Zach Collaros reported to the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ training camp with something to prove.
Saskatchewan acquired the veteran quarterback from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this off-season but he was never anointed as the starter. Instead, head coach/GM Chris Jones declared the position an open competition between Collaros, 29, Brandon Bridge of Mississauga, Ont., and youngsters David Watford, Marquise Williams and recently signed B.J. Daniels.
And that’s fine with Collaros.
“I think in pro football you have to prove yourself every practice, every rep and every game,” Collaros said. “I’ve always had that mentality and that’s not going to change.”
The Riders hope Collaros returns to his 2015 form when he was the overwhelming favourite as the CFL’s outstanding player. Collaros was the league passing leader (3,376 yards), TDs (25) and passer rating (113.7) before suffering 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. Interim coach June Jones made backup Jeremiah Masoli the starter ahead upon replacing Kent Austin following Hamilton’s 0-8 start.
Masoli led Hamilton to a 6-4 record over its final 10 regular-season games.
“Zach’s a very good player, there’s absolutely no doubt about it,” Jones said. “I’m from a small town and I know what it’s like to come up with a lot of expectations and the scrutiny you get from the time you’re a young kid, basically, playing high school football and he had to endure that in Steubenville, Ohio, I can assure you.
“We won 10 ballgames last year and Brandon Bridge was a big part why. With that being said I feel very strong about the quarterback position.”
Collaros began his Hamilton tenure impressively, leading the club to a second straight Grey Cup appearance in 2014.
“There’s definitely things I could take from my time in Hamilton that I learned from, whether it was positive or negative, and hopefully be able to use in my time in Saskatchewan,” Collaros said. “I’m definitely excited for the new situation.
“I think any time you’re thrown into something like that, something that’s outside your comfort zone, you become a better person and player.”
Whoever starts at quarterback for Saskatchewan will certainly be in an enviable position.
Offensive co-ordinator Steve McAdoo, entering his third season with Saskatchewan, is a veteran CFL coach. Canadian Jerome Messam is a proven commodity at running back while the receiving corps boasts three 1,000-yard receivers (Duron Carter, Naaman Roosevelt and Bakari Grant).
“We have a lot of great players,” Collaros said. “As the quarterback you’re kind of the point guard, you’re distributing the football.
“If I can do that efficiently and accurately I like our chances in a lot of games. The best teams I’ve been on everybody is on the same page.”
Carter, 27, also played cornerback last season and Jones said Carter will see plenty of action on both sides of the ball in 2018.
“I’m going to keep him very busy,” Jones said.
There’s no denying Carter’s talent but the six-foot-five, 205-pound Florida native is also a polarizing figure.
Last November before the East final, Carter paid $351 to take 26 Riders fans to a movie. Roughly five months earlier, after making an acrobatic one-handed TD catch against the Toronto Argonauts, Carter gave the ball to a young cancer survivor.
But in 2016, he was suspended for one game by the CFL for bumping Ottawa coach Rick Campbell. Later that year, the Montreal Alouettes released Carter and his cousin, Kenny Stafford, a fellow receiver with the team, following an incident with quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Carter has also never been afraid to express himself, either in public or via social media. He’s also facing marijuana possession charges in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“I’ve had a lot of guys during my career that are very outspoken and don’t necessarily fit the mould everybody would like them to be in,” Jones said. “Really, that’s going to be Duron’s decision as to how he wants to develop.
“All I can do is offer my experience and try to be a support for him as he’s trying to figure out exactly who he is as an individual.”
This will mark Collaros’s first time in the ultra-competitive West Division – he began his CFL career in 2012 with Toronto before heading to Hamilton. Last year, four of the conference’s five teams posted winning records while Toronto (9-9) and Ottawa (9-8-1) secured the two East playoff spots.
“In the Western conference you have to win more games to make the playoffs,” Collaros said. “That’s definitely a challenge . . . you can’t be 1-7 going into Labour Day and expect to still make the playoffs.”