It’s become folklore in these parts, with most everyone surely aware now of every riveting detail of how Zach Collaros arrived in Winnipeg and then established himself as a Blue Bombers legend.
A quick refresher: acquired moments before the close of business at the CFL’s trade deadline in 2019, Collaros promptly went 4-0 as a starter to finish that year – including the club’s magical run through the Grey Cup which ended a 28-year championship drought. And then for an encore Collaros followed his impressive opening act by leading the team to another title in 2021 en route to being named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.
So, let’s ask this as we wrap up our training camp Positional Preview series by shining the spotlight on the quarterbacks: What more does the 33-year-old proud product of Steubenville, OH need to accomplish to be listed among this franchise’s quarterback legends like Ken Ploen, Jack Jacobs, Dieter Brock, Tom Clements, Matt Dunigan, Khari Jones and Kevin Glenn?
Absolutely zilch, it says right here.
Consider this: of the Top 10 passers in Blue Bombers history only three – Ploen, Clements and Tom Burgess – have led their teams to a Grey Cup title. And Collaros, who is heading into just his second full season as the club’s QB1, already has two rings.
There’s also a very real sense he ain’t even close to being done yet.
You see, even as an already established vet, the ’21 season was somewhat of a rebirth for Collaros. Working under Buck Pierce in his first season as the team’s offensive coordinator, Collaros wasn’t just the CFL’s MOP, he was also the league’s all-star QB and the Grey Cup MVP while leading the league in passing touchdowns and QB efficiency and finishing second in passing yardage.
More importantly, while establishing himself as a bona fide leader in the Blue Bombers clubhouse the team is also now an astonishing 17-2 in games in which he has started since his arrival. Even with that, one of those losses came in the regular season finale in Calgary last year in which he took the first snap before stepping aside to remain healthy for the playoffs only to see the Stampeders rally for a late win with Collaros watching from the sidelines for three quarters.
Collaros has spoken often about the perfect fit he has found in Winnipeg and, considering he has just 19 official starts to his name that comfort level would only figure to grow in 2022.
What’s interesting for the Blue Bombers is the collection of names behind him on the depth chart. Sean McGuire, who replaced Chris Streveler as the No. 2 pivot last year, retired in the offseason to become a police officer leaving that gig open again.
The Blue Bombers added four-year CFL vet Dakota Prukop two days after he was released by the Edmonton Elks, giving the club an experienced presence behind Collaros. Prukop has thrown only 56 passes in his 49 CFL games, but is an outstanding athlete, has proven to be adept running the short-yardage package and could be an intriguing option for Pierce in the offence.
Returning for a second year is Dru Brown, the former Oklahoma State/Hawai’i product who made one appearance last season, coming off the bench in the regular-season finale. He has many of the same attributes as Prukop – especially an ability to extend plays with his mobility – but even without the experience is still an intriguing prospect.
Added just before rookie camp was Jake Floriea, who threw for 2,515 yards and 23 TDs last year at John Carroll University after transferring from Toledo and Penn. An interesting bunch, but none of them will challenge Collaros. This is his team to lead, and with every win he only further adds to his legend as a Blue Bomber.
TRAINING CAMP 2022 PREVIEW: A LOOK AT THE QUARTERBACKS
Starter: Zach Collaros; Dru Brown
CFL free-agent additions: Dakota Prukop (Edmonton)
CFL newcomers: Jake Floriea
U Sports Canadian QB Initiative participant: Jackson Tachinski (University of Manitoba)
Departed: Sean McGuire
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DAKOTA PRUKOP
A glimpse of Prukop’s skillset came from last September and a Blue Bombers 37-22 win over the Elks in Edmonton when he zigged and zagged for a 44-yard run against the best defence in the CFL.
That play – and maybe this is a telling statement on Edmonton’s 2021 campaign – was selected as the club’s play of the year, but also might be a glimpse at what he can bring to the offence here in Winnipeg.
X FACTOR: DRU BROWN
He’s got solid college credentials, but the jury is still very much out on Brown as a pro. There’s something there from the flashes you see in practice and his one appearance last year, but he needs more evidence in game action. The preseason games could be massive for the 25-year old.
NOTABLE NUMBER: 111.0
The QB-efficiency rating for Zach Collaros in 2021, best in the CFL. The efficiency rating is a complicated metric which uses a formula based on attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions and Collaros’ 111.0 was the seventh best rating over the last 17 seasons.
The others: Ricky Ray (Toronto, 126.4 in 2013 – the CFL record); Dave Dickenson (B.C., 119.7 in 2005 and 111.2 in 2006); Trevor Harris (Ottawa, 116.0 in 2016); Casey Printers (B.C, 115.2 in 2004); and Collaros (Hamilton, 113.7 in 2015).
In each of the last two CFL seasons the Blue Bombers No. 2 QB has led the league in rushing TDs – Sean McGuire had eight last year, while Chris Streveler had 12 in 2019. Prior to that, Streveler finished tied for third in 2018 with seven, while Dan Lefevour had four in 2017, tied for fifth.