Davis: Collaros equipped to handle Riders’ fishbowl

New Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros met the local media for the first time Tuesday since being acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

He was well-received. And I didn’t even attend the media conference! How do I know? Because my whole life used to revolve around Roughriders practices and media conferences, watching offensive strategies and meeting big-name signees. Rarely does anything go wrong at practice or during a media conference.

You can easily verify Collaros’ warm reception on websites and sportscasts throughout the province, where he shows off his new jersey (No. 17) and talks about his evolution from an athletic to a cerebral quarterback.

New quarterbacks, coaches, general managers and even Vince Young have all been well-received when they join Rider Nation. Social media goes abuzz with fans sending “Great to have you in Saskatchewan” messages to the newcomer on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

There’s always an extra layer of gratitude, that someone is coming to Saskatchewan to validate the Roughriders, to make them into a potential Grey Cup winner. When it’s Collaros, a six-year veteran who was once the CFL’s most-promising player, there’s also hope that despite serious injuries and a few missteps, he can re-establish himself as a dominant quarterback.

Kevin Glenn, the recently-released veteran who Collaros is likely replacing as the starter, was welcomed to Saskatchewan three times. Kent Austin, the quarterback who led Saskatchewan to its 1989 Grey Cup victory before leaving the province as an enemy when he demanded a trade, was welcomed back as the Roughriders’ head coach in 2007 and promptly led them to their next championship. Some frisky fans have even campaigned to bring Nik Lewis, once a despised receiver with the Calgary Stampeders, back for one final go-round in Green and White.

I’ve dealt with Collaros during his career, meeting him first when he temporarily became the Toronto Argonauts’ starter while Ricky Ray was injured. At first blush he seemed like a confident, young man, capable of understanding all the duties of a CFL quarterback. His confidence took a hit last season when he was winless as a starter, leading to his second-string demotion and last week being traded for a second-round draft choice to the Roughriders, who are eager to reduce his league-high salary of over $500,000.

Few things in the CFL are secrets, so players and administrators and fans and media know Collaros is bright, charming and eager to be a part of the community. Collaros has regularly shown himself, at 29, to be mature enough to handle the extra-bright spotlight of playing quarterback in the Roughriders’ fishbowl, where it’s impossible to hide from praise and/or criticism.

Quarterback Darian Durant, winner and leader of the 2013 Grey Cup team who was traded away from Saskatchewan a year ago, spoke often about the personal, some-good and some-bad interplay between the fans and players of the community-owned team. Collaros will soon get first-hand experience.

Collaros will first be trying to win the starter’s job over Brandon Bridge, a Canadian quarterback who platooned fairly successfully with Glenn and endeared himself deeper to the diehards because he re-signed with Saskatchewan before becoming a free agent. It’s a running joke in Saskatchewan that the backup quarterback is always the fans’ favourite, so at the moment Collaros is in a no-lose situation.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.