Double-trouble: The effectiveness of the two-quarterback system

The two-quarterback system is nothing new to the Canadian Football League and football as a whole, but during the 2019 season, it became even more predominant in the mainstream with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers employing it down the stretch.

If you go back in time, teams have always done everything in their power to have as many great pivots in-house as possible. In the cases of Matt Dunigan and Joe Barnes, they both came into the league with some great talent surrounding them in the QB room.

Dunigan’s first foray north of the border came in Edmonton in 1983, where Warren Moon was cemented as the starting signal-caller. Barnes, on the other hand, shared quarterbacking duties with John Hufnagel with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1981 and Condredge Holloway later on in his career while with the Toronto Argonauts.

On the latest episode of The Waggle presented by Sport Clips, the pair of quarterbacks joined Donnovan Bennett to speak on the two-quarterback system and how they feel about the strategy.

Episode 223: The two-QB system debate w/ Matt Dunigan & Joe Barnes

EPISODE OVERVIEW:A lot has been made about teams who run a 2-QB system, especially after Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler helped bring a Grey Cup back to Winnipeg last season. Two of the best to ever do it, Matt Dunigan and Joe Barnes, reconnect to talk about their experience with it.

EPISODE RUNDOWN: Welcoming Matt Dunigan and Joe Barnes (2:30); Are they still throwing? (3:30); Viewpoints on the two-QB system (11:30); Trust with other QB competing for reps (18:00); How much does money matter with QBs (22:15); Handling the QB room (31:45); Former QBs coaching QBs (34:15); Build the perfect QB (39:20).

“Quarterbacks probably have the biggest egos on the team, and when you get into a two-quarterback system, you have to bury those egos,” Barnes said. “The team comes first. And I know when I was playing, those two systems in Saskatchewan and Toronto, I just had respect for the other quarterbacks. I was fortunate enough to be with two guys in Hufnagel and Holloway who were just outstanding individuals on top of being great talents.

“So we respected each other and got along with each other. When one of the guys was playing, the other was on the sidelines was keeping himself in the game and adding what he could even though he wasn’t playing.”

There were a number of situations around the league in 2019 that involved two-quarterback systems. For a time, the Toronto Argonauts ran one with McLeod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin while Ottawa had the duo of Dominique Davis and Jonathon Jennings at the helm. Due to an anomaly of a year that saw every starting quarterback miss time with an injury, every single CFL team needed to have — at least — two solid quarterbacks that could carry an offence.

However, the best example of the effectiveness of the two-quarterback system came from the Bombers, who rode their pairing all the way to a Grey Cup championship.

With Matt Nichols lost for the season after Week 10, Chris Streveler was left to lead the offence for the remainder of the campaign. He did a good job of working through the run game while getting the ball into the hands of his receivers when needed. However, the Bombers added some extra insurance, acquiring Zach Collaros from Toronto at the trade deadline.

Collaros was still working back from an injury suffered in the opening game of the year, but he did return to the field in Week 20 against the Calgary Stampeders. In the Bombers’ final tune-up before the playoffs, the veteran got the starting nod, helping Winnipeg overcome Calgary. Collaros provided the touch through the air while Streveler was able to serve as a battering ram to wear down the defence on the ground.

Heading into the Western Semi-Final, Collaros was named the starter and the team stuck with using him for the majority of the first half to try and stretch the defence. It didn’t quite work, as they found themselves down 14-8 heading into the locker room at halftime. Offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice opted to go back to the two-QB system in the second half, and it seemed to be the move that completely changed around their entire season. They were able to walk out of McMahon with a victory before winning a nailbiter against the rival Roughriders in the Western Final.

In the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, the plan worked to perfection once again. Streveler even threw a touchdown pass to Andrew Harris.

“The reason I think quarterbacks have such big egos is because they’re so vested, they put in so much time,” Dunigan said. “Before you start talking about offensive terminology, you have to understand the defence.

“… You have to understand every assignment and what they’re supposed to be doing. Every coverage and front that they deploy. So it’s hard. It’s hard to get people that passionate and that detailed on the same level. There’s a lot of effort there and the more effort that’s put in, the harder it is to let go.”

With Streveler pursuing an opportunity in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals, that leaves Collaros to be the lone quarterback that Mike O’Shea will lean on, but while Winnipeg won’t employ the same system as last year, other squads will be rolling with multiple starting calibre pivots in 2020.

Toronto made a big splash ahead of free agency opening, as they signed Nichols to a three-year deal while also agreeing to an extension with Bethel-Thompson. Both will compete for the starting job, but expect new head coach Ryan Dinwiddie to mix it up with both seeing reps.

The rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats will have arguably the most interesting quarterback committee in 2020. Dane Evans stepped into a starring role for the Tabbies en route to a Grey Cup berth. While he was still under contract for this season, the team also re-signed Jeremiah Masoli, who is coming in off a torn ACL suffered in Week 7 against Winnipeg.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli helps call plays from the sidelines. (The Canadian Press)

Cody Fajardo will be the main man in Saskatchewan after being a finalist for the MOP, but general manager Jeremy O’Day added some extra insurance, signing James Franklin, who can both pass and run the ball.

“We often talk at TSN about the quarterback room and comparing those four or five heads in the room from team to team,” Dunigan said. “It’s a joint effort throughout the season by everybody, including being able to communicate.

“I think that’s the biggest thing, no matter who is on the field; communication and willingness to communicate. I think that is paramount.”

With a possible shortened season on the horizon, it’ll be more pivotal than ever that quarterbacks work together to get their offences together and in the best position to succeed. The usual marathon of a CFL campaign has been turned into a sprint, and each squad will need their quarterbacks to lead the way more than ever.

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