Bombers QB Collaros has put himself in early conversation for MOP with stellar performance so far

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Given what he did in his first partial season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it perhaps shouldn’t be a shock that Zach Collaros has calmly led the team to five wins in six games this year and earned early consideration for CFL most outstanding player.

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Still, the 33-year-old quarterback has been so impressive, so efficient in using his arms, legs and veteran savvy, that many observers, including fans of the Bombers, are more than pleasantly surprised.

After winning all four of his starts in 2019 and leading the Bombers to their first Grey Cup title in 29 years, Collaros has opened the 2021 season with a 5-1 record, leading the CFL in touchdown passes (9) and pass attempts (175) and sitting second in completions (121) and yards (1,479).

The quarterback on the best team in the league, so far, Collaros is a cool and calm leader who throws a terrific deep ball and has helped Winnipeg’s offence complement a ferocious defence.

“I think I’ve performed well enough for us to win games,” Collaros said after the Bombers held a closed practice Wednesday, in preparation for Saturday’s game in Edmonton against the 2-3 Elks. “As a unit, and myself individually, I’m getting better every week at seeing the pictures and understanding the game plan and what we’re trying to attack and when we’re trying to attack it.”

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The Bombers are simply a more balanced offensive team than they were before Collaros arrived in Winnipeg. They still have a great running game, with Andrew Harris leading the way, but now they have a quarterback who spreads the ball around to all of his receivers, all over the field, and isn’t shy about slinging it if the run game is not working particularly well.

He has nine touchdown passes, against three interceptions, and has engineered eight TD drives in the last two weeks.

Of course, one of the reasons he believes he’s finding success now is that he no longer focuses on unimportant things, like personal numbers.

“When you’re younger you worry more about those kinds of things,” Collaros said. “I can remember reading a Sports Illustrated article five of six years ago, it was the Harbaugh brothers (NFL coaches John and Jim) talking to their dad about how they measured success at the quarterback position.

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“Jim Harbaugh was talking about his time at Michigan, and he would always measure success when he was a freshman or a sophomore with how many touchdowns he threw, how many receptions there were, those type of things. As he got older and learned more, it was ‘How was my process? Did I get the guys lined up right? Were my cadences right? Am I getting us in the right situations so that we can win football games?’ Those different little things that ultimately get you in the right situations so that you can garner some statistics. I remember reading that, it really struck me, and I started looking at the game a little bit differently.”

He’s also spent a lot of time studying how NFL greats like Tom Brady and Drew Brees conduct themselves in huddles and in action and how they develop their mechanics.

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When he first started in the CFL, with the Toronto Argonauts in 2012, the former Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback said his mechanics were a mess.

Those have improved as the years have gone on and Collaros gives particular credit to Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell for helping in that area.

“When we started working together back there in 2014, he said ‘OK, your mechanics are all out of whack, we need to address this.’ It’s something we really worked on hard together and something that I’ve really tried to focus on in off-season training for the last six or seven years.”

Perhaps the thing that has surprised Bombers fans most about Collaros is his ability to use his feet to get out of trouble, throw on the run and even pick up first downs on the ground. He has 61 rushing yards on nine carries.

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“The scrambling thing … it’s just a situation this year where we’ve gotten some calls where the defences have their back to me and (tackle Jermarcus Hardrick) washes down a defensive end and it kinda splits like the Red Sea and I get in there,” Collaros said. “I’m always looking to throw the ball first but there’s been a couple of moments where I’ve been able to pick up some yards, get some first downs.

“Throwing on the run, that’s always just been natural for me. Playing baseball at a high level and playing basketball, and playing sports all day long, probably helped me to be able to throw the ball on the move.”

The presence of Collaros has helped make stars out of receivers like Nic Demski (21 catches, 313 yards, 2 TD) and Kenny Lawler (32 catches, 468 yards, 3 TD) and it’s obvious they appreciate the player they have behind centre.

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“He’s poised, he’s a team player, he wants to make sure everybody sees the big picture,” Demski said. “He’s a good leader, he’s a good teacher, he’s been around for a long time, obviously, and he’s seen a lot of different defences.

“So, when you have a guy explaining the big picture and making sure everybody knows the ‘why’ behind their assignments, it goes a long way.”

One person who isn’t surprised by the quarterback’s performance is Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who was an assistant in Toronto when Collaros broke into the CFL and has watched him grow ever since.

“When he showed up, very quickly everybody recognized that he’s a guy his teammates were attracted to and he could run a huddle and he could be very dynamic on the field and he was a winner,” O’Shea said.

“Then he goes and he has a lot of success when he gets to run his own team (in Hamilton) and when you’re coaching against him you see all those same traits.

“Then we get an opportunity to get him here and he still has all those same traits. I don’t think it’s surprising or shocking. I also don’t think you have to dig really deep when you meet Zach or get to know him to get a real sense of who he is very quickly. He’s a tough competitor who loves the game of football, loves the CFL and his teammates and he just wants to win.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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