It’s Tate’s job to lose

THE CANADIAN PRESS

CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders fortunes this year rest largely on Drew Tate’s ability to handle a full season at starting quarterback.

Tate got a taste of that weighty responsibility when coach and general manager John Hufnagel handed him the ball in October for Calgary’s last four games of 2011.

Supplanting Henry Burris, the club’s all-time leading passer, was a significant changing of the guard for the Stampeders.

Calgary gave Tate, 28, a three-year contract extension and traded Burris, who turns 37 in June, to Hamilton in the off-season.

For the first time since Calgary signed Tate in 2009, there’s no other quarterback ahead of him on the depth chart when training camp opens June 3.

“He doesn’t have a lot of experience in the Canadian Football League though he has experience and when he’s been on the field, very productive and I don’t see that changing,” Hufnagel said Thursday during a CFL conference call previewing the 2012 season.

“As with any young quarterback, there’s a little bit of intrigue and mystery to things.”

The Stampeders tied with B.C. and Edmonton at 11-7 in the West Division last season. Seeded third for the playoffs, Calgary lost 33-19 to the Eskimos in the semifinal.

Tate threw for four touchdowns and 791 yards with 65 per cent accuracy in Calgary’s three wins to conclude the regular season.

His inexperience surfaced in Edmonton as he completed half of 10 pass attempts in the first half. Tate dropped the ball after a snap with no Eskimo near him, which the hosts turned into a pivotal touchdown en route to victory.

But when Burris couldn’t rescue a win in the second half, the torch was effectively passed to Tate.

The Iowa product finished 2011 with 101-of-158 passing (63.9 per cent), 1,346 passing yards and eight TDs while also throwing five interceptions.

Hufnagel says Tate has spent the off-season training in the Cleveland area.

“He needs to have a full season under him,” Hufnagel said. “Winning football games is very important to him. I’m very comfortable with Drew’s attitude about the game. I’m very comfortable with Drew’s understanding of our playbook.

“The only thing I’m going to ask Drew is what I ask from any quarterback that plays for me: manage the game plan and make smart decisions, get the ball to the playmakers and hopefully we can do that enough during football games to win the game.”

Hufnagel does have insurance at pivot. Veteran Kevin Glenn came to Calgary in the Burris trade and starts the season as Tate’s backup.

“Drew’s been a starting quarterback in college, in high school. It’s not foreign to him,” Hufnagel pointed out. “I just think the week-in, week-out drudgery of playing 60 minutes a game may have some wear and tear on him, but I’m confident in the depth I have at the quarterback position also.”

The offence at training camp will look familiar, led by veteran slotbacks Nik Lewis and Ken-Yon Rambo. There’s a question mark hanging over 33-year-old Rambo, however, after an injury-plagued 2011.

“Ken-Yon is a very explosive player when he’s right,” Hufnagel said. “I’m hoping to see a right Ken-Yon Rambo come June.”

Calgary’s all-time leading rusher Joffrey Reynolds won’t be at camp for the first time in eight years. Jon Cornish completed the transition to No. 1 running back last season and Reynolds was released in January.

Competition for jobs on defence should be tight. Rick Campbell, who came from the Eskimos, is the new defensive co-ordinator. Calgary’s front seven was a revolving door last season due to injuries.

“I would like to see by the end of training camp either the starters that were here last year, who are now healthy, resume the type of play that made them the starters in the first place, or the players we brought in . . . to show they have the right to be starters,” Hufnagel said.

Ameet Pall will start camp at defensive end, although Hufnagel is ready to move his first overall pick this year to another position that suits him.

Improving on a 5-4 home record, reducing a league-leading 33 fumbles and cutting down on penalties are areas requiring urgent attention this year, according to the coach and GM.

“I want to try to instill that discipline type play from the outset of training camp so we know how to play the game by the rules and actually do play the games by the rules,” Hufnagel said.

The Stampeders also announced the signing of import defensive lineman Renard Williams. He played four seasons of college football with the Eastern Washington Eagles and was named to the all-conference team in 2009 and 2010.

Williams compiled a career 139 tackles, 22.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 48 games for the Eagles.