Collaros a true gamer Five takeaways from Thursday's Bombers win

There was no shortage of unknowns heading into Thursday's CFL season-opener — and 2019 Grey Cup rematch — between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2021 (422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There was no shortage of unknowns heading into Thursday’s CFL season-opener — and 2019 Grey Cup rematch — between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

After all, it had been 620 days since either team had played, and nearly two years away from the field can leave its mark. How would players perform after such a long layoff? Can you believe we’ve made it to this point? How long might this last?

Rust be damned. What transpired was four quarters of quality football, resulting in a hard-fought defensive battle and a 19-6 victory for the Blue and Gold. The CFL is officially back.

Zach Collaros was 18-for-26 with for 217 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with three carries for another 23 yards on the ground. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

There was a lot to like from the Bombers, who are now a perfect 1-0 on the year, and some areas that need to be further discussed before next week’s battle with the visiting Toronto Argonauts Friday night. Here are your five takeaways from Week 1.

1) The stat line doesn’t exactly pop: 18-for-26, for 217 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with three carries for another 23 yards on the ground.

But make no mistake, what Zach Collaros showed Thursday night was he’s an absolute gamer and is quickly becoming the personality of this offence. And there’s reason to believe it’s only going to get better from here.

Collaros took shots down field, often while on the run (see: 49-yard reception to Nic Demski), and wasn’t afraid to fit the ball into small windows or trust his receivers to make a play. He was fearless in extending plays with his feet, evading would-be tackler after would-be tackler, his efforts often resulting in moving the chains.

What was perhaps most impressive from Collaros was how composed he stayed throughout the game. He likes it here and it shows. This isn’t the Collaros we saw in Saskatchewan; it’s more like the guy who played in Hamilton and was in the discussion for the CFL’s most outstanding player.

Should be fun to see what he will do playing behind the league’s best offensive line for an entire season.

2) Count myself in the group that thought the absence of Andrew Harris was going to be a major concern for an offence that has run for years through the star running back.

That wasn’t the case Thursday, as another Manitoba-made tailback in Brady Oliveira had an impressive night in his first start as a pro. The 23-year-old eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark, scampering for 126 yards on 22 carries — an impressive average of 5.7 yards per run. He also had one catch for 21 yards, which came on a second-and-13, extending a drive that ended with a crucial touchdown.

CP Brady Oliveira ran for 126 yards on 22 carries. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Oliveira started slow — he had zero net rushing yards through the first quarter — but hit his groove in the second frame and took off from there. He’s a strong north-south runner, looked confident running between the tackles and brings a contagious energy similar to Harris.

What his performance also does is take some pressure off Harris to return immediately, giving him an appropriate time to heal from a calf injury. Harris will be back when he’s ready and will return to being a significant piece of the offensive puzzle. But Oliveira proved he’s more than just a reliable fill-in.

3) The reason why Kenny Lawler was the last person to step in front of the camera for a post-game interview was because after leaving the field following a two-touchdown performance, he joined fellow receiver Darvin Adams in the gym for a full workout.

Lawler was always viewed as a special talent when he joined the Bombers in 2019, but what’s different this year is his presence. He took the prolonged off-season seriously, working tirelessly with his father to sharpen his skills, and proclaimed during training camp he expects big things for himself in his sophomore season in the CFL.

He’s more mature and the team has appreciated his improved leadership skills. Beyond his two touchdown grabs — 25 and 28 yards, respectively — he had just two receptions for 16 yards. He said he has more to give, and he plans to deliver.

It’s about time we take him for his word.

4) After Jeremiah Masoli picked apart the Bombers defence on Hamilton’s opening series, orchestrating a seven-play, 89-yard touchdown drive, I couldn’t help but feel this was going to be a long night.

CP Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Kenny Lawler scored two touchdowns on Thursday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Then the Tiger-Cats didn’t score another point.

It was an impressive feat, even if Hamilton was missing two key receivers in Bralon Addison and DeVier Posey; running back Don Jackson; and left tackle Chris Van Zeyl. After all, the Bombers were without linebackers Mercy Maston and Kyrie Wilson, and had two rookie defensive backs patrolling the boundary side of the secondary, responsible for stopping reigning CFL most outstanding player Brandon Banks.

There are too many players that impressed to list off individually, but you also don’t put up the kind of performance the Bombers did without a collective effort. Just consider Hamilton’s drive chart after scoring an early TD: punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, safety, punt, fumble, punt, punt, interception. And five of those punts were two-and-outs.

The Bombers could be dealing with more injuries. Defensive back Josh Johnson left the game in the first half and word is he’s likely out for next week.

5) The Bombers are going to need to find a way to strengthen their kicking game.

Marc Liegghio made his first pro debut, and despite a couple shanked punts, seemed to find his confidence as the game wore on. But it was the decision-making around kicker Tyler Crapigna and field goals that really showed just how different things are without Justin Medlock.

Winnipeg opted to punt instead of attempt a field goal on three different occasions that would have been well within Medlock’s range, including a 51-yarder just before halftime; a 45-yarder midway through the third quarter and a 48-yard attempt in the dying seconds of the same frame.

CP Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli drove his team down the field on the opening drive, but couldn't score another point after that. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Head coach Mike O’Shea said his decision to punt was based on the play of the defence, a concern that Banks might flip the game with a strong return and the overall feel of the game. What he didn’t say was Crapigna was struggling in warm-up, falling yards short from 50 yards out.

There won’t be many games this year that the Bombers can afford to leave nine points off the board.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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