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Changes have been such a large part of Chris Merchant’s football life that one more isn’t going to cause him to lose much sleep.
But with a year under his belt as Western Mustangs’ starting quarterback he’s no doubt better suited to handle whatever changes Mustangs’ new offensive co-ordinator Steve Snyder is putting into the Mustangs’ offensive system.
A close rapport between Merchant and Snyder is going to be key for the Mustangs. Merchant needs to have a strong season for the Mustangs to have a chance at an Ontario university Yates Cup title.
Merchant came to the Mustangs after spending time in Buffalo under an American system. He worked with several coaches and did not get a lot of playing time.
In his first year with the Mustangs in 2016, it took a while for Merchant to get used to head coach and offensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall’s system as well as playing with a 12th man and a bigger field.
He got more comfortable and effective as the season progressed. Merchant proved to be a tough customer and willing student.
He finished the eight-game regular season 107-for-161 for a 66 per cent completion average with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Now Snyder steps into the fray with a system that’s a combination of Marshall’s system and Snyder’s.
“Obviously it changes a couple of things but I’ve been through so many different coaches the last couple of years you kind of get used to it,” Merchant said. “You roll with the punches; you just do your best every day. You try to get one per cent better with each practice. By the time the first game rolls around you just hope you are ready to go.”
Snyder’s system is an uptempo system that demands good communication and recognition of situations by individual players.
Merchant spent most of the summer in London working out with other players. But he also spent two weeks home in Calgary where he worked out and was tutored by some of the Canadian Football League Calgary Stampeders, including quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
“I had a great opportunity with the Stamps. I learned a lot in a couple of weeks with Bo Levi Mitchell and Andrew Buckley (former Calgary Dino quarterback,)” Merchant said. “Obviously I was able to see what kind of guys they are; great characters but I was also able to see what makes them successful in the CFL, what makes their clock tick. It was cool to see. I learned a lot.”
In playing experience, Merchant is still a relatively fresh-faced player. He believes he made large strides last year.
“There are a couple of things I’m still working on; things that I want to brush up on before the season starts,” Merchant said. “I think the team looks really good right now. We’re way farther than we were last year. We still have a lot to work on but come our first game we’re going to look really good. We have a lot of athletes coming back; we’re excited to see how it goes.
“My comfort zone with the offence has grown a lot because coming back to the Canadian league is a bit of an adjustment. Now that I have the dimensions of the league back, the muscle memories in my throws are much better. Obviously things have sped up for me; my throws are coming a little faster to me than they were at this time last year. I just need to keep getting better.”
Snyder says all seven quarterbacks in camp are doing “a very good job already.”
“The big thing I believe and coach Marshall believes and we’ve meet on already, we’ve got to develop these units, all the units,” he said. “The unit is only as strong as that last guy, that weakest link. We have seven quarterbacks in camp and we’re trying to develop them all. We’re trying to get them reps and they are getting a million reps when they aren’t actually (under centre.) When one quarterback is under centre the others are doing echoes.
“With that being said, not to single Chris out, all the guys are picking up on things very fast because they are intelligent young guys.”
One of the seven quarterbacks returning is last year’s backup Stevenson Bone.
Merchant will be working with a great deal of incentive when the season starts at York Sunday, August 27. He’ll want to erase the memory of the meltdown the Mustangs had in the Yates Cup last year, giving up 24 unanswered points in the final eight minutes to lose to Laurier.
“It was tough. It’s always on your mind. I go to sleep every night thinking about it,” Merchant said. “But it was also an opportunity to look at it and use it as motivation for this year. Hopefully we’ll finish out the season better this year and go farther. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is the right thing to say. We’re looking to be the best team in the country right now.”
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