Collaros (probably) starting Saturday against B.C. Lions

The Zach and mouse game continues for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Quarterback Zach Collaros took the first team reps at practice on Monday, a strong indication that he’ll be the starting quarterback when the team travels to Vancouver next Saturday to take on the B.C. Lions. It would be Collaros’ first start of the season.

But with head coach Kent Austin absent from practice due to a prior commitment – team sources said it was not health related – there was no official word that Collaros would be behind centre against the Lions.

“It feels closer. Yeah, I’m excited. I want to be out there playing,” said Collaros, tap dancing around the issue ever so slightly. “Being able to take reps in practice was a great feeling, for sure.”

Collaros hasn’t played since tearing the ACL in his right knee in a game against the Edmonton Eskimos on Sept. 19, 2015. At the time, the Ticats were 8-3 and Collaros was the top candidate for the CFL’s outstanding player award, leading the league in passing yards (3,376), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (113.7) with an impressive 70.2 completion percentage.

The team cycled through three starting quarterbacks after Collaros went down, going 2-7 and finishing second in the East Division. Back up Jeremiah Masoli – who spent a portion of last season on the practice roster – led them to a semi-final win over Toronto and played well in a heart-breaking loss to Ottawa in the East Final.

Masoli has led Hamilton to a 3-3 record so far this season and is third in the CFL with 1,867 passing yards. But his eight interceptions leads all quarterbacks and his four lost fumbles leads the league: he struggled in last Wednesday’s 37-11 loss to Winnipeg.

Collaros returned to practice on July 11 and has been slowly building up his workload as team medical staff monitored his surgically-repaired knee for signs of swelling and soreness. But his recovery has gone smoothly and he says he’s received the medical OK to play.

“There’s no clearance for being tackled,” Collaros said. “Once you’re able to run around and do those things, the impression I got was that I was cleared to go.”

Collaros is clearly eager to get back into game action: he was the first player out of the tunnel on Monday, sprinting almost the entire length of the field to grab some footballs parked under the far goal post. And the entire team gathered at mid-field before practice began to go through what is typically a pre-game ritual: linebacker Simoni Lawrence using the “body bag” chant to fire up his teammates.

And there was Collaros, jumping up and down beside Lawrence – his usual spot on game days.

“Zach wanted body bag so I gave him body bag,” Lawrence said. “He knows what it takes to get people motivated and I know he’s excited to play.”

It was also a demonstration of unity from a club coming off a tough loss, something to help set the tone for what will be an extra long week of practice.

“Sometimes you forget how little time the offensive and defensive units spend together,” said receiver Luke Tasker. “It’s nice to get that going early.”

Collaros’ return should help, too.

“He looks great and it’s nice to have his voice out there,” Tasker said. “It seems natural for him. I’m excited to play with him again.”

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