He wasn’t in Winnipeg for training camp, pre-season, or the majority of the regular season, but that didn’t stop Zach Collaros from guiding the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a Grey Cup championship in 2019.
He showed he can do it the hard way, winning all four of his starts with the Blue and Gold despite being thrust into the starter’s role in the regular season finale shortly after arriving in a trade from the Toronto Argonauts, but heading into 2021, Collaros is getting the chance to be Winnipeg’s quarterback from the first day of camp.
Should make his life a lot easier, right? Well, apparently not as much as you’d think.
“When I got here a year and a half ago, really I just had to memorize a game plan. It wasn’t Day 1, why we run this play, why we run this formation. It was ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, this is what Calgary does, this is what Saskatchewan does, and this is what Hamilton does and that’s why we’re doing it.’ That was, in my opinion, a lot easier than starting from Day 1,” Collaros said.
“I’m treating it like I’m a rookie or just completely new to the team. There’s been a couple of lightbulb moments throughout the off-season, into these first four team meetings that we had, and even today on the field where it’s kind of like ‘Oh, that makes sense, why we call it that.’ For me it’s kind of starting from scratch and learning it again from the beginning.”
He may only have three career CFL passes to his name, but backup quarterback Sean McGuire doesn’t have to start from scratch. He dressed for every Bomber game in 2019 and got to learn the ropes from Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler. But with Nichols (Ottawa Redblacks) and Streveler (Arizona Cardinals) out of the picture, McGuire will be one of the most intriguing players to follow in training camp as he’s expected to be promoted to the No. 2 spot. However, it’s a spot on the roster that will be looked at a lot differently this year as it’s no longer occupied by a quarterback like Streveler who’s known more for carrying the ball and bulldozing defenders than throwing perfect spirals.
“Well, what you ask of them is the same for each guy. What they’re able to do, what their abilities are, are different, always different, from each guy,” said head coach Mike O’Shea on what he expects out of the backup role in 2021.
“So, we ask the quarterbacks to be in charge of winning and if Sean’s in the game, then he’s responsible for running the offence and putting us in positions to win games. But obviously how that looks, I imagine it’ll look different than Chris Streveler,” said O’Shea.
“Because no one’s Chris Streveler, and no one’s Sean McGuire and no one’s Zach Collaros, either. So, when each guy gets in the game, it’s all gonna look a little different.”
The quarterback room also features rookies Dalton Sneed and Dru Brown. Even though Collaros is busy trying to immerse himself in Buck Pierce’s offence, the 32-year-old veteran still has time to set a good example for the arms behind him on the depth chart.”I think especially still being young, like you kind of take on the role of the starter and the guy and Zach coming in (in 2019) kind of fit in seamlessly,” McGuire said.
“And now with our group this year in our room, I’d already say that we all really click really well. I’d say the year of Zoom meetings has helped a lot. It was funny meeting the two rookie quarterbacks — Dalton and Dru — it was like I had known them for a while already. So, we all click really well, and Zach leads from the front. He’s a great leader and I’m always trying to absorb from Zach and learn and see his process. And everybody has a different process. That’s what it comes down to. So, Zach’s is his way and he’s obviously had a long career for a reason. So, really love learning from Zach and I think we’ve got a good group.”
The biggest change, if you can call it that as he spent the past four seasons as the quarterbacks coach, is Pierce replacing Paul LaPolice — who’s now leading the charge for Ottawa — as the team’s offensive co-ordinator. Only time will tell how many points they’ll be able to put on the board with Pierce calling the shots, but the quarterbacks already share the same philosophy as their new co-ordinator.
“I just like the attitude, man. Our mantra, Buck’s mantra is ‘We’re gonna be gritty, man, the grittiest team in the league.’ We want to run the football, we want to finish guys in the blocking, down the field, and allow Andrew (Harris) to gain his big runs or if a guy catches the ball down field, allow for explosive plays. That’s what I think Buck brings to the table and the group of guys that we have here as well,” Collaros said.
“There’s a reason everybody’s back. Guys had that attitude, they understand what the standard is and how we want to play and, from a continuity standpoint, knowing what we do here, what the playbook is, we can definitely build on some things earlier in the season than we would be able to if we had a completely new group and new playbook. That way you’re not really able to build on an offence until midway through the season. That will be invaluable for us in a shortened season, with no pre-season games and all those things.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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