The reaction to Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence's hit on Zach Collaros was passionate and critical Thursday night, with analysts, fans and former players urging the Canadian Football League to take further action on the play that resulted in the league's first 25-yard roughing-the-passer penalty.
Lawrence lowered his shoulder and made contact with the Saskatchewan quarterback’s helmet as he was sliding at the end of a run on the third offensive play of the game. Collaros remained on the turf for several minutes after the hit before walking off the field under his own power. He exchanged words with Lawrence, his teammate for four seasons in Hamilton, as he left the field.
Collaros didn’t return to the game while Lawrence was assessed a 25-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on the play.
The more severe penalty was part of an increased effort by the league over the off-season to protect quarterbacks – a decision that was spurred in part by a head shot to Collaros by Lions defensive end Odell Willis late last season.
A league source told TSN’s Farhan Lalji they now feel Lawrence should have been ejected from the game. There is a 25-yard rough play penalty that comes with an ejection, but on what was just the fourth play of the season, it was decided the 25-yard roughing the passer penalty, which does not come with an ejection, was enough.
Referee Andre Proulx initially called a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty before consulting with the command centre and upgrading the call to a Grade 2, 25-yard roughing the passer penalty.
There will be a hearing in the coming days when the league will determine if Lawrence will receive supplementary discipline, which could include a suspension.
“I think it was dirty and definitely intentional. He’s just like Ky Hebert to me just younger. It was tough to see," a veteran defensive lineman told TSN's Matthew Scianitti. "It’s everything we as a PA are looking to get out of the game. The CFL doesn’t care about player safety, they only care about the liabilities from concussions. If Zach doesn’t get a concussion there and gets up they wouldn’t care. And I know this for a fact. So when the league screams 'player safety' they mean lawsuits from concussions.
"I don’t know. Still early. It sucks cause the PA represents both parties. But we’ll find out Monday.”
The CFL on TSN panel was unanimous in saying the league needs to take action on Lawrence for his hit.
Milt Stegall: “This was a dirty hit by Simoni Lawrence. Lawrence has plenty of time to see Zach Collaros slide. But he decides to come in and hit him. That is uncalled for. Something needs to happen to Simoni after this. Because if not, everyone in the CFL including the fans and other players are going to say, ‘Okay, I can do that and not get kicked out of the game.’”
Matt Dunigan: “I’ve got no time for that. I’ve seen it too many times with Simoni Lawrence the way he attacks the game. He’s a good football player, but something’s got to be done at this point.
That is not what the game is about. Play as hard as you want but do it between the whistles and do it within the rules. There’s just no room for that.”
Henry Burris: “When I saw that it lit a fire in me because I don’t know how many times we have to go to the well with this. [In] 2015 it happened to me where I injured one of my knees during a game against Winnipeg prior. And when we came here and played against Hamilton, Simoni took a low shot on me on the same knee that I hurt the week before. It’s outrageous. How many times can this happen again and again? …I came out and said there’s no place for this in the game of football. Zach Collaros is one of the players that we’re looking forward to seeing play throughout the season. And you have guys like Simoni running around here, taking guys out like that.”
Lawrence’s hit also received a lot of negative attention from fans and players around the league on social media.
BC Lions receiver Duron Carter said he would take action if a defensive player hit Lions QB Mike Reilly like that.
Belton Johnson spent seven seasons in the CFL, including parts of four seasons with the Ticats, but his time didn’t overlap with Lawrence’s or Collaros’. He called for a two or three game suspension.
Troy Westwood spent 18 seasons playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and is now a co-host of The Big Show on TSN Radio 1290 in Winnipeg.
Luc Mullinder played nine seasons in the CFL, including eight with the Roughriders, and also spent time with the Tiger-Cats
In an interview with TSN’s Matthew Scianitti after the game, Lawrence apologized to Collaros and said the hit was not intentional.
"It wasn’t anything personal about Zach. It’s hard to stop when you’re running full speed. I love Zach to death. I feel really bad about it and it wasn’t intentional. Prayers to him and his family."
Lawrence also described the play from his angle.
"I saw him break the pocket and I was running my fastest. And me knowing Zach, how he’s a competitor, I thought he was going to try to do something, juke me or something, but he slid the last second and I wasn’t able to jump over him because I was already going in for a tackle. And I feel bad about it because I know how hard he worked to get back into the CFL and play at a high level."
Finally, the linebacker said he would reach out to Collaros, when the time is right.
"Of course, I feel super bad about it. I have to give him time to cool off but it wasn’t intentional and I’m super sorry about it."