May 11, 2023

Positional Preview #8 | Quarterbacks

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) looks on during warm up before CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Sunday, September 4, 2022. (CFL PHOTO - Matt Smith)

There’s a storybook element that will always be the foundation to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers chapters of the Zach Collaros story.

It’s been well told here by now, and rightfully so. Twice traded in 2019 – the second time from Toronto to Winnipeg – Collaros stepped in as the starter in the last regular season game and then helped lead the club to a Grey Cup title, ending a 28-year championship drought.

His two ensuing years were exceptional encores, as he led the club to another title in 2021 and then a Grey Cup appearance last November while winning CFL Most Outstanding Player honours both seaspms.

And as we open our final installment in our Positional Preview series – this one spotlighting the quarterbacks – it could be said the Collaros story in Winnipeg has moved past the storybook stage to something even more meaningful. Signed through the 2025 season, Collaros is already entering a legacy phase with the club, chasing a third Grey Cup title with the blue and gold and a place among the franchise legends at the position alongside Ken Ploen, Dieter Brock and Jack Jacobs.

There’s also a sense of some unfinished business, both for the team and its clear-cut QB1, with Collaros and No. 2 man Dru Brown joining the other pivots on the field for the start of rookie camp this week. That comes from being a leader and as part of the quarterback role, for sure, but Collaros also knows how fleeting the gig can be, especially after his absolutely bonkers 2019.

“The anxiety used to be through the roof probably my first seven years,” said Collaros earlier this week when asked by CJOB’s Derek Taylor about how his first-day nerves may have changed over time. “Even years where I would come in as the starter, I’d be sitting there on Google thinking, ‘Man, if I get cut what could I do after this?’ I feel a little bit different, but there’s always that sense of urgency and things that you can improve upon.”

“I’m just excited for everybody to get back here so we can get started.”

The Blue Bombers are a remarkable 33-5 in games Collaros has started since his arrival, including 6-1 in the playoffs. He is coming off a season in which he posted career highs in passing yards (4,183) and passing touchdowns (37), the latter the second-most in franchise history to the 46 Khari Jones threw in 2002 and the highest total in the CFL since Henry Burris threw for 43 in 2012.

Suffice to say, then, that there might not be a CFL player more locked into his starting spot in this league than Collaros.

Brown gives the Blue Bombers an intriguing option at No. 2. Still just 26, he enters his third season with the team and is coming off a year in which he earned his first start – a 325-yard, three TDs/two interception performance in a loss to B.C. – and posted an impressive QB-efficiency rating of 111.4.

What happens behind those two on the Blue Bombers depth chart is the only intriguing QB storyline still to be determined. Veteran Dakota Prukop, who so effectively ran the short-yardage package last year, left for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals this offseason for the opportunity to get starting work.

The Blue Bombers coaching staff went on the hunt for QB prospects who might be able to fill that role so effectively run by Prukop, Sean McGuire, Chris Streveler and Dan LeFevour before that. All four of those candidates are straight-from-college prospects: Cooper Callis of Southwestern Baptist University, Tyrrell Pigrome of Towson University, Billy Hall of Reinhardt University and Josh Jones of the University of North Carolina-Pembrooke – with solid passing and rushing totals at their respective schools. Also in camp through the CFL Canadian QB Internship is Laval star Arnaud Desjardins, who was a U Sports First-Team All Star last year.

In the end, what the Blue Bombers have at the position is a perfect mix – an established No. 1 who just so happens to be the best at his position in the league, an intriguing No. 2 who seems to improve with every snap, and a stable of candidates for the third spot, an important role that is much bigger than clipboard holder.

That doesn’t make for the juiciest of QB storylines in training camp, for sure. And that’s just how management likes it.


A look at the quarterbacks

The Returnees: Zach Collaros, Dru Brown
CFL newcomers: Cooper Callis, Billy Hall, Josh Jones, Tyrrell Pigrome
CFL Canadian quarterback internship program: Arnaud Desjardins (Laval)
Departed: Dakota Prukop (USFL)

Keep an eye on: Dru Brown

The battle for the third-string/short-yardage package gig might be the most compelling in the here and now, but Brown’s continued development for the Blue Bombers is critical long-term, even with Collaros signed through 2025. The club would love to have him transform from a No. 2 to a 1A and that will take real snaps in real action.

Did you know?

Collaros threw for 37 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions last year. His +24 touchdown-interception differential tied for the ninth-highest in CFL history – Montreal’s Antony Calvillo was +30 in 2008 – and broke the club record of +23 set by Jack Jacobs in 1951.

Notable number: 57

Collaros has thrown for 57 touchdowns the past two seasons – 37 last year and 20 in the shortened 2021 campaign. That’s the highest back-to-back total by a Blue Bombers pivot since Khari Jones threw for 71 scores in 2002-03 – a club record 46 in 2002 and 25 in 2003. Jones also had 30 passing TDs in 2001.