O’Leary: QB injuries an age old dance for coaches, media
Cody Fajardo was active in the Roughriders’ closed practice on Thursday and his coach says that when he did watch him work, he looked good. He added that he thought he’d play on Sunday.
In Winnipeg, for the second day in a row, Chris Streveler was at practice but didn’t officially take part. On Wednesday, his coach said that while Streveler wasn’t a full participant he was confident he’d be on the field for Sunday’s Western Final.
As much as you can count on Kubotas clearing the snow off of the fields at this time of year, you can count on the gamesmanship that takes place during playoff football.
Fajardo and Streveler both have issues. Fajardo has been dealing with an oblique injury that he picked up in practice on Oct. 30 and Streveler reportedly has broken a bone in his foot and sustained ligament damage in his ankle against Calgary on Oct. 19.
Neither quarterback has spoken with the media yet this week. As a non-participant, Streveler can be held out of media availabilities. While the Riders’ locker room was open on Thursday afternoon, Fajardo wasn’t there after practice when reporters were.
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So, do you take the word of the head coach, who indicated that when he watched his projected starting quarterback — a fairly important position — throw medium-range passes in practice that he looked good? Do you believe that he will, in fact be able to get on the field?
Do you take the word of Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea, who is coming out of a will-he won’t-he week with Streveler that led to the backup QB significantly impacting the Bombers’ win in Calgary on Sunday? Did he worsen an already bad injury, or is this just a repeat of what we saw last week?
“People mention it, it doesn’t matter to me,” Bombers’ defensive coordinator Richie Hall said to reporters in Winnipeg on Thursday, literally shrugging off the idea of worrying about which quarterback his players would face.
“The bottom line is…it doesn’t change what we have to do. You’ve got to know what the personnel is, regardless of whether (Fajardo) is there or not there.”
Zach Collaros has taken first team reps in Winnipeg all week, so there are no surprises as to who will be getting the start, but Streveler’s presence in the Western Semi threw the Stampeders off kilter. There’s value in knowing if you’re just facing a pocket passer like Collaros, or the two-headed monster that conquered the defending Grey Cup Champs on their turf last week.
“I think it can impact the prep some, but the biggest thing is health-wise, this point in the season guys are usually beat up, so there are questions across the board,” Riders’ D-lineman Micah Johnson said.
“Obviously a quarterback garners more attention, but I really think you can’t approach it like that (wondering who will start).
“At this point you have to approach it as if that person is playing, as if the starter is playing. Game day, if it doesn’t shake out, you move on from there.”
Coaches love to leave the question of a players’ status up in the air, looking for any hint of an advantage they can gain in the days leading up to a game. Across the league, when news trickles out early in the week of a significant injury, the B.S. detectors of players and coaches alike are set off.
“For sure, it has to,” Johnson said of that instinctive suspicion. “Quarterback is the position that y’all look at but we’re looking at positions across the board and I mean, a guy missing practice doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not playing. It could mean that he’s missing so they can play him.
“I don’t (worry about it), especially this early in the week. Now, later, coming down closer to game day, before a game is really the only time I start taking who’s playing or who’s not seriously.”
When it comes down to it, coaches know that the other team’s roster is out of their hands until depth charts are made public. They prep for what they can and roll with the punches.
These two teams met in Regina for the Western Semi-Final a year and a week ago. For all of the change that the Riders have undergone since then — a new GM and a new head coach, along with a new, young quarterback — that will-he won’t-he storyline hovers over them again with their starting QB.
Last year, the Riders dangled Zach Collaros’ status over everyone for the entire week. They listed him as their starter the day before the game, before a report emerged that Saturday night that Brandon Bridge would start in Collaros’ place. The Riders still lost that game.
“In order for us to continue to play in November, we have to play well defensively, regardless of who’s in at quarterback,” Hall told the Winnipeg media.
“If we play well, we’ve got a chance. If we don’t play well, then we’re packing our bags.”