November 16, 2022

O’Leary: Collaros’ health becomes the talk of GC109

Chris Tanouye/

REGINA — Dru Brown sat at the media table on Wednesday in front of a sea of strange faces, with a slew of cameras pointed at him.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ backup quarterback was, for this day at least, the star of the show after he took first-team reps at practice, with Zach Collaros absent as the team officially began its prep for the 109th Grey Cup.

The Bombers listed Collaros as a non-participant in their first injury report of the week, citing an ankle injury. With head coach Mike O’Shea having spoke Wednesday morning at the annual coaches conference, there was no official post-practice word on Collaros’ status. His absence — and Brown’s presence at that table — spoke volumes on its own.

The 25-year-old second-year Bomber said that he only learned he’d be getting the bulk of the workload in Wednesday’s session when the team arrived at Liebel Field in Regina for practice. As the questions about Collaros poured in, you almost felt bad for Brown, who simply didn’t have many answers to give.

“You never want to have to answer questions like this,” Brown said. “It is what it is. Like I tell you guys all the time, I prepare to play and if it happens, it happens. I don’t wish bad upon anybody, but you prepare to play.”

109th Grey Cup
» Argonauts, Blue Bombers to compete for 109th Grey Cup
» Report: Bombers’ Collaros not at practice on Wed.
» Quote Board: The Bombers share their post-practice thoughts
» Head To Head: Who has the advantage in the Grey Cup?


With that, in one practice that spanned a couple of hours on the first real day of Grey Cup week, Collaros and his ankle became the most talked about component of this week’s game.

His absence is the most notable one possible for this Bombers team, that has essentially only known victory since Collaros landed with them at the 2019 trade deadline. Two consecutive Grey Cups and a 26-6 regular season record through the last two seasons later, a Winnipeg three-peat has to some felt like a foregone conclusion throughout the 2022 campaign.

The idea of Collaros potentially not playing in Sunday’s three-peat attempt should impact gambling lines, fan picks and the media’s conversation around this matchup almost instantly.

Internally, the Bombers will tune out the noise.

“He’s a key leader on this team,” Bombers running back Brady Oliveira said of Collaros.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in this game or if it was Week 5 in the season, whenever you have a key guy like Zach or Willie (Jefferson) or (Adam) Bighill or whoever, those leaders on our team, if you don’t have them at practice you can feel a little bit that something’s missing. But when it comes to Zach about his health, he’ll be just fine.”

Bombers’ centre Patrick Neufeld said that he and his teammates on the offensive line can draw on their experience from the pre-Collaros era, where then-starter Matt Nichols was injured and replaced by then-backup Chris Streveler. To the offensive line, the job is protecting that guy under centre, whatever number he’s wearing.


“We’ve been through a lot of these different situations before and I think we’ve dealt with it really well,” Neufeld said. “We can rely on that previous experience to get us through whatever is going to happen.”

“We’re still confident in who we’ve got in there,” added Bombers’ receiver Nic Demski.

“We do a lot of different stuff with different quarterbacks, no matter what. For us, it doesn’t matter who’s in there. We still just have to execute and just do our jobs.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys,” he said of Brown and Dakota Prukop. “Dru shows promise and Dakota has been showing it all year as well, making plays in the games. They’ve got everybody in the locker room’s trust, so I think they could step up and do some damage as well.”

While Brown was of few words on Wednesday, his play on the field has clearly spoken for him and resonated with his teammates. He’s made 33-50 passes for 452 yards this season, throwing five touchdowns along the way to two interceptions.

Without their MOP on the field on Wednesday, the Bombers still appeared to have a crisp, productive practice. While we shift into wait-and-see mode with Collaros now, not being able to see him on the field again until Friday (both teams have closed practices on Thursday), there seems to be a confidence across the board that No. 8 will be under centre on game day.

“I know that from what I’ve seen (of Collaros as) a leader of our room, is that he’s going to take it head on, like he does everything else,” Brown said.

“Why wouldn’t he (play)?” Argos’ defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis said of Collaros. “He’s a warrior. Anybody says that (he’s not going to play) is probably giving you a good white lie. No one is 100 per cent. He’s going to go out there and do what he does best, compete to win.”

Until Collaros is on the field with his teammates, all eyes will be on the Bombers.

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