Chris Jones has made up his mind on who will start at quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders this season, although he’s holding those cards close to his chest.
The third-year general manager/head coach of the Roughriders has a choice between newcomer Zach Collaros or a familiar face in Canadian Brandon Bridge as the team searches for its fifth Grey Cup in franchise history and first since 2013.
“I’ve got the luxury of having a guy that helped us win 10 football games last year so if a guy is struggling, then Brandon Bridge will play or it will be opposite,” Jones said Friday night after Saskatchewan’s 39-12 pre-season loss to the Calgary Stampeders.
Collaros, 29, was dominant in 2015, leading the CFL in passing yards, TD passes and passer rating before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
He returned midway through 2016, but couldn’t find that same form from a year prior, including an 0-8 start in 2017. In total, Collaros has lost his last 12 regular-season starts.
Collaros struggled in his first game action with Saskatchewan on Friday night against Calgary, completing just 6-of-16 passes for 41 yards.
Jones admitted after the game that Collaros was a “little bit rusty.”
“Collaros has started a lot of games and been a good football player for a long time and he’s won too many football games to be rusty forever,” Jones said. “He’ll knock it off.”
Bridge teamed up with Kevin Glenn last season for a platoon QB system for the Roughriders. The duo helped Saskatchewan go 10-8 in the regular season before falling to the eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts in the East Division final.
Glenn was released by the Riders shortly after they acquired Collaros and has found a new home with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Bridge had the benefit of Glenn giving him guidance last year, which is something that meant a lot to him.
“Kevin definitely has a soft spot in my heart,” Bridge said. “He took me in and put me under his wing and was definitely a guy that would just be there no matter what.
“No one can compare to Kevin Glenn.”
Bridge feels as though the coaching staff is confident in what he can provide. Collaros, meanwhile, said that he’s very comfortable with the team’s receiving core and that he’s ready to go.
“I’m just trying to do the best that I can every day and whatever is decided is decided,” Collaros said.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2018 Saskatchewan Roughriders:
Head coach: Chris Jones, entering third season.
2017: Finished fourth in West with 10-8 record; beat Ottawa 31-20 in the East semifinal before falling 25-21 to Grey Cup champion Toronto in East final.
New additions: The Roughriders boosted their running game by signing Canadian Jerome Messam along with former NFLers Tre Mason and Zac Stacy. Saskatchewan finished last in the CFL in 2017 with 1,478 rushing yards. Messam, from Brampton, Ont., played with the Riders in 2014 and ’15 before being dealt late in the 2015 season to Calgary. He returns to Saskatchewan after rushing for 1,016 yards and nine touchdowns last year with Calgary. Mason last played with the St. Louis Rams in 2015 and Stacy suited up with the New York Jets the same year. Messam, Mason and Stacy will be nice complements to Marcus Thigpen when he returns from a two-game suspension. The Roughriders also acquired four-time CFL all-star defensive end Charleston Hughes from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in early February while defensive tackle Zack Evans returned to his hometown as a free agent.
Departed: A strength last year, the Riders shook up their receiving core at the end of training camp by cutting veterans Rob Bagg, Bakari Grant and Chad Owens. Bagg has played his entire nine-year CFL career with Saskatchewan while Grant had 1,033 receiving yards last year and five touchdowns. Owens was injured for most of last year but is always a special teams threat. The Roughriders also lost a couple of key defensive pieces with linemen A.C. Leonard and Ese Mrabure leaving the team. Leonard signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Redblacks after collecting 33 tackles and five sacks in 17 games. Mrabure inked a deal with the Calgary Stampeders as a free agent. The 25-year-old had 17 tackles and two sacks last season with Saskatchewan. Defensive back Kacy Rodgers signed with the New York Jets and last year’s leading rusher Cameron Marshall was released.
Players to watch: Duron Carter will be a key cog in the Riders’ success this season. The wide receiver is in his second year with the team and had 73 receptions for 1,043 yards and eight touchdowns. Carter started to be used a bit on defence at the end of last season and will continue to get reps on the other side of the ball in 2018. Naaman Roosevelt is another top receiver and caught eight touchdowns in 2017 and has 1,035 receiving yards.