learn more and more about them from the neck up as time goes on. Sean came to us with a lot of confidence… he just has the things you look for when he steps into the huddle. He even though he doesn’t have a lot of experience, he can go out and lead us. He’s built the same way as Chris Streveler in his leadership abilities.

“We saw him pull the ball down and get a first down with his legs in a preseason game, which I like. He’s extremely comfortable in the pocket. Things happen a lot faster at the pro level, but Sean’s trust in his protections and his knowledge grew over time as he got more comfortable. He’s decisive, he doesn’t question himself and when he makes a mistake he’s willing to learn from it. We feel like we have a good one in him.”

3. While we were at it, I asked Pierce for a quick take on both Dalton Sneed and Dru Brown.

“When you look at Dalton, what comes across when you speak to him, go over plays with him and get to know him more personality-wise is what already showed up on tape,” said Pierce. “He’s highly competitive, he can run, he can make the plays outside of the pocket that you look for in CFL quarterbacks. He’s just a football guy. He’s always asking good questions and no detail is too small for him.

“And Dru… he’s another player who has the ability to make plays in the system and outside of the system. He can surprise you, like Dalton, with some of the things he did on tape. You watch a game of these two and you see some similarities. I’m interested to see how they adapt and they learn when they come up here.”

4. One more note from Buck…

He had about six weeks to work with Collaros at the end of the 2019 season and it’s been a constant of Zoom calls, text messages and chats over the last year as the pandemic wiped out 2020.

I asked Pierce if there was anything new he learned about Collaros after the trade with Toronto in 2019.

“One of Zach’s best traits is he knows how to relate to his teammates and he does it in the right ways,” Pierce said. “He has the ability to understand if a guy is being a bit too hard on himself how to bring that guy up. He understands personalities and how to reach guys in the locker room. Some guys play better when you get a little bit upset at them, other guys need more positive reinforcement.

“He has that ability to read the room and that’s a true gift that he’s developed over the years.”

5. We’re on a run of QB notes, so here’s another… Canadian Football Hall of Famer and Winnipeg Football Club hall of famer Tom Clements – who was at the controls of the Bombers attack in their 1984 Grey Cup win – has officially retired from the Arizona Cardinals.

Clements, now 67, ranks 6th on the Bombers’ all-time passing yardage list with 14,917 – trailing only Dieter Brock (29,623), Khari Jones (20,175), Kevin Glenn (18,116) Ken Ploen (16,470) and Matt Nichols (14,977).

6. Great initiative by the CFL with the implementation of their Grey Cup On Demand Portal, which brings old games to life again. The first installment of games includes Grey Cup games and highlights from 1946, 1948-50 and 1952-59.

For more information, click here.

A note from the 1958 game, which saw the Bombers end what was then the longest Grey Cup drought in franchise history, dating back to 1941 – Jim Van Pelt set a championship game record with 22 points after running for a TD, catching a TD, kicking four field goals and two converts and also throwing for 140 yards.

7. FYI: Some fans will remember Deland McCullough, a running back with the Bombers in 1998-99. McCullough led the Bombers in rushing in ’99 and is currently the running backs coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. We posted the link to this story last summer, but his life story is worth another read, or for those who may have missed it… Montreal has added QB Philip Nelson, who was with the Bombers in training camp in 2018… Some fans were wondering why the Bombers shipped Cody Speller, who started at centre in the playoffs with Michael Couture injured, and the 52nd overall draft choice for the 48th overall pick. Quick answer: the Bombers moved up four spots in the draft for a player who was clearly headed to free agency. Plus, Couture had started all 18 games in 2019 and the club does have Tui Eli, Geoff Gray and Chris Kolankowski for Canadian depth along the OL.

8. The CFL’s free agent ‘negotiating window’ opens at 11 a.m. on Sunday and runs until 11 a.m. on February 7th.

Implemented last year, the window – some have called it ‘legal tampering’, which seems a misnomer – allows the pending free agents and their representatives to chat with other teams prior to the market opening. CFL free agency begins officially at 11 a.m. on February 9th.

9. A Super Bowl read, just because…

And if you’re a Tom Brady fan, this might get your blood boiling. There’s some truth here, though.

10. And, finally, let’s continue to end our weekly columns on a positive note… Really good piece here from Free Press music critic Alan Small on Drew Wolitarsky’s flourishing music career.

Wolitarsky’s three-song EP, ‘Room’ was released to streaming services on Friday.

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