What a difference a day can make. On Friday night against Calgary, many of us weren't sure if this would be the last professional game of Zach Collaros’s career, as he was seemingly one hit away from having everything ended for him. But by the end of the day, and with two days of running the starting offence under his belt, he not only took down the defending Grey Cup champions — who had everything to play for — but he brought a pedigree and polish to the offensive attack that gave hope to an entire province of Bombers fans.
It’s fair to say that Collaros was running out of opportunities when he landed in Winnipeg. Once the most highly prized and sought-after pivot in the CFL, he re-signed in Saskatchewan this season only after they failed to land Bo-Levi Mitchell, and he was quickly traded away to Toronto once he sustained yet another concussion in Week 1.
Being traded twice in one season is an ominous sign for any player, especially when you’re about to become a free agent and playing out a one-year deal.
It wasn’t just the seemingly increasing susceptibility to concussions that made us wonder about his longevity, it was also his declining performance during the 13 games he played in Saskatchewan in 2018. Even though he was the author of 10 wins last season, his touchdown to interception ratio wasn’t good; let’s face it, didn’t make anybody long for his skill set.
So what changed on Friday night? Well, first of all, he put to bed the question about whether he could survive violent contact without re-entering concussion protocol. Collaros took some massive, borderline hits in that game — none flagged — but didn’t appear to be affected at all. He was creative in the pocket, elusive in small spaces and on point in critical moments.
Though he was fortunate not to be picked off two or three times, he rose to the occasion in several instances and produced a highlight-reel touchdown that many of us haven’t seen since Khari Jones was taking snaps for the Bombers. And the mistakes he made can easily be chalked up to rust or communication problems with his new teammates.
He also showed us that not only is a new team a new opportunity for a travelled veteran, but sometimes quarterbacks work better in some systems than others.
Collaros never played in an offence with this calibre of running game in Saskatchewan. He never had this kind of offensive line, this kind of protection and clean pocket and this kind of offensive balance. He also, evidently, had never been paired up with the kind of offensive acumen that Paul LaPolice sometimes brings to the table.
This looked like more than just a final opportunity for the QB; it was a breath of fresh air in what had become a suffocating offensive situation.
It cannot be stressed enough that Collaros had only two days of reps with the starting offence leading into the game.
It would take me more than two days to find a helmet that fit properly and wouldn’t make the bridge of my nose bleed, let alone contribute anything positive in such a short time frame. That is an impossible amount of time to even scratch the surface on a level of comfortability running an offence, or in creating chemistry with any of his teammates.
It wasn’t that he put on such a spectacular show that blew us away, it’s that he did so much in such a small window.
And if Collaros can beat Mitchell on two days prep, you can’t help but wonder what he could do over the next few weeks.
It’s rare that you would hand the keys over to any franchise after a single game, but if you didn’t see the difference and the potential of a Collaros-led offence Friday in contrast to the last few weeks or months, you simply weren't paying attention.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.