Preview: Collaros searches for the Zen of Quarterbacking

One of the many books that Hamilton Tiger-Cat quarterback Zach Collaros read during his long and sometimes boring rehabilitation from a torn knee ligament was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

It’s a seminal work of modern philosophy that argues it’s possible to bridge the cold, practical nature of science and technology with instinct, art and spirituality.

Which sounds a little bit like Collaros playing quarterback.

The 27-year-old returns to action this Saturday against the B.C. Lions, playing in his first game since getting hurt in a loss to the Edmonton Eskimos exactly 330 days ago. The Ticats did fine without him — they came within a blown coverage of a third straight Grey Cup appearance in 2015, and are 3-3 so far this season — but there’s no question that there’s something unique about Collaros, a something that may very well be the difference between good and great.

“I guarantee you’ll see a different energy from us. I feel like things will be a little different with Zach back there, like his skill set plays more toward our strength as a team,” said veteran offensive lineman Brian Simmons. “Having Zach back there this week, it’s been different … but also the same, like he never left.”

Collaros was having a Most Outstanding Player calibre season before he got hurt, leading the league in passing yards (3,376), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (113.7) with an impressive 70.2 completion percentage. He is a game film junkie, a football lifer, a true student of the game who obsesses over the details.

“It feels like it always does. Day one I felt crappy about the game plan, day two I felt better and day three I felt really good,” Collaros said. “That’s the usual progression.”

But there is an emotional, passionate side to his play as well, and his version of leadership — particularly after a succession of terrible starts — may be just what the Ticats need.

“I’ve been a little more vocal,” Collaros said. “When another guy is out there, his voice should be heard and I’m there, my voice should be heard.”

Simmons put it this way: “He’ll let you know when things aren’t going right.”

Things didn’t go right for the Ticats the last time these two teams played, a Week 2 matchup in Hamilton that saw the home side blown out 28-3. The Lions had a solid offensive game plan — they used extra offensive linemen to negate Hamilton’s relentless pressure — and took advantage of four Ticat turnovers.

Lions head coach Wally Buono, who has returned to the sidelines after serving solely as general manager the last four seasons, has empowered his co-ordinators — and his players — and they’ve responded with a 4-2 start. The man doesn’t even wear a headset on the sidelines.

“He’s old school, I like it,” said head coach Kent Austin. “You’ve got talented guys, let them coach.”

Austin is taking a similarly hands-off approach to Collaros, who must guard against allowing himself to get too amped up for his first start after all that hard work to get back.

“He has a great deal of self-awareness, so he can temper himself without me having to do that,” Austin said. “His competitive nature isn’t something you want to quash, especially when you have a pretty mature player who understands that.”

Austin, in essence, is trusting Collaros to find the balance between emotion and efficiency, passion and practicality. The Zen of Quarterbacking will not only find peace. He will find wins, too.

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Game 7
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-3) at BC Lions (4-3)
BC Place
Saturday, Aug. 13
Game time: 10 p.m. EST
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150

The storyline for BC:

The Lions are one of the surprises of the CFL this season with young quarterback Jonathon Jennings emerging as a star and general manager Wally Buono returning to the sidelines and demonstrating that he’s still got some legitimate coaching chops. The Lions are a well-rounded team: first in points against, third in scoring with return threat Chris Rainey looming.

Key injuries:

Starting Canadian safety Mike Edem returns from injury though the team is still without standout rookie offensive lineman Charles Vaillancourt and defensive lineman Mic’hael Brooks. Receiver Nick Moore blew out his knee celebrating a touchdown and is done for the season.

Five funky BC stats:

1. The Lions are 4-2 for just the third time in the last nine years and have made the playoffs 23 out of the previous 25 times that they have gotten to that record.

2. The offence has scored 119 points (39.7 per game) over their last three games, the first time they’ve done so since final three games of the 2008 season.

3. The Lions have recorded at least 20 first downs in all six games this season. Only three BC opponents have hit the 20 first down mark to date.

4. Former McMaster Marauder Jason Arakgi has a special teams tackle in five straight games and now has 181 for his career, three short of the CFL record.

5. With 41 defensive tackles, Adam Bighill is on pace for 123 in 2016, two more than his leading total of 121 in 2015. No player in CFL history has ever reached 120 tackles twice in their career.

The storyline for Hamilton:

The return of Zach Collaros is undoubtedly the theme of the week but the Ticats will need more than just improved play at quarterback to get back to their winning ways. The team was downright awful in the first 30 minutes last week against Winnipeg – they were behind 34-0 at halftime – and hasn’t started well much of the season. The Lions won 28-3 in Hamilton on July 1 with an offensive game plan that negated the Ticats pressure scheme and stifling defence.

Key injuries and roster changes:

Some kid named Collaros is in at quarterback while defensive back Chris Davis, linebacker Ron Omara and receivers Mike Jones and Junior Collins have also been added to the roster. The only significant deletions are starting defensive tackle Drake Nevis and Canadian special teamer Beau Landry, who were added to the one-game injured list. Quarterback Everett Golson moves to the one-game injured list to make room for Collaros while receivers Tiquan Underwood and Giovanni Aprile are also out.

Five funky Hamilton stats:

1. Quarterback Zach Collaros returns after missing the first six games of this season and 12 overall. Hamilton went 5-7 in his absence and is 6-11 (.353) in game’s he’s missed over the last three seasons. The Ticats’ record with Collaros: 16-9 (.640).

2. Kicker Brett Maher missed three field goals in the July 16 loss to the Lions but hasn’t missed since, hitting his last 10 attempts.

3. Receiver Andy Fantuz has at least six catches in five of six games this season and is now No. 43 on the CFL career receptions list.

4. After turning the ball over six times against Winnipeg last week, the Ticats are now last in the CFL with 18 giveaways. Their minus-four differential is second-last (only Saskatchewan is worse) and they have just one interception of the season.

5. The Ticats are dead last in the CFL in time-of-possession (27:23) and the defence has been on the field for an average of five more plays a game than the offence.

TSN play-by-play: Rod Black and Matt Dunigan

Referee: Dave Foxcroft

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