Unlike the wayward passes he threw early last season, the smile on Henry Burris' face didn't seem forced yesterday.
Asked on the eve of tonight's season opener against the Edmonton Eskimos about his habitually slow starts, the 31-year-old Calgary Stampeders quarterback couldn't contain a grin that suggested this year would be different.
"My whole career has been a slow start," beamed Burris, acknowledging the blatantly obvious.
"Every team I've played on, we've struggled in the first half, stayed around .500 and then in the second half we've caught fire. But now, the entire team is back and we have a great feeling of what we're asked to do from the beginning. I know myself I have a much better feel of how to make things go."
Making things go is exactly what quarterbacks like Burris are paid so handsomely to do, especially in an organization that hit rock bottom before bringing him and other playmakers to town last year. Growing steadily with the likes of Jeremaine Copeland, Nik Lewis and Joffrey Reynolds by his side, Burris went through plenty of growing pains (and turnovers) before transforming the Stamps into legit Grey Cup contenders by fall.
Understandably slow off the mark last year, there are no longer any excuses for the former Roughrider.
This is the year he must prove he's amongst the league's elite.
"Basically this is my first time being in the same city two consecutive seasons as the starting quarterback -- something that every quarterback that's had success in this game has had an opportunity to experience," said Burris who had his first chance since college to read his playbook all winter long.
"You only get better with time and with the time to play within the same system, same organization and with the same guys. A lot of times you just have to experience growing pains throughout the season."
That was certainly the case last year when Burris stopped forcing balls and led the team to seven wins in its last eight starts before a late playoff implosion against Edmonton.
"He became more of a commander -- dishing the ball out to where it should go and using all the tools we had because he had a better command of it," said offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto, working with Burris for the second straight season.
"I think a lot of his slow starts were because of not just having a new offensive coordinator every year but a new offence and new people around him. A lot of what a quarterback is able to accomplish is because he's in concert with the guys he's playing with. He knows how they're going to react to defences and the timing is crisp."
Having spent the off-season in town with Copeland, Lewis and others, Burris now has a veteran backup in Danny McManus to guide him and an offensive line that should buy him time.
"I don't see why he couldn't lead the league in passing this year," said o-lineman Jay McNeil."He's very athletic, he's got great receivers to throw to and we've got a great running game. We saw how much he improved last year and this year everyone's back."
As comfortable with his surroundings as he may ever be, it's now just a matter of making the right decisions and executing the game plan.
"We have the type of team that if we don't turn the ball around we have enough weapons to move the chains," said Burris."And this year we'll do that from day one."
Thus, the smile.