Hank goodness!

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

That gust of wind that blew through McMahon Stadium yesterday was more than just the tail end of a chinook.

It also represented the collective sigh of relief from Calgary Stampeders camp as quarterback Henry Burris lined up under centre.

The workout was Burris' first and final full practice prior to tomorrow's CFL West semifinal against the Edmonton Eskimos (4 p.m., CBC-TV, QR77).

After opting out of two days of sessions suffering from flu-like symptoms, the man entrusted with leading the Stamps to their first playoff in four seasons appears revitalized and ready for duty.

"I said I'd be ready for Sunday and I knew I'd have a good chance to be ready to practise (yesterday) just getting over the little stomach thing," Burris said.

"That has pretty much subsided all the way. I feel a little weak but everything's coming together quite well, playing with the guys here in practice, getting physical reps in with the guys and doing the little things to communicate with the guys to get myself ready for Sunday."

Signed as a free agent prior to this season, Burris has evolved into the QB the team needed.

The cornerstone of the club's rebuilding program was also named a West Division all-star earlier this week.

Burris completed 14 of 24 passes in a dominant performance last Sunday leading the Stamps to a

43-23 win over the Eskimos to clinch second place and home-field advantage tomorrow.

Had Burris been unable to return, the offence would have been handed over to first-year Stamps QB Jason Gesser, who's had mixed success in a limited role this season.

Head coach Tom Higgins said he felt the team could have still been successful under Gesser but is relieved Plan B won't be needed.

"As an athlete, the next guy has to be ready to go," Higgins said.

"Your whole year can't hinge on any one single person because, at any one single time, that person might not be playing.

"So it's just a relaxed, confident mindset that you want to have going in.

"Really, we weren't panicked but it makes you go, 'Hmmm, that could really seriously hamper your abilities.'

"Henry's back and it's a relief."

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EXPECT RAY TO RESPOND: The recent ineffectiveness of Eskimos QB Ricky Ray has some critics in Edmonton calling for backup Jason Maas to get the starting nod tomorrow.

Ray passed for more than 5,500 yards this season but was just 24 of 40 for 228 yards against the Stampeders last Sunday while also serving up three interceptions.

Stampeders QB Henry Burris also endured criticism earlier this season when his offence struggled, although it has turned into one of the most productive units in the league.

Burris expects Ray to respond with a strong effort in the West semifinal.

"He might be under some pressure but Ricky Ray is a professional, he's responded well to some situations like this," Burris said.

"They are a veteran team, so we expect them to come out and play with a lot of vengeance and looking to get a victory but we feel comfortable about what we're doing."

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READY TO RUN: Import running back Tony Stallings has had plenty of spring in his step carrying the ball in practice -- and so he should.

Stallings, who has spent most of the season on the Stampeders practice roster, will fill the vacancy left by David Allen, who started the last four games but left the club Monday after signing as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams.

Allen played a prominent role in the offence the last two games, sharing the backfield with tailback Joffrey Reynolds.

"I'm very excited at the strong possibility that I'm playing, although I'm smart enough to know things change in the blink of an eye," said Stallings, 27, a Louisville product.

"I was told to get ready because I may get a chance and I'm doing just that.

"I always felt like part of the team. It's always hard to watch them pack up and leave and head off to another part of the country to play."


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