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Wednesday, March 7, 2018


It seems to be the #1 question from the Rider Nation this off-season: Is Zach Collaros the man to lead the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a Grey Cup championship?

Of course the question isn't new. After the Roughriders acquired the 29-year old quarterback from Hamilton on January 4, I posed that exact question to Roughriders Head Coach & GM Chris Jones at the CFL's GM meetings in Banff a week later.

"We'll see," Jones said at the time. "We certainly hope that he is. We believe very strongly in him or we wouldn't have made the deal."

But as the winter days agonizingly tick by and we get closer and closer to the Florida minicamp and training camp in Saskatoon, Rider fans are really starting to examine this year's team and what lies ahead on the field in 2018.

Of course it all lies on the broad shoulders of the team's #1 quarterback.

"I truly believe Zach Collaros is a superstar in the Canadian Football League," Sportsnet's Arash Madani said on 620 CKRM's SportsCage on Tuesday. "I have been a big Zach Collaros fan for quite some time. If you think back to the year where he blew out his knee at home against Edmonton (2015), he was the league's Most Outstanding Player at that point. I think a change of scenery, a fresh start, getting out of that situation in Hamilton which was toxic for him, and coming here, being surrounded with people he knows, it's something that's going to be very good for him.

"He's healthy. He's motivated. And he's been given the keys to the Jaguar. They gave him the contract, and everything that he needs. That said, I'm not sure that's enough to get to a Grey Cup. Who's blocking for him? I'm not concerned about a Chris Jones defense.

"But that was a helluva trade."

Of course Rider fans are nervous. They always are. They're wondering if they're getting the 2015 version of Collaros when he was having an MVP season before a knee injury cut it short, or the Collaros who struggled to an 0-8 start with Hamilton last year? And what exactly soured Collaros and the Ticats on each other, leading to him being benched and eventually traded?

"It doesn't matter now but I can tell you a little bit of what happened," Madani continued. "There was a real power struggle in Hamilton and some other issues. It started a few years earlier when Tommy Condell left the team and he was not only an offensive guru, but he was also Zach's sounding board.

"Tommy leaves the Ticats, sits out a year, and then joins the Argos and wins a championship with Marc Trestman. It was a mess in Hamilton last year. They gave up 60 points in a game! There was a problem. Good luck to Hamilton and Jeremiah Massoli but I have no idea what's happening over there."

Furthermore on Collaros's ability to deliver a Grey Cup to the 306, I posed the same question to CKRM analyst Luc Mullinder on Monday's SportsCage.

"The answer's in the offensive line," the forme Roughrider explained. "It doesn't matter who's at QB otherwise. Zach Collaros is as nimble as you need him to be - despite having that knee surgery - but if they can't block up front, it won't matter who's back there. It starts up front, and they need to bring a good offensive line into camp.

"Let's say the O-line is awesome; then yes, Zach Collaros is the answer. He's got a great QB coach (Steve Walsh) and this isn't the toughest offense to get ahold of by any stretch. But it does ask the guys that you have in certain positions to be key guys. It asks the receivers to block downfield and for the linemen to block up front. Stephen McAdoo likes to run the ball, sure, but he also likes to stretch the field so the receivers need to be in the right spots. So I think Zach Collaros is in a really, really good spot. They'll ask him to hit some tight throws, but I think he can do that."

But isn't that the same for every quarterback? Why can't veteran Brandon Bridge be successful if he enjoys the same protection?

"Because Brandon Bridge still needs to build into his football IQ," Mullinder continued. "There were times in games that if you watched in the film room the next day, there would be a lot of questions about some of his plays. On the biggest stage, in the Eastern Final, when he came in for KG, he lost 30-some yards scrambling when they were in field goal range. His athleticism is there and his accuracy is coming along, but he's still got a bit to go when it comes to the IQ.

"A third-year QB who can put a team on his back throws the ball away when he's in trouble. Brandon Bridge lost 38 yards trying to extend the play. He has to realize you don't always have to do that and when you lose that much yardage and it takes points off the board, it changes the scope of the game.

"Again when he lost that yardage it was in the 4th quarter with time ticking. That just shows where he is in his progression. He answered a lot of the big questions on his physical ability last year, and that's what everybody wanted to see. Now his goal is to answer the mental questions in 2018.

"If he does that, you've got a real QB controversy going forward."

Training camp is 82 days away.