On the same day the trade deadline passes without Zach Collaros being traded, his replacement is named one of the Canadian Football Leagues’ top three players of the week.
That’s Jeremiah Masoli’s present tense.
The future? Who knows, but it could even improve.
“He’s gotten better, it seems, every week,” says June Jones, who will lose the ‘interim’ from his head coaching description if he and his quarterback-of-choice can somehow urge the Ticats into an unlikely playoff berth.
“He’s better in practice this week. Hopefully, he’ll just continue to do that on game day.”
When Masoli took over the starter’s role from Collaros on the day Jones became head coach, he started winning. And, really, that’s all that counted and all that still counts, even more so as the season funnels toward its conclusion.
But a couple of the classic indicators of CFL quarterback success – completion rate and passing yardage – weren’t there. In his first three games at the helm he didn’t reach a 60 percent completion rate, nor compile a 300-yard game.
But in the past three games, he’s recorded a 65.7 per cent rate (in BC) and a whopping 81.8 (in Winnipeg), a 338-yard passing game (Winnipeg) and a 288-yarder (Toronto).
And it’s not likely he’s Peter Principle-ing here. When he ran the offence for another six-game stretch last year – to open the season with Collaros recovering from surgery – he was below 60 per cent accuracy in just one game, and four times reached 300 passing yards. His career average is 64 per cent.
Different coach, different system, and somewhat different receivers, which explains some of the lower numbers in this stretch of a half-dozen games compared to last year’s six, but also why he could trend up for the crucial four-game remainder of the season.
Last year, he was a backup who had to start. Right now, he is the starter who used to back up. Nowhere is it ordained that Collaros returns under centre, and that makes a big difference psychologically. So does familiarity with a different system of reads for him and his receivers.
“I feel like I’m getting more comfortable with the offence,” Masoli said after Wednesday’s final full practice before Calgary arrives here Friday night. “With coach (Dan) Morrison being here, it helps me out, just clearing up some of the simple stuff that make the difference in some of the throws and reads. Just the little tweaks that me and coach Morrison are making in my drops, and in my eye placements, I just feel a lot more comfortable and confident.”
And that, Jones feels, makes for better accuracy. Especially, it says here, on the deep balls.
“We’ve changed so many reads and so many keys, it’s like the first third of the season for him, really,” Jones says of Masoli. “He’s getting better, and that’s good.
“I think it’s playing together and knowing what the receiver’s going to do. A couple of the misses he had earlier, he was thinking the receiver was going to go a certain spot, and he just guessed wrong. Now he’s knowing where he’s going to go.”
He’s also learning to depend upon what was previously undependable: the commitment to the running game; the precision of the receivers’ routes; the vastly improved play of the edges of the offensive line; and the speed of the deep threats clearing room for the possession plays underneath.
One of the Ticats’ most important drives, if not the most important, of Friday’s game in Winnipeg was a 100-yard march that took a valuable eight minutes and 35 seconds to result in a touchdown.
On that drive, Shamawd Chambers, Luke Tasker and Andy Fantuz (twice) each caught second-down passes of eight yards or less to merit a new set of downs. On most, there was room short because fast guys like Speedy Banks and Jalen Saunders were occupying defenders farther afield.
“I wouldn’t overstate it because I would think every offence has some clearing routes to open up underneath, but I think our deep threat has increased, and that helps everything,” says Tasker who also likes the opportunity he and Fantuz are getting to occasionally run longer patterns themselves.
“And the run game has increased, so that helps the passing game. We’ve got some balance, both overall in the offence and inside the passing game as well.”
If they’d only had that balance even a week or two earlier, the razor’s edge of this final four weeks wouldn’t be quite as lethally sharp.
NOTES: The Tiger-Cats, not surprisingly, were inactive before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline.
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