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July 3, 2024

48-Hour Primer | OTT at WPG

Chris Streveler at practice earlier this week -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Zach Collaros has made 117 career regular season starts in the Canadian Football League, including 51 in Winnipeg Blue Bombers colours.

The big question in Bomberland all week remains whether he will make his 118th start this Friday against the Ottawa RedBlacks after taking a helmet to the chest near the end of the first half in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Calgary Stampeders and not returning.

Collaros didn’t practice on Tuesday or on Wednesday with Chris Streveler getting the majority of reps and the veteran pivot is now listed as questionable in the latest injury report.

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was coy when asked prior to the release of the daily injury report if Collaros had practised on Wednesday — the session was closed to the media —  so his status for Friday will likely remain a mystery until the release of the depth chart Thursday morning. Even then, it’s possible Collaros could be listed as a ‘GTD’ — game time decision.

Asked if keeping the starting QB a mystery is a competitive advantage, O’Shea said:

“I don’t think we would ever look at it like that. We would always look at allowing our veteran players who are extremely talented and proven the most amount of time — that’s why you have things like ‘Game Time Decision’ and you can move practice roster guys within an hour of kickoff. I don’t think I’ve changed the answer on that since Day 1.

“We’re going to allow a guy the best opportunity and the most number of days possible to have him available.”

Zach Collaros did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday and is listed as ‘Questionable’ for Friday’s game against Ottawa

Now, while the status of Collaros and whether he will make his 118th career CFL start and 52nd as a Blue Bomber is unknown, what’s all but certain is rookie Kevens Clercius — the club’s first pick in the 2024 CFL Draft — will run out of the tunnel for the first time in his young career as a starter.

A physically imposing 6-2, 217-pound target, Clercius came off the bench in Calgary following an injury to Jeremy Murphy and caught two passes for 27 yards and has seemingly taken positive steps each day since rookie camp.

“It’ll be a special moment because it’ll be my first start at a professional level,” Clercius said Wednesday. “It’s just a start for the future, but also a great thing for the people back home who supported me. Now they don’t have to question if I’m going to make it. It’s going to be a beautiful moment and I’m really excited for the opportunity. It’s unfortunate somebody has gone down, but every time somebody goes down, somebody else has to come up and I’ve been working all week for that.

“Now I’m comfortable with the concepts and being able to run routes. At the beginning of training camp I was questioning myself, ‘Am I running the right route?’ Now being around the vets I’m so much more comfortable, it’s more fluid and it helps make the game feel faster. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win. That’s what everybody is here for — do what you can to help.

“Everybody has a certain role in this team and it’s all important to help us win. I’ve always felt that whatever my role is, whether it’s on offence or special teams, embrace it and help the team win.”

Already without Kenny Lawler, Dalton Schoen and Keric Wheatfall from the starting receiving unit, the club had Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky surrounded by Murphy, Ontaria Wilson and Josh Johnson a week ago. With Murphy returning to practice but still questionable, that makes the receiving corps even greener whether it is Collaros or Streveler at the controls.

Critical now is for some of these young receivers, including Clercius, to start making more plays for a struggling offence.

Kevens Clercius

“He’s physical. He’s strong, fast… there’s the physical attributes he has with his height that is pretty noticeable also. He’s a grinder,” said O’Shea of Clercius. “We’ve got him on special teams, too, and he fits in right there blocking people. I like his progression. I like the way he fits.

“Kevens Clercius is a guy we thought could play the right brand of football. It doesn’t matter where you draft him, if he can play the right brand of football then we’re going to be happy with him. He’ll get better in terms of the CFL game, the route concepts, the playbook — that will all come over time. But what he brought was, ‘Yeah, I’ll put my hands on you and make sure I’m in the right position and you won’t make a tackle (on special teams).’

“They don’t need the pressure of trying to be perfect because there’s no game that is, not from any vet or whatever. They just need to put in as much work as they can to be close to being right and it’ll come.”

Quotable: O’Shea when asked Wednesday about the team’s 0-4 record and the two losses at Princess Auto Stadium — more than in any season at home since 2018 since the team was 6-3 on home soil:

“Our players understand the importance of our fans and how good they are to us. Over the last little while our players have certainly given our fans a lot to be proud of and they’d like to get back to that level of play that’s not only a source of pride for the fans but, more importantly, winning. But that would never be the message to the team because there are so many other things — like their playbook — that they have to worry about… like keeping themselves healthy, like everything else.

“So, I would never pile that on to them and say you need to worry about our fans. That’s not to slight them, it’s jut that if they worry about these other things the fans will get taken care of. I don’t want to mix the message up for them. Let’s stay focussed on what they can control and how the fans feel should take care of itself if they’re focussed on what they can control.”

ICYMI: We visited with former Blue Bombers head coach and offensive coordinator and current TSN analyst Paul LaPolice in Episode 12 of The Huddle. In case you missed it, that episode is here and all episodes are available on the Blue Bombers YouTube page.

Also, make sure to check out LaPo’s Coach’s Playbook page on YouTube.