With two-time reigning CFL most outstanding player Zach Collaros sidelined, quarterback Dru Brown will make his first start of the season on Friday as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-2) visit the Calgary Stampeders (3-6).
Brown is coming off a spectacular performance last Thursday in relief of Collaros, who hurt his neck in the second quarter against Edmonton. Down 22-0 at the time, Brown completed 17 of 24 passes for 307 yards and four touchdown passes in leading the Bombers to a 39-29 win for their third consecutive victory.
Friday’s game will be Brown’s second career CFL start. While Collaros will not be in uniform, he will be on the sidelines helping Brown as he has throughout his time in the organization.
“Zach’s been valuable for the last two and a half years that I’ve known him. It’s not like he just started being a mentor to me this week, because it’s like, ‘OK, Dru is going to play,'” Brown said. “It’s been a constant thing during the season, in the off-season. I can’t really put a price on how valuable he’s been in my development and just as a friend.”
“We’ve got a good plan. I’m excited to just go compete.”
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) August 18, 2023
Despite his inexperience, the Stampeders know containing Brown won’t be easy, as the Elks found out last week.
“You don’t want him to get feeling good,” Stamps defensive lineman Derek Wiggan said. “We want to affect him, make him be like, ‘OK, this isn’t like practice.’ Make him at least have some doubts and second-guess himself. Maybe see some ghosts and just speed up his clock.”
To put Brown’s four touchdowns in three quarters of work last week into perspective, Calgary quarterback Jake Maier has thrown just eight TD passes on the season and he’s started all nine games. The Stampeders have gone the last three games without a passing TD.
“You show up for a night and you execute your game plan and you have a couple bounces go your way, and anything can happen,” Maier said. “Nobody in this league is unbeatable, and nobody in this league has the ability to just show up and walk over you.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Stampeders, who haven’t missed the playoffs since 2004 but currently are on the outside looking in. In their last home game two weeks ago, the Stampeders knocked off the previously unbeaten Toronto Argonauts. But last Saturday on the road, they were routed 37-9 by the B.C. Lions.
“It’s been a quick week, we’re ready to go. When you do have a rough game, I actually feel it’s best to get back out there and play as quick as possible,” Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson said. “We need to show up, play our best brand of football and try to get the win.”
"Ever since I got into the CFL in 2014, Calgary has been one of those teams that you have to play your best to win."
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) August 17, 2023
The Bombers know better than to think it will come easy.
“It’s a fist-fight any time you come out here,” Winnipeg offensive lineman Jemarcus Hardrick said. “If you’re looking for some momentum or anything, it’s easiest just to go out there and just play with nothing to lose and the easy way to do that is just go out there and throw punches. So that’s what I’m expecting and we gotta be ready.”
Calgary will be without Canadian Clark Barnes at receiver after the 2023 third-round pick hurt his leg and has been put on the six-game injured list.
“That hurts, man. I love Clark, I love the consistency he brings every single day,” Maier said. “When he comes to work, he’s super professional for being a rookie, and I just appreciate guys like that. You want guys that you go into the foxhole with that you know you can trust.”
As a result, the Stamps will open the game with four American receivers as Tommylee Lewis joins Reggie Begelton, Marken Michel and Tre Odoms-Dukes as a starter.
Friday is Legacy Night, with the Stampeders celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1998 team, which won the Grey Cup. The many alumni who have come to town for the festivities include Jeff Garcia, whom Dickenson supplanted at starting quarterback when Garcia jumped to the NFL in 1999.
“I really liked playing with him because of his energy and who he was, he was actually unselfish. He was a guy who just wanted to play. He wanted to win. When I’m in there, he’s helping me,” Dickenson said about his old quarterback mentor. “I highly respect him as a person and an athlete and I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
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