When Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tore his anterior cruciate ligament on July 26, he became the latest in a long line of QBs to miss games this season.
Six of the nine quarterbacks on the opening day rosters around the Canadian Football League have gone down to injury in the first seven weeks of the season, with some of their backups starting to get hurt as well.
Still, players and coaches aren’t smashing the panic button just yet.
"It’s one of those years. I think it ebbs and flows," said Edmonton Eskimos head coach Jason Maas, who also spent 11 years in the CFL as a quarterback. "Why it’s happening? No clue. They’ve all been different injuries as well. It’s hard to pinpoint why. I think it’s something maybe at the end of the season everyone should look at, but for right now it’s hard to say or pinpoint anything."
Masoli joined a figurative hospital ward that at various times this season has included Zach Collaros (concussion), Bo Levi Mitchell (torn pectoral muscle), Dominique Davis (lower leg), James Franklin (hamstring), and Antonio Pipkin (lower leg), all of whom were their team’s opening day starter.
"I think it’s a coincidence that it happens to be the quarterbacks this season," said Cody Fajardo, who stepped in as QB for the Saskatchewan Roughriders after Collaros’s injury. Collaros has since been traded to the Toronto Argonauts, who have been searching for a quarterback since Franklin’s injury.
"Professional football is a dangerous sport. That’s what we sign up for when we play football, the constant tackling and hitting and the awkward position our bodies are in. This year it just happens to be the quarterbacks."
In Montreal, Vernon Adams Jr., replaced Pipkin, who was injured in the Alouettes’ season opener in Edmonton. On Aug. 2, Adams went down himself after a hit to the head left him in the league’s concussion protocols. Pipkin, however, stepped right back in for Montreal.
"It’s really unfortunate, to be honest. I hate it, personally," Pipkin aid before Adams’s injury. "I’m not used to being injured. Never missed a game in college. Never missed a game from injury. So I’m not really used to it. I just kind of pray for the safety of myself, the safety of my teammates and the safety of my opponents to be honest when you go out there and play.
"We play a violent game at the end of the day and it’s very taxing on our bodies. It’s a game that we all love and it’s a part of the game."
Missing out on big-name quarterbacks — often the most high-profile player on a team — has contributed to a rough start to the CFL season.
Attendance is down, with the average game drawing 22,713.5 spectators, compared to 23,855.8 last year. Also, ownership instability continues, with the CFL taking over the Alouettes from American businessman Bob Wetenhall and his son, Andrew, on May 31. A new owner has yet to be found in Montreal.
"It’s one of those things that I don’t know what exactly you can do," Alouettes head coach Khari Jones, a CFL quarterback for 10 years, said about the string of injuries. "I mean the game is just a physical, hard-fought game. You even see with Masoli going down without even getting touched.
"I don’t know what there is to do except to just make sure that you have other guys back there ready to go, and that really plays into the team aspect of football."
Players and coaches across the league say that a big part of the injuries is just luck.
"The CFL, rules-wise, they’ve always made positive strides every year with protecting the quarterbacks," said Nick Arbuckle, who has replaced the injured Mitchell as the Calgary Stampeders QB. "Sometimes freak things happen like Masoli’s non-contact injury. You can’t really protect that."
By John Chidley-Hill