The Stampeders won’t come out and say it until they have to produce an official depth chart, but all signs point to Canadian quarterback Michael O’Connor starting for Calgary in Week 3.
After Bo Levi Mitchell was placed on the six-game injured list with a broken leg on Tuesday, O’Connor was included in his media availability with both signal callers at the podium at the same time. And the 25-year-old national has been dressed as Mitchell’s backup for the first two games of the 2021 season, losses for the Stamps who are 0-2.
“I’m not looking to have a quarterback carousel, I’ve never done that. I’m not going back and forth. The starting quarterback needs to learn that you can make mistakes and still be in there,” head coach Dave Dickenson said.
“Ultimately, the quarterback is the trigger guy, he has to be in control of the huddle and he has to make plays. You cannot win in the CFL with quarterbacks just being safe.”
Dickenson said the quarterbacks know which one will run out with the starting offence at McMahon Stadium when the Montreal Alouettes visit on Friday night. That means Mitchell does as well and he sees similar traits in O’Connor as a surefire Canadian Football Hall of Famer.
“Mike reminds me of a young Ricky Ray. He’s tall in the pocket, he’s calm, he’s not going to be a hoorah guy when he throws a big pass, he’s not going to get his head down when he throws a bad pass,” Mitchell said.
In 2002, Ray made his first CFL start in Week 5 against the B.C. Lions. He threw four touchdown passes in a 37-27 win for Edmonton. Ray took over the starting role from Jason Maas and produced 2,991 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions while registering the league’s best quarterback rating at 101.3.
“He has that demeanor about himself, throws a beautiful ball, he’s got a strong arm. He’s more mobile than you would expect from a bigger guy. He’s going to go out there and do a helluva job,” Mitchell said.
O’Connor has been learning from Mitchell throughout training camp during his first year in Cowtown. He’s watched from the sidelines the first two games, but the six-foot-four, 228-pound pivot has a couple games under his belt. During his rookie season in 2019 with the Toronto Argonauts, O’Connor completed 15-of-25 pass attempts for 173 yards with one touchdown, and zero interceptions.
“Be aggressive. I’m not in the business of playing it safe, be aggressive, go for the throws you think are there. Whatever you see, trust your eyes and let it rip. Do what you need to do to get some wins over here,” Dickenson said.
Mitchell said O’Connor understands the playbook well, stands tall in the pocket and will take hits to deliver the ball should it be required. If indeed O’Connor takes the field in primetime, it would be his first career start in the CFL.
“Just play within myself, don’t try to do too much, get the ball to our playmakers. You can’t win the game in one play, you can’t lose the game in one play,” O’Connor said.
“Be yourself, don’t try and be me, don’t try and be somebody else,” Mitchell said. “Go out there and be yourself.”