REGINA — After months of anticipation, all doubt has been erased when it comes to the Riders’ starting quarterback position.
Zach Collaros has been named the team’s starter for 2019, two days after signing a free agent deal to remain in Saskatchewan.
“Zach is our number one quarterback, he’s going to come to camp as our number one quarterback and we hope he has a great year,” Riders general manager Jeremy O’Day said Wednesday.
Collaros signed on the first day of free agency, after the Riders swung for the fences but ended up striking out with reigning Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell. O’Day confirmed Wednesday that the team made a strong push for Mitchell.
“We made a significant offer,” he said. “It’s one of those situations where it has to be a mutual thing. They have to want to leave the team they’re on, the offer has to fit and they have to feel good about the team they’re going to. We made a significant offer and he decided to stay in Calgary.”
Despite throwing more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (9) in his first season in Saskatchewan, Collaros found a way to win games for the Riders, leading them to a 12-6 record and their first home playoff game at new Mosaic Stadium. In addition, the Steubenville, Ohio native threw for 2,999 yards and completed 61.3 per cent of his passes, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.
He may have been ‘Plan B’ for the Riders, but they’re confident Collaros can be the answer that fans have been searching for since the departure of Darian Durant.
“I don’t know if that’s going to do any good if I stand up here and start acting like a salesman, but his play is going to speak for itself,” said O’Day. “There are things we can be better at offensively and I think we’ve had great meetings with our coaching staff, with our head coach.
“There are things we can do different in terms of practice that [Head Coach Craig Dickenson] has talked about — that’s going to help us offensively and we think we have a very capable quarterback.”
Riders fans have had mixed reactions to O’Day’s first big move as general manager. Injuries and inconsistency both came into play last season, as Collaros was sidelined twice by concussions. The second injury caused him to miss the Western Semi-Final, a loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Last season the team ranked third-last in the league in total offence, second-last in first downs, and last in the CFL in total offensive touchdowns.
But at 30 years old, Collaros is still in his prime in a league where many pivots play into their late 30s. The last few years have been rough, but fans will recall back in 2015 when he was the leading candidate to win Most Outstanding Player before suffering a season-ending knee injury after Labour Day.
TOUCHDOWN TO WIN
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Unlike a year ago, when Chris Jones lamented open competition between Collaros, Brandon Bridge and the other Riders’ pivots, the team hopes its confidence in Collaros will pay off.
“It’s really important just knowing who’s going to be the guy going into camp,” said O’Day. “I won’t speak for Zach but I think that’s something that would weigh on your mind if you go into camp not knowing where you fit and thinking about what your role’s going to be.
“It was one of the questions he asked when we were negotiating with him,” he added. “It wasn’t my decision — who ultimately makes the decision would be Craig. I agreed with him when he told me and we’re excited to move forward.”
The rookie GM said the Riders will also pursue a veteran backup. David Watford is the other quarterback currently on the Riders’ roster. O’Day wouldn’t get into specifics, though Kevin Glenn‘s name has come up in the rumour mill.
“We’re in discussions with a couple of veteran quarterbacks currently. It is something we understand — with any team you want to have a backup you can win with, so those discussions are ongoing.”
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