In his final two years of college at Oklahoma State in 2018 and ‘19, Dru Brown was the backup quarterback – waiting for a chance to make his mark.
Football, of course, is a violent game – and Brown was well aware his moment could come at any time in his Oklahoma State days, just like it did in his first contest as a No. 2 quarterback in the CFL last week with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“Oklahoma State was the only time I was a backup for a significant amount of time. You don’t want to really be the backup, I don’t think anybody does. But just being prepared for the opportunity when it comes – because it always will come, especially with what I’ve heard about the league up here, the long season and it’s a drop-back heavy league,” Brown said in a telephone interview this week.
Indeed, the first two games of the season saw backup quarterbacks finish close games – and both Brown (filling in for Zach Collaros after a concussion spotter forced him off the field) and Jake Maier of the Calgary Stampeders (taking over for Bo Levi Mitchell after he suffered an ankle injury) came up aces, leading their teams on winning field-goal drives.
This is nothing new in the CFL. Resident CFL stats guru Steve Daniel did some digging and reports that since 2014, in a total of 63 team seasons, just six quarterbacks (9.5 per cent) have started every game for their club in a year. That’s a significant drop from the percentage (20.5 per cent) if you take all team seasons since 1986. No more than three clubs in a year since 1986 have had their No. 1 quarterback start every game.
In the NFL, meanwhile, each of the top 10 passing quarterbacks last year played at least 16 games on the 17-game schedule.
“You just have to be ready and you don’t want to let the opportunity dwindle,” said the 25-year-old Brown, who completed all three of his passes for 51 yards, leading to a chip-shot field goal with six seconds left in a 19-17 win over the Ottawa Redblacks last Friday.
“You want to take advantage of it and you want to be able to have the guys in that locker room trust you. By no means do I feel like I’m Zach Collaros yet. But one day, that’s who I aspire to be like. For the guys to just think ‘hey, we’re still able to make this thing happen when Dru’s in there,’ that’s how I want the guys to react."
In his second season with the Bombers, Brown was elevated to the No. 2 role this year.
Maier's big finish came one night before Brown's, when the fellow 25-year-old Californian completed four of five passes for 57 yards, leading to the winning field goal in the final minute against the Montreal Alouettes in an entertaining CFL season opener.
Maier has more experience than Brown, having thrown for 300 yards in each of his first three starts last year after Mitchell was hurt early in the season (the UC Davis product’s CFL debut actually was as a starter).
“We’re all here for a reason,” the six-foot Maier said. “There’s a lot of really, really quality quarterbacks that aren’t necessarily starters. I think it’s cool as a league we do have that culture where guys can step in and do a job.”
Before his time to shine, the five-foot-11 Brown watched Maier in the opener – and was impressed.
“He’s taken a similar path to myself. He had a really good college career and is undersized. Really smart guy who can throw the ball accurately,” Brown said. “I have a lot of respect for him. Watching him go in there and do his thing didn’t shock me at all. Everything I’ve heard is he’s a professional and he’s prepared, like we saw a bunch last year with him. I wouldn’t say I took any inspiration (from his performance), but I would guarantee you – I’ve never met Jake – … that we’d get along because we take the same approach to the situations we’re in.”
This week, both figure to return to backup roles – while learning from two of the best in Mitchell and Collaros.
“If my number’s called and the team needs me, I’ll be there. But at the same time my support for Bo couldn’t be higher,” Maier said. “We know we’re going to need each other throughout the season. It truly is a partnership in the QB room. That’s the culture he created and he wants to have.”
Added Brown: “All I really wanted was someone to be able to try to take me under their wing so to speak and really be a good mentor or me and (Collaros) has been exactly that, getting to know him and his family and his work-life balance and all that kind of stuff. You can’t really put a price tag on mentorship but I can say I wouldn’t be where I’m at mentally as far as seeing the Canadian game without him and (offensive co-ordinator and former quarterback) Buck Pierce.”
THINGS WE LIKED IN WEEK 1
The opening-night thriller between the Stampeders and Alouettes … The impressive play of B.C. Lions Canadian QB Nathan Rourke … The first two games going right down to the wire … The crowd of 34,000-plus in B.C.
THINGS WE DIDN’T LIKE IN WEEK 1
Alouettes star running back William Stanback suffering a serious ankle injury … The smallest crowd of the week in Calgary on opening night – an announced 21,139 … The Elks not being competitive in B.C. … The field-goal fest for much of the Ticats-Roughriders game.
THINGS TO WATCH IN WEEK 2
The crowd at the Argos’ home opener in the aftermath of MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum’s negative comments about the league … Any post-game comments from the Argos on Alouettes owner Gary Stern, who said his team would “kill” Toronto in the game earlier in the week – he later apologized for his choice of words … It’s Hall of Fame weekend in Hamilton. The ’20 and ’21 classes will be inducted and honoured at Saturday night’s Ticats game. One of the new members is current Ticats coach Orlondo Steinauer, a top defensive back for Toronto and Hamilton as a player … Home teams went 4-0 last week. Road teams are favoured in two of the games this week.
WEEK 2 PICKS
Montreal Alouettes at Toronto Argonauts (-3.5), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
The Alouettes lost several key players to injury in their opener, while the Argos are fresh – coming off the bye week in Week 1. PICK: Toronto
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-2.5) at Ottawa Redblacks, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
The Redblacks made it close in last week’s season opener in Winnipeg before the Blue Bombers won by two on a field goal in the dying seconds. But Ottawa was the better team most of the night, and the Redblacks get home field for the rematch. PICK: Ottawa
Calgary Stampeders at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (-1.5), Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT
The Tiger-Cats struggled to run the ball and protect quarterback Dane Evans last week in a loss in Saskatchewan. That’s not a formula for success. PICK: Calgary
Saskatchewan Roughriders (-7.5) at Edmonton Elks, Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT
Chris Jones’ first game in his second stint as coach of the Elks couldn’t have gone much worse – a 59-15 loss in B.C. You figure they’ll be better at home, but the Roughriders remain heavy favourites. PICK: Saskatchewan
– Odds from FanDuel as of late Wednesday night.
2022 Record: 3-1
1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1-0, Last week: 1): Didn’t look great in season opener against Ottawa, but two-time defending champs stay on top for now.
2. Saskatchewan Roughriders (1-0, Last week: 3): Dominant defensive effort propelled Roughriders to an impressive win over Hamilton at home.
3. Toronto Argonauts (0-0, Last week: 4): Lead the East without having played a game! All three East teams in action in Week 1 lost – so Thursday’s Montreal-Toronto game is for first place.
4. Calgary Stampeders (1-0, Last week: 5): After trip to Hamilton, Stamps have two games in a row against Edmonton – so a quick start is possible.
5. B.C. Lions (1-0, Last week: 8): Rourke (26-for-29, 282 yards, three touchdowns) and running back James Butler (four touchdowns) were brilliant against the Elks. Things will get tougher when the team returns from its bye week.
6. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1, Last week: 2): Perhaps the most disappointing performance in Week 1. Ticats quarterbacks were sacked eight times.
7. Ottawa Redblacks (0-1, Last week: 7): East’s bottom feeder the last two seasons almost pulled off the upset in Winnipeg. Things are looking up after first-year GM Shawn Burke’s off-season makeover.
8. Montreal Alouettes (0-1, Last week: 6): Lost star running back William Stanback to a serious ankle injury in Week 1. He’s almost impossible to replace.
9. Edmonton Elks (0-1, Last week: 9): No way around it, the Elks were very bad in a blowout loss in B.C. Jones has a lot of work ahead of him to get this franchise turned around.