Absent from practice, intrigue deepens around Grey Cup status of Bomber QB Collaros

REGINA — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were minus quarterback Zach Collaros in their first practice of Grey Cup week.

Backup Dru Brown took first-team reps Wednesday amid blowing snow at a minor-league field in suburban Regina.

Collaros sustained an apparent right ankle injury when he was tackled in the fourth quarter of Sunday's West final win over the B.C. Lions.

Collaros walked back onto IG Field with a heavily taped ankle for Winnipeg's final series, but began limping and quickly returned to the sidelines.

Bombers coach Mike O'Shea said upon arrival in Saskatchewan's capital city "I think he'll be good" for Sunday's championship game against the Toronto Argonauts, but the quarterback's absence Wednesday begs the question "how good?"

"You never want to have to answer questions like this," Brown said. "I just prepare to play. If it happens, it happens. I don't wish bad upon anybody, but you prepare to play."

Neither O'Shea nor Collaros spoke to media post-practice. The Blue Bombers that did evaded predictions over their starting quarterback's status.

"He's in high spirits," Bombers slotback Nic Demski said. "That's all I really need to see from him. As long as he's confident, I'll be confident."

Collaros is the West Division's nominee for the CFL's Most Outstanding Player — he won MOP in 2021 — and could make it back-to-back trophies in Thursday evening's awards ceremony.

The Bombers are chasing a third straight Grey Cup title after victories in 2019 and 2021. The 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CFL quarterbacks tend to get outsized credit and blame for game outcomes. The Blue Bombers, favourites to three-peat on Sunday, excel on defence and special teams as well as offence.

A team doesn't lift the trophy in November without a proficient quarterback, however.

Collaros can move the chains with his efficient and accurate arm, but a stiff ankle could hinder scrambling and throwing on the run Sunday.

"He's going to play. No question about it," Argonauts coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. "Will he be as mobile as he's been all year? I don't know. I anticipate that he will.

"It's unfortunate he got hurt, but I'm pretty sure that he's going to be playing."

Brown, 25, was 33-for-50 in passing for 452 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Thursday's practices are closed, so Grey Cup speculation and conversation around Collaros's ankle will continue.

"We trust everyone on this team and on the offence and whoever is going to be back there is going to do the right job for us," offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld said.

"I'm not worried about ifs and buts. It's on game day, whoever's going to line up at quarterback, that's who we're protecting for."

The 34-year-old Collaros, from Steubenville, Ohio, redefined himself in Winnipeg as a premiere CFL quarterback. His 33-4 record as Bombers' starter includes a 6-0 mark in the playoffs.

Winnipeg rewarded its pivot with a three-year contract extension in October.

"Well, he's the best quarterback in the league," O'Shea said Wednesday during the coaches' morning news conference before practice.

"He's certainly fun to be around every single day. He comes into that room and attacks the day, like a pro should."

Collaros's career appeared stalled, however, before Winnipeg acquired him in 2019 at the Oct. 9 trade deadline.

Injured on the opening drive of the season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Collaros was then traded twice and went without a live game snap for 19 weeks.

The 2019 Grey Cup was just his fourth start as a Blue Bomber. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 170 yards and didn't give up an interception in a 33-12 win over Hamilton to end Winnipeg's 28-year championship drought.

Collaros threw for 240 yards, two touchdowns and two picks in last year's Grey Cup victory over the host Tiger-Cats.

The 10-year CFL veteran played four seasons for the Ticats from 2014 to 2017. He was their starter in a 2014 Grey Cup loss.

Jeremiah Masoli's contract extension and the arrival of Johnny Manziel made for a crowded quarterback room, so Hamilton dealt Collaros to Saskatchewan in 2018.

O'Shea was Toronto's special teams co-ordinator during Collaros's rookie season there in 2012.

"Very early on, he understood his leadership capabilities," O'Shea said. "His magnetism, players were drawn to him even though he was serving in a backup role. He got thrust into a starting position and won a bunch of games, very early on his career. Went to Hamilton (and) was very successful.

"There might be a lull in his career, like a lot of professional athletes maybe face depending on the situation they're in. Now he's in a situation where he's got a very good supporting cast.

"I guess the story writes is it's a resurgence, but he'll never not be that leader and he'll never not be that competitor. In certain situations, he'll always be the best quarterback in the league."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press