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At the top of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ off-season to-do list was signing one of the three quarterbacks with CFL experience, who were eligible for free agency.
Behind door number one was Zach Collaros, who had performed admirably in relief of Ricky Ray in 2013, and who had a familiarity with new Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea.
The Bombers pursued Collaros but he quickly opted to stay in Southern Ontario, leaving the Argos for Kent Austin and the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
On to door number two, behind which was one of the most productive quarterbacks in CFL history. O’Shea and Blue Bomber GM Kyle Walters took a strong run at 38-year old Henry Burris, offering big money, reportedly in the neighborhood of $300,000 per year.
Drew Willy – By the Numbers: Week 1 vs. Toronto: 19-27, 308 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 142.2 QBR Week 2 vs. Ottawa: 21-33, 307 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 81.3 QBR Career pre-Winnipeg: 101-147, 1,182 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs, 101.3 QBR College career (Buffalo): 849-1,321, 8,748 yards, 52 TDs, 30 INTs, 124.65 QBR
Stunningly, the expansion Ottawa REDBLACKS stormed in and offered Burris more money AND more years. Say goodbye to Smilin’ Hank.
So it was on to door number three, which opened to a 27-year-old University of Buffalo product who had showed flashes of real talent during four starts and other spot appearances during his two years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
This time the Bombers weren’t going to be denied; they acquired Willy’s rights from Saskatchewan for Jade Etienne and quickly signed him before he actually became a free agent.
Based on this chain of events it might seem that Willy was a “consolation prize” for the Bombers, but both Walters and O’Shea insist that they had the highest regard for Willy and never once considered him their second or third choice.
When they landed him, O’Shea immediately declared that Willy was the Bombers’ number one quarterback.
And two weeks into the 2014 CFL regular season, the Blue Bombers couldn’t be happier with how the off-season quarterback raffle worked out. Right from day one of mini-camp in Florida in April through training camp and pre-season, Willy showed poise, patience, awareness, accuracy and a quiet leadership that only grew with each day he spent around his new teammates.
And in leading the Bombers to a 45-21 win over Toronto and then a heart-stopping come-from-behind 36-28 win over Ottawa, Willy added toughness and perserverance to his resume. He passed for more than 300 yards in each of the victories, firing four touchdown passes and posting the 3rd best quarterback rating in the league.
The Bombers have been offensively challenged for the past two seasons during which they went registered just nine wins, and were at the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. Through the first two games this year, the Bombers have scored 91 points (they scored only 361 last year and 376 in 2012 in the entire 18-game season).
And they have racked up a league leading 51 first downs, something it often took them three or four games to achieve in each of the past two years.
There is no way of knowing how the rest of the season is going to play out for the Bombers, but in a quarterback driven league, it’s beginning to look like the Bombers might have found their man, even if Drew Willy wasn’t necessarily their first choice.