QB controversy inevitable

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

If Vegas oddsmakers had heard of the CFL you can bet there'd be a line on the 'Hankili Debate', which is to say just how long will it take for Calgarians to stir up a quarterback controversy.

Henry (Hank) Burris or Akili Smith?

A month ago it would have been unheard of to believe anyone but Burris would direct a Stampeders squad so deep in talent anything less than a Grey Cup appearance would be considered another flop.

However, something happened in training camp that has fans excited and coaches breathing a deep sigh of relief: Mr. Smith proved his worth.

Not only that, he proved he has the attitude and skill set to perhaps flourish in three down football much like he did as a collegiate stud at Oregon.

Unlike dozens of collegiate hotshots who've promptly lost their way (and their careers) in Canada, the 31-year-old Smith shook off two years of inactivity to be the star attraction in a pair of pre-season games in which he racked up almost all of Calgary's points.

The former NFL first rounder who joined the Stamps after a pickup basketball game with pals prompted him to revisit his pro-football career, is already showing the sort of poise and leadership that earned him a US$10 million signing bonus Cincinnati football fans still talk about.

Without it, there'd be far less optimism in Stamps camp as the club would be one hit away from losing the only quarterback capable of directing such immense offensive talent.

With Smith's pedigree and passion for a game he clearly doesn't need to play, the Stamps have an option when things go sideways for Burris as they do every so often (like every playoff game he's played as a Stamp.)

"There's no question Akili was a huge question mark and I feel extremely proud like a parent with him," said head coach Tom Higgins.

"It's something he doesn't need but wants and you're happy for someone who chases something he wants and gets it. You knew the tools were there.

"He has a command of the offence and is cool under pressure and can make tough throws and soft touch passes too.

"In the pre-season he passed with flying colours."

How he'll fare against starting defences around the league is obviously a completely separate issue -- an issue many fans already want to see explored.

That said, no one could possibly suggest by virtue of his vanilla pre-season outings Burris should be unseated as the Stamps opening day starter Saturday against Hamilton.

However, one hanging pass to the flats or one forced throw into traffic and the moans we hear so often at McMahon Stadium with Burris at the helm will be followed by suggestions Smith be thrown into the fray.

It's not rational but it's inevitable.

It says here the whispers will start no later than Week 3.

And that has everything to do with Burris' playoff history in Calgary, where his offence has turned the ball over 11 times in the last two West Semifinals losses.

Despite being one of the best quarterbacks in the CFL the last two years, many Calgarians simply refuse to believe the Stamps will ever be able to win the big games with Burris at the controls.

Thus, Smith is the perfect ingredient for what promises to be a powder keg of controversy by mid-season.

If anyone can handle the criticism and second-guessing, it's Burris.

How Smith handles the opportunity he's sure to get at some point is the wildcard -- a card frustrated Stamps fans will certainly look to play sooner rather than later.


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