Jones keeping quiet on Riders’ starting quarterback
REGINA — Chris Jones remained steadfast in his refusal to tell the media who will be the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starting quarterback in Sunday’s West Division semifinal.
The Riders’ head coach and general manager stressed numerous times on Saturday that the team was preparing both Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge to play against the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Jones, however, refused to disclose his starting quarterback.
“We’re just preparing two quarterbacks to play because that way if you need one or the other, you’ve got them,” Jones said.
Adding to the intrigue was a post earlier Saturday on the Riders’ Twitter account that Collaros “will make his 15th start” on Sunday. The post was deleted after the media availability.
Some of the intrigue stems from Collaros missing the final three quarters of the Riders’ 35-16 win over the B.C. Lions on Oct. 27 — the regular-season finale for the Green and White. He left the game after absorbing a hit to the head by Lions defensive end Odell Willis. Bridge took over at quarterback with Collaros out of the game and preserved the victory.
Collaros said Saturday that he felt fine and wasn’t dealing with any residual effects from the tackle. Collaros added that he knew who was starting on Sunday, but declined to say who that might be.
Collaros has been the Riders’ starting quarterback when healthy. He missed four regular-season games earlier in the season while dealing with concussion and neck issues. Bridge filled in for Collaros over that span.
Based on the depth chart that was issued Saturday, Collaros is listed as the starting quarterback, followed by Bridge, David Watford and Drew Tate. It’s unlikely that the Riders will dress all four quarterbacks.
Jones, however, feels it’s prudent to have more than one quarterback ready to play.
“You have to have them both ready to play in case one of them can’t play,” Jones said. “Quite honestly, you’re a play away from that happening every week. You had better have two prepared.”
Collaros wasn’t surprised that much of Saturday’s attention was focussed on the identity of the Riders starting quarterback.
“(The media) has a job to do and it’s what moves the needle,” Collaros said. “It’s what on TV when you turn on the CFL and it’s pretty much the quarterback.”
Saskatchewan’s offence has been inconsistent regardless who starts at the quarterback. The Riders are last in the CFL with 25 offensive touchdowns, compared to the Blue Bombers who led the CFL with 53 offensive touchdowns.
Collaros completed nine touchdown passes against 13 interceptions. The Riders were still 10-4 in games that Collaros started or finished.
Bridge was 2-2 while filling in for the injured Collaros. He completed just one touchdown pass while serving up three interceptions. In 2016, Bridge came off the bench as a change of pace when starter Kevin Glenn struggled or was injured.
Bridge was effective in that role, completing 10 of the Riders’ league-leading 35 touchdown passes. Bridge also threw four interceptions.
Centre Brendon Labatte wasn’t too concerned about who starts at quarterback.
“We’ve had several instances this year where we’ve had both of them back there,” Labatte said. “From what we hear in the huddle, there isn’t any difference in the tone of the voice and that’s really where it ends.
“In terms of play calling or anything like that, we don’t tailor anything to one quarterback versus the other. Regardless of who’s back there, we know what we have to do to execute.”
Sunday’s game marks the first post-season contest at Mosaic Stadium since the facility opened in 2017. The Riders are expecting a lot of support for their rabid fans.
“This is what the fans have been waiting for,” said Riders defensive back Ed Gainey.
“It’s the second year in a new stadium and we get to host a home playoff game and I expect everyone to be loud and boisterous. If there are some Winnipeg fans, I’m sure that they will be getting into it too.
“It will be fun. Hopefully we can handle business and walk out of this stadium with a win.”
We’re just preparing two quarterbacks to play because that way if you need one or the other, you’ve got them. Chris Jones
Saskatchewan head coach Chris Jones wouldn’t say at practice yesterday if it would be Brandon Bridge or Zack Collaros (inset) starting at quarterback for the Roughriders today.