Nealy impressive before injury

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

The question wasn't whether Barrick Nealy could run.

That was answered in last year's regular season finale when the Stamps backup quarterback turned six carries into 72 yards and three touchdowns.

The question that needed to be answered in last night's pre-season opener revolved around whether the kid could put the ball in the air with any level of competence.

The good news is in the midst of a relief appearance where he showed better speed and moves than most of halftime's Superdogs, the CFL's version of Forrest Gump actually took time out from his darting and dashing to show a pretty solid arm. Spirals and everything.

Although roughly 18,000 fans left McMahon Stadium talking about his brilliant 12-yard touchdown run or the 27-yarder that preceded it, the 25-year-old understudy actually looked good converting three of his four passes as part of an impressive outing that confirmed he is Henry Burris' stunt double.

The bad news is that his first weakness was exposed, coming in the form of a dinged knee: The only thing that appeared capable of shutting him down on the evening.

After being hit somewhat awkwardly at the end of a four-yard run, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound pivot got up momentarily before crumpling to the turf in front of the Stamps bench in obvious discomfort.

It was there his night would end with a right knee injury that had him trying to walk off the pain by pacing for the final five minutes of the first half.

All told, he had five rushes for 67 yards and three completed passes for 33 yards.

The only pass that didn't finish safely in the arms of a teammate was a perfect 50-yard throw to a streaking Ryan Thelwell, who couldn't hold on due to brilliant coverage. Nealy's only blemish was a botched exchange with Rob Cote that wound up on the turf and, soon after, in the B.C. Lions' hands.

While the extent of his injury was unknown following the game, it's apparent there's no need to panic, thanks to a surprisingly solid debut by Roughriders castoff Drew Tate, who instantly became the favourite to back up Nealy.

Throwing one touchdown before the half and another early in the third that was called back erroneously, the generously-listed six-footer showed tremendous poise en route to a four-for-six outing that saw him rack up 97 yards and one rushing touchdown in just over a quarter of work.

One of the only redeeming qualities of CFL exhibition games for fans is the showcasing of depth quarterbacks.

And last night there was plenty to be optimistic about in Calgary as John Hufnagel looks to do with quarterbacks what his previous CFL employer, Wally Buono, has done so well throughout his career -- develop the next one. A former Stamps QB himself, Hufnagel had to be impressed by what he saw behind centre last night.

Arena League veteran Matt D'Orazio -- who clearly wasn't warned about the perils of wearing the same No. 7 Jeff Garcia made famous here -- mopped up in the fourth.

And he did so fashionably, finding Jabari Arthur down the middle for an 81-yard pass-and-run TD play that was the highlight of the night.

After opening the night three-of-seven for 42 yards, Burris will certainly see more action Tuesday in Saskatchewan, where he'll put the final touches on a camp that sets him up to be the pre-season favourite for MVP honours.

As long as he stays healthy his backup is obviously irrelevant.

However, it's comforting to know all might not lost, if an injury wipes the smile off the face of ol' Hank.


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