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September 11, 2018

Zach Collaros gets a clean bill of health

Zach Collaros didn’t have any symptoms — and he didn’t have any doubts, either.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starting quarterback was forced to leave Saturday’s CFL game against the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers early in the fourth quarter after taking a big hit from Winnipeg defensive back Jeff Hecht.

Collaros was placed in the CFL’s concussion protocol and didn’t return to the game. But three days later, he was on the practice field with the Roughriders as they started preparing for Saturday’s game against the visiting Ottawa Redblacks.

Collaros missed four-plus games earlier this season due to head and neck injuries, but he wasn’t concerned about his immediate future after leaving Saturday’s game.

“I wasn’t too worried because I didn’t feel like I had anything really wrong,” Collaros said after Tuesday’s practice at Mosaic Stadium. “But it was a precautionary thing. We went through all the steps and I knew I wasn’t going to have to miss any time.”

Collaros stressed that he didn’t suffer a concussion in Winnipeg. He noted that he woke up Sunday, Monday and Tuesday without any hint of a headache or the other symptoms of a concussion.

Saskatchewan head coach-GM Chris Jones said the coaches will prepare Collaros and backups Brandon Bridge and David Watford for Saturday’s game, and also will have a package ready for cornerback/Wildcat quarterback Nick Marshall.

Jones’ expectation, obviously, is that Collaros will be ready to go.

“Unless there are setbacks, he won’t miss the game,” Jones said.

Collaros left Saskatchewan’s game June 21 in Ottawa before halftime. He later admitted that he initially suffered a concussion in a pre-season contest but didn’t tell the Roughriders’ training staff and doctors that he was suffering symptoms. A couple of hits in Ottawa exacerbated the situation and, ultimately, sent him to the six-game injured list.

Collaros was activated off that list early so that he could return to the starting lineup for Saskatchewan’s game Aug. 2 against the host Edmonton Eskimos. In his fifth start after returning, he had to leave the game in Winnipeg.

Collaros said he passed the tests given to him in the locker room and was eager to return to the contest. Asked if he tried to persuade the medical staff to let him play, he replied: “Of course I did, but there are rules in place that don’t allow for that. It’s a good thing for people’s health.”

Jones, meanwhile, said he didn’t have a discussion with the trainers on the sideline about potentially allowing Collaros to return to the fray.

“If they thought that he could play, they’d come tell me,” Jones said. “We’re not going to put anybody out there and put him in harm’s way. We went strictly by the book.

“They told me yesterday that he had no symptoms or anything and that he was fine, so I’m going off of what our professionals have told us.”

Collaros claimed the starting job in training camp and got the win in Saskatchewan’s regular-season opener against the Toronto Argonauts. He was injured in the Roughriders’ second game, missed the next four contests and then took the loss in his return against the Eskimos.

Since that game, however, Collaros has helped Saskatchewan win four straight and improve to 7-4-0. He has brought a different dynamic — and a different confidence level — to the offence than Bridge and Watford and the Roughriders have ridden that.

As a result, it was disconcerting for Jones to watch Collaros leave Saturday’s game.

“(It’s a concern) anytime your starter goes down,” Jones said. “I can say that if Mike Reilly went down in Edmonton, they’d have some issues. If Bo Levi (Mitchell) goes down in Calgary, they’re going to have some issues. If Jeremiah Masoli goes down in Hamilton, they’ve got issues. Anytime your starting quarterback is on the sideline, it’s concerning for you.”

On Tuesday, Collaros was sporting a different model of helmet than he had worn earlier in the season. It isn’t known if the change was made to protect Collaros from future head and neck injuries, though; when he was asked what was wrong with his previous helmet, he played coy.

“Me and Gordie (Gilroy, the Roughriders’ equipment manager) are buddies, so he said to try this one,” Collaros said. “It’s nice.”

Even with Collaros at the controls, Saskatchewan’s offence hasn’t lit up opposing defences.

The Roughriders remain last in the CFL in offensive touchdowns and are just seventh in net offence per game, but the unit has done enough to help the defence and special teams put together a winning streak.

That bodes well for the upcoming final third of the regular season.

“If you can win games and you’re not playing your best football, then that’s a good sign,” Collaros said. “But it’s not something where you can sweep the mistakes under the rug. You still have to shine the light on them, address them, fix them and work on those little details that are holding us back.

“Our coaching staff does a great job doing that and the players hold each other accountable as well. We have to continue to get better.”