First & 10 | A chat with Zach

Maybe it’s the weather turning, what with the mercury moving into comfortable territory again. Or perhaps it’s the slow build of optimism beginning to take hold with Covid-19 cases dipping and vaccines arriving.

Yes, there are positive signs emerging everywhere right now and they are good indicators for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Canadian Football League in 2021. There are still many, many questions to answer, no doubt, with two of the biggest being:

  • Will the season start on time?
  • Will fans be in the stands if the league does get under way as planned in June?

At the same time, we are also seeing a shift in the news cycle slowly away from the doom and gloom to things like free agency grades, to Grey Cup betting odds, to deep dives into what the nine depth charts being built across the league look like right now.

It’s with that in mind that we open this week’s First & 10, and after reading a piece earlier this week at 3Down Nation in which an anonymous insider suggested the Toronto Argonauts ‘have the best Canadian talent in the league.’

Whether you agree or not is moot right now, but from this perch it’s exactly the kind of ‘hot take’ CFL fans could use right now, rather than the narrative that had seen so many writing the league’s obituary. It also got me thinking about the Bombers’ Canadian talent and how it stacks up against the rest of the league – especially as we look at the seven homegrown starters.

So yours truly checked in with some colleagues/media friends from across the league for their best guess on the projected Canadian starters with the teams they work for/cover.

We’ll start, naturally, with the Bombers for the purpose of comparison.

The projected Canadian starters, as of now, would likely be:

RB Andrew Harris

Left guard Drew Desjarlais

Centre Michael Couture

Right guard Pat Neufeld

Slotback Nic Demski

Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky

Defensive tackle Jake Thomas

All of those men – save for Couture, who was injured and replaced by Cody Speller in the 2019 playoff run – played important roles in the Bombers’ Grey Cup championship. Four of those seven, it’s worth noting, are also 27 and under in Desjarlais (23), Wolitarsky (25), Couture and Demski (27).

The Bombers’ Canadian depth is also critical here, with veterans like Mike Miller, Shayne Gauthier, Jesse Briggs and Nick Hallett massive on special teams and younger players like Geoff Gray, Tui Eli, Brady Oliveira, Johnny Augustine and Connor Griffiths still possible future starters.

After checking in with colleagues around the league, here are the projected Canadian starters on the rest of the CFL teams:

B.C. Lions

OL Sukh Chungh, Hunter Steward, Peter Godber; receivers Lemar Durant, Shaq Johnson; LB Bo Lokombo.

Seventh starter: linebacker – possibly Jordan Williams, Isaiah Guzylak-Messam, Adam Konar. Also, receiver Jevon Cottoy, who opted out of his contract last August, is a possibility.

Edmonton Football Team

OL David Beard, Jacob Ruby, Kyle Saxelid; receivers Tevaun Smith, Mike Jones; DE Kwaku Boateng and safety Jordan Hoover.

Calgary Stampeders

OL Ryan Sceviour, Sean McEwen, Justin Lawrence; receiver Hergy Mayala; LB Cory Greenwood; S Royce Metchie; DL Derek Wiggan.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

OL Brendan LaBatte, Dan Clark, Evan Johnson; DT Mak Henry; S Mike Edem; receiver Justin McInnis.

Seventh starter: possibly LB Jordan Herdman-Reed or receiver Brayden Lenius.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

OL Darius Ciraco, Chris Van Zeyl, Brandon Revenberg; DT Ted Laurent; S Tunde Adeleke.

Other starter possibilities: RB Sean Thomas-Erlington, WR David Ungerer III; OL Jesse Gibbon, Coulter Woodsmansey and Kay Okafur or a Canadian at DE  (possibly Mason Bennett of Winnipeg).

Toronto Argonauts

OL Phillip Blake, Dariusz Bladek, Cody Speller, Jamal Campbell; receiver Juwan Brescacin; LB Cam Judge; DB Arjen Colquhoun.

Also possibility of Dejon Brissett, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and Llevi Noel battling for a second Canadian starting receiver spot.

Ottawa RedBlacks

OL Nolan MacMillan, Alex Mateas, Mark Korte; receivers Brad Sinopoli, Anthony Coombs; DL Cleyon Laing; S Antoine Pruneau.

Also, former Bomber Daniel Petermann is in the mix to possibly start, along with DL Stefan Charles.

Montreal Alouettes

OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin, Sean Jamieson, Kristian Matte, Philippe Gagnon; receiver Natey Adjei; LB Chris Ackie; S Marc-Antoine Dequoy.

For what it’s worth, I do get the ‘insider’s’ take on the Argos Canadian talent, as they have made moves to upgrade with the additions of Brescacin, Judge, Speller and Bladek last year in free agency. Still, from this admittedly-biased viewpoint the Bombers’ Canadian starters rank right there with the best in the league.

More notes, quotes and links in this week’s 1st & 10…


1. What struck yours truly while scanning the lists of projected starters and, in turn, studying the Canadian depth of each roster is how the Bombers do have less question marks with their homegrown starters and depth needs than most, if not all, of their rivals.

As well, there are some interesting prospects already on the roster and two draft classes will be at camp, begging the question: is this the deepest the Bombers have ever been in terms of Canadian talent? There is no right or wrong answer here, but discuss amongst yourselves.

