Chris Jones says it will be up to the Riders coaches to get Zach Collaros back to his 2015 form when he was the overwhelming favourite as the CFL’s outstanding player.
Collaros was the league leader in passing yards (3,376), TDs (25) and passer rating (113.7) when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jones-coached Edmonton Eskimos.
Collaros returned midway through the 2016 campaign but lost his final 12 regular-season starts – one short of the league record – prompting interim Hamilton coach June Jones to name Jeremiah Masoli as his starter. It paid off as, following an 0-8 start, the Ticats finished 6-4 under Masoli.
Jones signed a three-year deal as Hamilton’s full-time head coach at season’s end. And the day after Collaros was dealt, Masoli opted against free agency to sign a two-year contract extension with the Ticats.
But Jones isn’t concerned about Collaros’s dubious streak.
“He was 41-1 in high school with two state championships and won 70 per cent of his games at Cincinnati, who never wins in football,” Jones said. “Up until his injury, he was, quite honestly, the best player in our league.
“It’s our job as coaches to find out what he does and let him do a bunch of it and get him back on track.”
Jones never anointed Collaros his starter following the trade. Instead, Collaros will compete against veterans Brandon Bridge of Mississauga, Ont., and Vernon Adams Jr., along with youngsters David Watford and Marquise Williams for the No. 1 job with a Riders squad that fell one game short of last year’s Grey Cup.
“There’s no doubt it will be really good,” he said. “We’ve got guys like Brandon and Vernon Adams and two guys no one has even heard about.
“Marquise Williams started ahead of Mitch Trubisky (Chicago Bears first-round pick) for three years at North Carolina . . . and David Watford was a three-year starter at Virginia (before transferring to Hampton) who reminds me of Henry Burris. We’ve got five quarterbacks and look forward to seeing the competition.”
Last season, Jones rotated Bridge with veteran Kevin Glenn, who was released after the Collaros trade. Jones said he’d have no issues doing the same with Bridge and Collaros, should it play out that way.
“Best players play and I mean what I say,” Jones said. “If I need to put Brandon in or Brandon needs to start a game that’s what I’ll do.”