Dropping Back with Dave: NFL offspring continue to flourish in CFL
Professional football is a world where players can experience tremendous highs and lows, often over a very short period of time.
It’s part of the emotional pull of the sport and why it produces such rich storylines.
But even in that context, it’s hard to think of a career that includes more extremes than that of Zach Collaros, the starting quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the prohibitive favourite to take home the league’s Most Outstanding Player award this season.
Collaros is 15-1 as Winnipeg’s starter since arriving in a trade from Toronto in October of 2019. That includes four wins that led Winnipeg to its first Grey Cup victory in 29 years and an 11-1 record as the starter this season.
He’s been the best and most consistent player in the CFL this season, leading a Bomber team that often puts games away by halftime, with the league’s best offence and defence as well.
And if his football life wasn’t good enough, he and his wife welcomed their second daughter into the world this week.
The good times have found Collaros only because he managed to persevere through some very tough ones.
There was losing his job in Hamilton during the 2017 season, the second-half of which he watched from the sideline. There was going to Saskatchewan in 2018 and being concussed badly enough that he was unavailable for a playoff game. And there was being concussed on the first drive of the 2019 season, and leaving the field some feared forever.
What did he learn from all of that?
“For me, it’s really taking care of what you can control and put your focus into that,” he said. “You can’t control everything that’s going on so have fun and be prepared so you play fast and confidently.”
Collaros has done all that and more since arriving in Winnipeg last season, the short-term stopgap who turned into the long-term answer for the Bombers at quarterback.
And a deal that almost didn’t happen.
When Toronto traded for Collaros in late July of 2019, then-general manager Jim Popp told him he might not play for the team that season.
“I didn’t know what the future had in store for me because I didn’t know what other organizations thought of me,” Collaros said. “Either on a personnel or injury level.”
So when Popp came to him with an offer to sign him to a deal for 2020, he jumped at it.
However, before Popp could get the approval of his boss, Argos president Bill Manning, he was fired.
Two days later, the Argonauts dealt Collaros to Winnipeg in a deal that instantly got his approval.
“I told my wife ‘this is the best opportunity I could imagine if I want to keep playing football,’” he said. “With Coach O’Shea I knew the culture was right to go to work.
“And I knew there would be detail on offence and you just have to do your job. I told her `this is an unbelievable opportunity for me.’
Collaros found magic in Winnipeg by thriving in a stable environment of veteran under O’Shea, whom he had got to know when during his first two years in the league when he was coaching special teams at Toronto.
What seemed like lighting-in-a-bottle has carried onto this season flawlessly, despite the year away. The Bombers host either Calgary or Saskatchewan in the West Division Final on Dec. 5th for their chance to punch their ticket to Hamilton for a return trip to the Grey Cup.
This week’s regular season finale, in which Collaros will at least start, is just one more tune-up for two weeks from now.
“For me, 2021 has been about building on relationships from a personal level as well as getting more and more reps,” said Collaros. “I felt like we really hit the ground running in training camp. We were doing day seven, eight, nine stuff om day 1 because we have a group that knows the playbook.”
“Having all these guys back who understand the system makes it easy to make decisions on the fly. You don’t have to scale everything back. You have the whole rolodex. And there’s things we haven’t even used.”
Football is a fun profession when you’re on top and a tough one when you’re not.
And Zach Collaros has learned that you sometimes have to pay the price at the low end to get to the highs.
NFL Dads, CFL Sons
The CFL doesn’t attract the best players from the National Football League. But it continues to be a magnet for their sons.
Receivers Reggie White Jr. of Montreal and Dres Anderson of Toronto are the latest players with famous NFL football Dads to join the CFL.
The CFL this season features at least five other players with NFL Dads, Toronto’s DaVaris Daniels (Phillip Daniels), and Justin Tuggle (Jesse Tuggle), Edmonton’s James Wilder Jr. (James Wilder Sr.) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers Brandon Alexander (Derrick Alexander) and Jackson Jeffcoat (Jim Jeffcoat).
There have been others of note as well in recent seasons as well, most notably to sons of Hall of Famers in running back Jarrett Patyon (Walter Payton) and receiver Duron Carter (Chris Carter).
Given the number of players who cycle through the NFL in relatively short careers and the importance of bloodlines, there are no doubt others.
And in a league where name recognition of the players is an issue, the CFL will take all the blue football blood it can get.
Official fined for F-Bomb
The CFL fined one of its officials this week after Tom Vaselli’s open mic caught an F-bomb directed at the Saskatchewan Roughriders and projected it throughout the stadium prior to the start of the second half.
More serious than Vaselli’s choice of language is why an official was cussing out one of the teams.
It turns out there may be a reasonable answer.
It appears that Vaselli was expressing frustration at Saskatchewan having to take a timeout to begin the second half because its special teams unit wasn’t set to go. Head coach Craig Dickenson called that embarrassing, so Vaselli was not alone in his apparent disgust.
The Roughriders are satisfied with how the matter was handled.
Bethel-Thompson an All-Time Argo?
Friday night at BMO Field came a scoreboard message I was surprised to see.
“Congratulations McLeod Bethel-Thompson on becoming 7th all-time in Argo career passing yards.”
The Argos have been around since 1873 and while the forward pass may not have arrived for a half-century or so, that’s still a lot of time for Argo quarterbacks to rack up yards before MBT came along in 2017. He attempted just two passes that first season before part-time duties emerged in both 2018 and 2019, of which he took full advantage, passing for more than 6,000 yards over those two seasons.
He shared starting duties with Nick Arbuckle this season, before Arbuckle was dealt away to Edmonton at the end of October.
So a quarterback who has had less than a month as the dedicated starter on this team is 7th all-time in franchise passing yards.
All of which speaks to an historic turnstile of quarterbacks in Toronto, with Ricky Ray as the team’s all-time passing yardage leader with 20, 205. It’s worth noting there is that Ray played only five (mostly healthy) seasons in Toronto and his Argo passing yardage mark is less than half the total he amassed in Edmonton.
No. 4 on the list is Doug Flutie, who is undoubtedly great. But he played just two seasons in Toronto.
If he holds the job, McLeod Bethel-Thompson will become the Argos’ all-time passing leader part way through the 2024 season.
Ottawa Hopes to Have New GM in Place post-Grey Cup
The Ottawa Redblacks may interview as many as ten candidates for their vacant general manager position, including interim GM Jeremy Snyder.
Ottawa will begin arranging interviews during the first week of December and hopes to have the new GM in place the week following Grey Cup Sunday.
First on the new GM’s to-do list will be to secure some veteran experience at quarterback for next season. With Ottawa sure to move-on from both Matt Nichols and Dominique Davis, the quarterback cupboard has three rookies who are still learning the game.
And a team that’s washed out at the position two seasons in a row can’t have that happen for a third.
So it appears we will have the USFL in 2022 and the XFL in 2023 as competing head-to-head spring leagues.
This will remind many of when in 2019 and 2020, the AAF and the XFL were on schedule to compete. Only that the AAF never made it to 2020 and the global pandemic killed the XFL.
That is but a small part of the wreckage that is spring football, which is why no one in the CFL is getting in knots about the emergence of either of these ventures. Besides, the league still has plenty of issues to sort out that have nothing to do with competing leagues.
But that doesn’t mean the CFL shouldn’t be concerned.
As long as spring leagues exist, they are a threat to drain player and coaching talent away from the CFL. And while we still don’t know what these leagues will pay players or coaches, we know the CFL isn’t looking to increase its wages scales for either.
And there is always the danger that one of these years, someone is going to figure out the economics of spring football and make it last.