June 10, 2024

“I love the kid like a brother.”

"I love the kid like a brother" -- Zach Collaros on Dru Brown, now the QB in Ottawa -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Needless to say, but we’ll say it anyway — this is a massive week for Dru Brown, the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback who will lead his new squad against his old one this week in the Ottawa RedBlacks season opener.

Not surprisingly, his name came up a ton following Monday’s Blue Bombers practice session in every single conversation about his days in Winnipeg from 2020-23. And through that the same theme kept surfacing over and over again: the man clearly made a lot of friends and earned a ton of respect in these parts.

Now, respect can be showcased in two ways in football – through gritted teeth and carefully chosen words knowing the cameras are rolling and reporters’ notebooks are open, or in honest and genuine praise that speaks volumes about a group’s appreciation.

Brown clearly falls into the latter in Bomberland.

“Oh, man… incredibly happy for him,” said Blue Bombers defensive coordinator Jordan Younger. “Being a talented guy and sitting behind the starter and patiently waiting is difficult when you know you can contribute at a high level. So, the way he handled that here professionally was special.

“He’s a really good teammate and I’m sure he was a great teammate to Zach (Collaros) but seeing it from the outside and the way he handled being the second guy was admirable. So, I’m very, very happy for him and I wish him continued success… Just not too much on Thursday.”

The RedBlacks had a bye in their opening week and will now face what will presumably be a snarly Blue Bombers outfit that dropped their opener 27-12 to the Montreal Alouettes. Brown was 2-0 in his starts here last year and, as well, led the club in a massive come-from-behind win against Edmonton last summer in which they were down 22 points by throwing for 307 yards and four TDs in relief of Collaros. He also set a CFL record in a season with the most TD passes – nine — without throwing an interception.

The respect for him clearly goes well beyond his numbers.

“I’m really happy for his opportunity,” said Collaros. “I know how hard he works, how he cares about the game. Teammates with him for three years and friends since the pandemic started – he’ll be a lifelong friend of mine.

“I love the kid like a brother. I normally don’t (talk to former teammates before the game) but if I see him it’s going to be hard for me not to give him a hug.”

The Blue Bombers knew they were likely to lose Brown in free agency this winter – he was stuck behind Collaros, signed through next season, on the depth chart and clearly was going to draw interest in the open market. Ottawa stepped up to get an exclusive negotiating window with him by trading a fifth-round pick to Winnipeg on January 18th and then signed him to a two-year contract a week later.

There is a consensus in this building the 27-year-old Californian will be a star, even though he has made just three CFL starts and thrown only 153 passes in his three-down career.

“Dru will do a great job,” said Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Buck Pierce. “I had the ability to sit with Dru for three-plus years – including the whole year off during COVID and learn about him. He’s such a process-driven individual. He’s hungry. He loves the game of football. The passion comes out of him.

“You’re going to have your ups and downs – that’s part of the game at this level and especially at that position. He will succeed because of the person he is and he’ll continue to work on the things he needs to work on and be critical of himself, he’ll push himself and his teammates and hold them to a standard that a team can follow. I’m excited for Dru and have been excited for him.

“He’s a junkie who’s just always thinking about the game. He’s always thinking a little bit differently. He listens to what you’re saying, and he picks up those things but he’s also thinking about other ways to do things. When your mind’s wired that way you’re going to be successful in this game because you love it and you’re so deep into it.”

One more on Brown, from Younger:

“Genuine arm talent. Some people play the quarterback position in a way where you can tell that they LOVE throwing the ball. Dru Brown is an arm talent who is incredibly accurate and can throw the ball from many different angles and release points, can buy time to throw, very intelligent and is familiar with all the veterans so he understands their body language and those kind of things.

“it’s hard to explain, but when you see a quarterback down the field, sometimes you see that a shorter throw is available or there’s maybe room for them to scramble or take off and you’ll see them deliberately keep their eyes up field looking for the possibility of a big play. The most-dangerous quarterbacks tend to play that way.”

Keric Wheatfall at practice on Monday

FYI: Keric Wheatfall had himself a day on Monday while working with the starting offence in the spot usually held by Kenny Lawler who, by the way, watched practice while sporting a cast on his fractured right arm. “He’s had a great camp,” said Pierce of Wheatfall. “It’s always a big jump coming up to the CFL for the first time and learning the nuances of the game. His physical tools… he’s extremely gifted and you can see the confidence building with him.”… RB Brady Oliveira did not practice for a second straight day, with most of his workload being handled by veteran Johnny Augustine… DB Redha Kramdi was back at his post after missing practice on Sunday.