Milton: Collaros’ calendar year as Ticats QB a great one


According to ancient CFL logic, “real” football started on Labour Day.

And, according to a different kind of logic, so did Zach Collaros’s second year as a Canadian Football League starting quarterback.

The 27-year-old Hamilton Tiger-Cat pivot, who won Monday’s battle with former roommate Trevor Harris for the early lead in the league’s best offensive player derby, really did not take the Ticats’ reins for good until last Labour Day.

That’s when he returned to the lineup after missing six games with a concussion incurred in the second game of 2014, his first season as a Ticat. Because his debut Cat appearance the week before came in a 10-sack wipeout in the Grey Cup rematch in Saskatchewan, Collaros hadn’t come close to establishing himself as the unquestionable leader of the offence.

He has now.

Heading into Monday’s merciless 400-yard probing of the vulnerable Toronto Argonauts defence, Collaros had been the Ticats’ starting quarterback for 18 straight regular-season games. He had never before started the equivalent of a full CFL season, having been a starter in pro football for eight games as injured Ricky Ray’s 2013 replacement in Toronto and the one-plus game as a Ticat before he was injured last year.

This Labour Day to Labour Day “year” is an artificial construct, but it’s really all we have to make a mathematical judgment on exactly what it is the Ticats have under centre.

And what they have is a lot. Perhaps as much as they’ve ever had before.

In those 18 games, Collaros went 12-6, with 439 completions in 638 attempts for a 68.8 completion percentage, 31 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 5,456 passing yards.

If that had occurred in a single calendar year rather than being spread over two half seasons, Collaros would have set franchise records for completions, attempts, passing yardage and – this is the biggie – tied the mark for wins.

Of course, it wasn’t in a calendar year, but this season’s stats will be and Collaros is currently on pace to break Henry Burris’s franchise record for passing yards and completions in a season, both established in 2012. He’d also have the second-highest number of touchdowns behind Burris’s spectacular 43, again in ’12.

Surprisingly, given how seldom the Cats employ the run, at his current rate, Collaros won’t reach Danny McManus’s Tiger-Cat record for passing attempts in a season, but he’d be close, falling just short of the 600 barrier, which only McManus (twice), Burris and Kevin Glenn have cracked.

And his current completion percentage of 70.1 per cent would shatter the Hamilton single-season mark which he tied last year at 65.8 per cent, the same as Burris had the year before … also under Kent Austin.

There are a couple of caveats here. For one thing, this has been – other than the odd lightning scare on Civic Holiday – a decent weather year for CFL passers, and there’s no guarantee that will continue.

Also, new rules limiting the amount of contact defensive players can make on receivers downfield have arguably left more receivers open and easier to find quickly. That might adjust downward with more adjustment by CFL secondaries. Third, the CFL East is likely going to be a tight race right until the final weekend and defences will be more solidified and inspired than in the earlier going.

On the flip side, Collaros has been operating recently without two of his top three go-to guys in Andy Fantuz and Bakari Grant. Fantuz, in particular, would broaden Collaros’s wide palette of receiving choices because he rarely looks toward Fantuz’s ratio replacement Matt Coates.

What Collaros’s gaudy statistics can’t show is actually more impressive than what they can: His maturing arm, and the manner in which he has made the Ticats his team.

He has led not only with his passing and toughness, but by being self-deprecating and by regularly heaping praise on the defence and special teams. And the perfect vector he threw into a stiff wind to lead the streaking Terrell Sinkfield was hauntingly McManus-like in its shoulder strength and accuracy, while his short quick slants, especially the one to Tiquan Underwood for a major, can be virtually undefendable.

On top of all that, Collaros is running a complicated system designed by Austin, offensive co-ordinator Tommy Cordell and, it often appears, a psychic. There are a lot of reads, keys and communication demands and the more he’s with the system the better Collaros will get.

Austin was saying after Monday’s 42-12 victory over the Argos that Collaros still has plenty of room under his ceiling to get even better.

And, as his numbers indicate, he’s already pretty darn good.

NOTES:Brent Schriner, chief of Hamilton Medical First Response Unit for St. John Ambulance, which is staffed by volunteers, reports that the heat and humidity took its toll on Cats fans on Labour Day. St. John Ambulance treated 32 patients, mostly for heat-related issues, and 11 ambulances were called for patients.