Arms race intensifies

Pivots, from left, Michael Souza, Henry Burris, Jason Gesser, and Darnell Kennedy are seen here at...

Pivots, from left, Michael Souza, Henry Burris, Jason Gesser, and Darnell Kennedy are seen here at Calgary Stampeders training camp Sunday, May 29, 2005. (Calgary Sun/Darren Makowichuk)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Four quarterbacks. Three roster spots.

Something's gotta give.

One of the most intriguing battles in Calgary Stampeders training camp was launched yesterday with a flurry of footballs from the arms of pivots Henry Burris, Darnell Kennedy, Jason Gesser and Michael Souza.

While Burris' position is assured atop the quarterbacking pile, as he's expected to lead a rejuvenated offence, the three backups will jockey for the No. 2 and 3 spots over the next two weeks.

While it's far too early to start grading their status, Burris contends all four must continue improving as the two-week camp progresses leading into the first pre-season game June 7 against Saskatchewan.

"It went well for the first day but obviously there's lots of things we have to keep working on," said Burris, 29, who signed as a high-priority free agent in mid-February.

"We're still just trying to get the basics down and get a feel for one another.

"That just comes with the work we put in and it's just going to get easier each and every day for us as we put in more routes and continue to rep those things out it gets easier.

"You can definitely tell the guys I've worked with already and the guys I haven't but that goes for each and every one of us quarterbacks. Next practice will be better -- a lot crisper -- and that's the kind of improvement we expect each and every day."

Among backups, Kennedy is the most experienced, having spent all of 2002 and part of '03 with the Stampeders before being traded to Ottawa, where he was the understudy to Kerry Joseph. Despite injuring his ankle early in a game against Calgary last season, Kennedy persevered, completing 73% of his passes in a 31-30 win. He has shown plenty of potential with a strong arm and impressive mobility.

Gesser, a former Washington State star, could also fit the bill as Burris' backup, having spent 2003 as a project with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

"I don't get consumed by all those things as far as earning a certain position," said Gesser, who'll celebrate his 26th birthday tomorrow. "My job is to throw the ball, score touchdowns and win games and that's what I'm focused on doing right now and that's what I'll continue focusing on.

"If I do that, everything else will fall into place. I just need to go out and show I understand this offence and can win games, so that's all I'm trying to show I can do. No matter where you are, that's the key. To grab hold of the offensive concept as quick as you can, so you look like you belong and know what you're doing out there. You can't fool anybody after the first couple of days, you need to know what you're doing."

Souza also showed some promise with the Stampeders last season, dressing in five games and starting one.

Souza's best showing came in a late-game touchdown drive to beat B.C., one reason he's been invited back by the new regime this year to compete for a backup spot.

The Burris-to-Jeremaine Copeland combo, expected to produce spectacular results this season, is already drawing rave reviews, with the starting pivot threading the needle for one of the more spectacular grabs of the first session.

The two entered yesterday's opening two workouts already on the same page after spending last week hooking up in a closed sessions.

Copeland, another high-priced free agent locked up in February, said those sessions helped "to get out early and try to get some of these routes down. We're still learning the offence together so it's going to take time.

"There'll be a couple of small mistakes out there but the whole key is to keep improving a little every day.

"You have to be on the same page as the quarterback or there'll be a whole lot of interceptions and dropped balls.

"You have to know where the quarterback wants you to be at all times. It's important to keep talking and you'll hear us receivers out there talking a whole bunch."


Videos

Photos