2. Had an awesome Zoom chat with Bombers QB Zach Collaros earlier this week. Over the course of a 30-minute conversation we chatted about fatherhood, his input into Buck Pierce’s offensive playbook, his thoughts on new receiver Bryant Mitchell and even his go-to music choices.

That chat will be coming soon to bluebombers.com.

In the meantime, I did ask him where he was on the ‘optimism meter’ about being back playing in a few months.

“It would be hard for me to put a number on the ‘optimism meter’,” he began. “Obviously, for all of us, we signed contracts and if and when that day comes we need to be prepared for that day. So, I’m doing everything in my power to get back into football shape, to be sharp mentally with the playbook and what defences are going to try to do. There has been a lot of time for coaches to prepare for the next season, so it will be interesting to see the little wrinkles and nuances thrown into different coverages and different fronts.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but it’s also important for all of us to see into the future in terms of what we want to pursue after we’re done. That’s been a conversation since high school and especially college – football’s not going to last forever and you’ve got to try and find your other passion or passions to pursue.

“… It’s been difficult. I don’t understand the business dynamics of it because I’ve never really researched it that in depth. But there are a lot of smart people that are running the league and that we elect for our PA (CFL Players’ Association), so we let those guys handle that. Obviously we’ll be disappointed if we’re not playing again.”

3. One more from Zach from our chat… as we prepared to move on to our next question, he jumped in to add something that speaks of his love for the CFL and this country.

“I’ll say this,” he added, “for the league’s sake I really hope that we can do something because it’s a special league.

“Everybody who has spent a lot of time up here falls in love with this league, with this game, with this country and with whatever province you are in. I’m not saying this so much for me, I just hope it sticks around because I think it’s really important to play this season. I don’t think that’s hyperbole.”

4. There’s been a lot written and said about the work of the Bombers Football Operations Department in keeping so much of the Grey Cup roster intact through two free agent periods.

The follow up from fans is often this: where are the question marks with this team?

We’re a long way from the start of a training camp, but I would say there are two areas of unknown right now. The first revolves around the uncertainty of whether hall-of-fame kicker Justin Medlock will return or retire, although the Bombers are big on Marc Liegghio of Western and have other options at kicker available through the Global Draft on April 15th or by signing another American.

The other is in the secondary. The club lost Winston Rose to the NFL and Marcus Sayles to B.C., but there is still a lot to like about what they have in the air defence, including Brandon Alexander, Nick Taylor, Mercy Maston, Mike Jones and veteran Josh Johnson – signed in free agency (twice). There’s also the usual collection of new faces the scouting staff has signed that always push the incumbents.

5. It could be the post-free agency lull we’re in, but I’ve been discovering and rediscovering a ton of podcasts lately. We’re also working to crank out more of our own ‘Handled Internally’ podcasts, available on your favourite platforms.

We’ve got one scheduled for next week with Hall of Fame QB and current Bombers Assistant GM/Director of U.S. Scouting Danny McManus.

Walters, who played with Mike O’Shea at Guelph, was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and won a Grey Cup with them in 1999, had some great stories to tell. Included among them was his tale about arriving at Guelph for his college career and O’Shea being there already as the program’s star player.

“Coming from high school everybody’s a superstar and you think you’re good,” Walters recalled. “Back in those days (practice) was all contact and it was all physical. It was almost who can survive a training camp to show your toughness, gladiator style.

“I remember this drill… it was early in training camp and I was the running back. There would be two cones, literally about a yard and a half apart. There was a line and then a line of running backs and you had to go through the cones. I’m more of a juke guy, but it was basically run full speed into Mike O’Shea and try to get up afterwards and that’s the drill. It was like, ‘Holy-moly.’ And that was my first experience with Mike.”

6. Another snippet from the Walters interview… the Bombers GM spoke often about the working relationship he has with O’Shea, McManus, Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel Ted Goveia. We also spoke about the ‘Canadian Mafia’ the title hung on Walters, O’Shea and President and CEO Wade Miller by Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson during the 2018 West Final.

“It starts with Wade and Wade hiring me,” said Walters. “As soon as I got the job I knew who I wanted as the head coach. I knew it was Mike and I knew my first two hires were Ted and Danny. It was important to me to have a relationship. Being young… it’s a cutthroat business and I certainly wasn’t going to hire somebody I thought was going to go behind my back.

“I wanted a team that would work together and with Mike and his character I knew he would be on board. Ted and Danny I knew personally and knew I could trust them.”

Stay tuned for the release of that podcast.

7. A few fans have lamented the loss in free agency of Lucky Whitehead to the Lions. He was on Matt Baker’s ‘1st and Now’ podcast recently and spoke of how Marcus Sayles, former Bomber Director of College Scouting Ryan Rigmaiden and quarterback Mike Reilly were all influential in getting him to sign with B.C.

For those who may be interested, check out that podcast here.

8. Two entries in this week’s good read department.

The first, from Mike Hogan of Argonauts.ca on Chuck Ealey who, as we pointed out during Black History Month, was the first Black QB to start for the Bombers.

And the second comes from Rob Vanstone of The Regina Leader-Post.

9. Two thumbs up – way up – for this venture being launched by Andrew ‘Hustler’ Patterson and Michael Remis, previously of TSN 1290.

 

Good luck and go get ‘em, lads.

10. And, finally, some sad news from the CFL this week with the sudden death of former Dallas Cowboys/Toronto Argonauts tackle Chris Schultz who loved this league both as a player and as a broadcaster, both on TV and on radio.

 

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