Ticats QB Collaros almost ready to make his return

At first, Ticat quarterback Zach Collaros couldn’t understand why teammate Simoni Lawrence was pulling at the bottom of his shorts and pointing at his leg during practice the other day. Then it dawned on him.

“Simoni was like ‘hey, where’s your knee brace, dumb ass?'” Collaros laughed. “I was like ‘oh crap. I completely forgot.'”

Lapses in memory aren’t on the Hamilton quarterback’s recovery checklist as he makes his way back from a torn ACL but it’s yet another promising sign that the knee is almost ready to go. Collaros has been running the scout team in practice for two solid weeks now and looking very much like his old self.

“It’s been a lot of fun for me going against our defence and I think it’s fun for them, too,” Collaros said. “They’re pretty freakin’ good.”

Despite his progress, however, Collaros won’t play in Winnipeg against the Bombers and head coach Kent Austin said it will be up to the medical staff to decide when the 27-year-old gets the green light to return to game action.

“I’m not qualified to make that decision, I’m qualified to give an opinion on how he looks as it relates to the fundamentals of that position,” Austin said.

While the team has been happy with the performance of Jeremiah Masoli in leading the team to a 3-2 record in Collaros’ absence, Austin stressed it’s not a factor in the Collaros timeline, either. Nor has Masoli’s play – including a CFL record 23 straight completions in a win over Edmonton on July 23 – done anything to impact the pecking order.

“Jeremiah’s played well and we expected him to play well,” Austin said. “But Zach’s our quarterback.”

Wednesday’s game will be the sixth Collaros has missed this season and while the Ticats would have seen a small salary cap savings by keeping him on the long-term injured list– one mitigated by an off-season bonus as well as a signing bonus paid as part of his new contract – they elected to pull him off early so he could start practicing with the club. The Ticats wanted to see how the injured joint would respond to an increased workload while easing him back into the offence after a 10-month absence.

“We always planned on bringing him off the six-game, it was to give us insurance in the event that there was a setback,” Austin said. “Forget the knee but just his readiness to play, getting used to running around, throwing the ball, the speed of game.

“He needs to practice – he can’t just come in cold turkey and play.”

At this point, however, Collaros looks all but ready to return. He’s throwing the ball on the run – including a toss on Monday that went for more than 50 yards – and scrambling when things break down around him.

“I wasn’t fast before, I’m more of a guy who likes to get outside the pocket and improvise,” Collaros said. “I don’t feel any different.”

That said, Collaros has yet to take a hit or have his body twisted at an awkward angle because of an oncoming pass rush. But there’s no way to recreate that scenario safely.

“Practice doesn’t perfectly mimic game situations because he doesn’t have anybody pulling on him or tackling him,” Austin said. “No matter how you set up practice, it’s never going to be as urgent or as dramatic as a game will.”

In the meantime, Collaros has to make do with competing against his teammates. It’s made practice more challenging says defensive back Rico Murray.

“The first day he came back, he just had this swagger about him. He has that same fire that he has in games and it raises the intensity,” Murray said. “He doesn’t complete every ball and we’re making some plays but every throw seems like it’s where it’s supposed to be.

“It’s a promising sign.”

The Ticats have 10 days between Wednesday’s tilt and the Aug. 13 game in B.C., which is looking more and more as Collaros’ likely return date. Clearly, he feels like he’s ready.

“I’m not getting progressively antsy – I’ve been antsy since training camp started,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”

Notes: Canadian linebacker Byron Archambault (knee) and running back Mercer Timmis (shoulder) returned to practice this week… centre Mike Filer is out of the walking boot he’s been wearing as recovers from a high ankle sprain. Both he and Collaros will make the trip to Winnipeg as resources for teammates and the coaching staff… halfback Johnny Sears will miss this week’s game with a lower body injury suffered in Edmonton but Austin said it isn’t season-ending…