'Lot of learning to do'

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

The man waiting in the wings behind Henry Burris has sympathy for the heat the Calgary Stampeders starting quarterback is taking.

"I've been where Hank is at right now," said No. 2 pivot Akili Smith, who was the starter for the woeful 2000 Cincinnati Bengals.

"The only thing you can do is continue to work hard. Obviously, at the quarterback position, you never want to turn the ball over the way he turned the ball over last game.

"Turnovers happen so if we get those things corrected, we would have won the game easily."

During Saturday's 32-27 loss to the B.C. Lions, Burris threw two interceptions and fumbled twice.

Disgruntled fans began screaming for Smith to take over shortly after the loss that dropped the Stamps to 2-3, but even the 31-year-old former third-overall NFL pick says he's not quite ready yet.

After being out of football for two years and coming to the three-down, 12-man game, Smith is still working on getting up to speed and into a rhythm with his teammates.

"I'm still trying to figure out where that 12th guy on defence is at all times," Smith said. "I'm getting pretty close and I think the coaches see that and my teammates see that. When I get my opportunity, I just have to seize it."

When Smith was in the NFL, he started 17 games in a four-year span with the Bengals after they drafted him in 1999.

In 2000, his second season, he started 10 games and lost eight fumbles while throwing six interceptions, so he knows how much turnovers can hurt a team trying to get on the right track.

The Oregon product came to the CFL to resurrect his career but he isn't pushing to get playing time at this point.

His first action as a Stampeder didn't go great when he was inserted with massive deficits in back-to-back blowouts against Saskatchewan and Toronto.

The Stamps have said they want to get him some playing time when they aren't down by 17 -- the situation he entered against the Argos in which he threw three interceptions in a quarter of action.

"I haven't heard anything about getting in there," said Smith, who is 12-of-25 for 132 yards, no TDs and four picks on the season.

"Whenever I get my number called, I will play better than the last time I was out there in Toronto.

"We'll see what the coaches decide. Hopefully I won't have to play because Henry takes us on a heck of a run. I'm on both sides of the spectrum right now.

"We just have to stay focused on improving and my job is just to continue to learn. I'm a rookie up here so I have a lot of learning to do. As experience is concerned, I'm not a rookie but my experience with the CFL game is still new."

All season, Smith has supported Burris, no more so than during the last outing when he offered advice to the veteran every time he came off the field.

"I just ask him what he's seen and what he thought and see if we can make a quick adjustment on the sidelines," Smith said. "He's real receptive to listening and talking to me on the sidelines."

Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins said there will be no warning sign as to when Smith will be ready but it will be more of a feeling. Higgins just hopes the pivot responds if he is pressed into action.

"It could happen this Saturday, but I hope that's not necessarily the case," Higgins said. "It's a unique game and people get it at different stages.

"Prime time isn't where we think (Akili)'s at, but he does have all the prime time attributes of a quarterback who could hold his own at the right time."


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