With Ticats mini-camp set to begin, Collaros still the big unknown

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Zach Collaros is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last September and is unlikely to take part in on-field activities as the Ticats open their 2016 mini-camp on Tuesday. But after endless days of mostly solo rehab, Collaros is keen to get with teammates and talk some shop.

“I’m looking forward to it – it’s football and I’m a football junkie,” Collaros said. “It’s going to be refreshing watching film with the quarterbacks and just talking about the game. It’s going to be a good time.”

It’s also a welcome distraction from his usual conversational topic these days: how his surgically-repaired joint is coming along.

“It seems to be the first question everybody asks me but I have a very generic answer: it’s good, it’s on pace and I’m doing everything you can do,” Collaros said. “Which is all true.”

Collaros and fellow quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli, Jeff Mathews and Jacory Harris will be among the few veteran players at the three day mini-camp. Instead, general manager Eric Tillman says the team has elected to bring in close to 60 first-year and neg list players for a crash course on all things CFL.

“We’re looking at where do they fit? How do they measure up athletically up? It also gives us the ability to find out how well guys learn, how quickly they process information,” Tillman said. “It’s an opportunity for our coaches to take names on the board and get to know them as people, make them real.”

Tillman says head coach Kent Austin decided against inviting most of the team’s big names, all of whom are familiar with the schemes and culture of the organization.

“We feel good about the nucleus on our club and what Kent wants to do is focus on the younger guys, the last pieces of the puzzle,” Tillman said. “Competition is great for an organization and this is a tool to ensure that we have highest level of competition going forward.”

The kicking game will also be a focus this week as the team looks to replace the departed Justin Medlock, who signed with Winnipeg as a free agent this winter. The team worked out several candidates at Tim Hortons Field earlier this month.

“There will a be a couple of new kickers for us to look at and that’s going to continue to be an evaluation process between now and training camp,” Tillman said. “We’ve already looked at several kickers, we’ll look at a few more and we’ve identified a number of options.”

Weather permitting, the on-field workouts and meetings are slated to take place at Tim Hortons Field, allowing the club to take advantage of its state-of-the-art set up. It’s also a showcase for the team, a chance to make a good first impression on players still on the fence about playing in Canada.

“Players see our stadium, our facilities and how first class everything is, it puts our organization and league in a very positive light,” Tillman said, noting that several CFL teams held their mini-camps in Florida.

“If we didn’t have this new facility we’d probably be down south but it’s such a nice set up, we think it’s important to have it in Hamilton.”

Collaros has spent his entire off-season in the city to facilitate his rehab, foregoing his usual return to his Ohio hometown. This week, he plans to make himself available for a sounding board for the newcomers trying to pick up the complexities of the Ticat offence and he’ll continue his rehab as he aims to get ready for training camp and the season opener.

“I’ve been throwing the ball around, doing cone drills, shuffling, sprinting, backpedaling, change of direction,” Collaros said. “The last phase is reactionary stuff where I don’t know exactly where or when I’ll be cutting.”

But as the on-field preparation for the 2016 season gets underway, the biggest question mark is still when Collaros will be ready to play. It won’t answered this week, no matter how many times it gets asked.

“I can’t answer that,” Collaros said. “I really don’t know.”

Notes: the Ticats announced the signings of offensive lineman Terrence Campbell, and wide receivers Greg Thurmond and Cass White on Monday. The club also inked eight defensive backs last Friday.