Patience must be among Drew Tate’s qualities as a quarterback, given how long he’s waited for his first CFL start.
It’s not easy being second-stringer behind Henry Burris, who has long been a durable and proven game-winner for the Calgary Stampeders. Burris just doesn’t make it easy for backups to get on the field.
Deep into his third season with the Stampeders, Tate will finally take Calgary’s first snap Friday, against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“It’s just about being ready when that opportunity comes,” Tate said Tuesday. “Now it’s here and I’m going to be ready.
“I’m actually preparing the same way I’ve prepared this whole year really. Every game I’ve gotten prepared for, I’ve always gone in visualizing going in and winning the game. This is no different.”
The 27-year-old from Baytown, Tex., isn’t as physically imposing as Burris. Listed at six feet and 195 pounds, he’s an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter.
Tate has been a reliable, low-risk performer in the game reps he has had. Tate posted a 71-per-cent completion rate last season with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
This year, Tate’s completed 38 of 62 attempts for a 61.3 rating, thrown four touchdown passes and, again, no picks.
“Drew has a real tight delivery, takes care of the ball, he’s very accurate,” Stampeders offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson said. “He hasn’t played a ton. We’re still working on his reads and all that business but he’s very competitive.
“He does seem to have the ability to make a play. I wouldn’t say he’s overly athletic, but he’s better than people give him credit for. He makes things happen with his feet.”
Tate could have gone stagnant on the sidelines watching Burris pass franchise and league milestones and win the CFL most outstanding player award last season.
But Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel and Dickenson inserted Tate to run in short-yardage situations both this season and last. Tate compiled five touchdowns and 189 rushing yards on 36 carries in 2010. He’s scored four rushing touchdown this year on 37 carries for 88 yards.
Tate says feeling relied on to score and convert first downs in pressure situations helped prepare him for this moment.
“It’s gotten me on the field,” Tate pointed out. “It’s a whole different world playing as opposed to standing and watching.
“I’ve got to thank coach Hufnagel and coach Dickenson because they started that with me last year and we had success with it.”
Tate’s first start isn’t a meaningless game for Calgary either. While the Roughriders (4-11) are out of playoff contention and Calgary (8-7) is ensured a playoff berth, the Stampeders still need a win to keep any chance at a home playoff game alive.
A Calgary loss combined with wins by the Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions (both 9-6) this weekend means no playoff game at McMahon Stadium for the first time since 2007.
“Every game in professional sports means something because your job is on the line, regardless if it’s about playoffs or anything like that,” Tate said. “Saskatchewan isn’t going to be in the playoffs, but I guarantee those guys, the game means something to all of them.
“We’re going to go out there, and we’re winning the game. That’s the mindset regardless of what the scenario is or what’s going on.”
Tate replaced Burris late in the first half of last Friday’s game in Toronto where Burris was picked off twice and threw six passes for 64 yards. Tate’s 19-for-28 completion rate, 263 yards and two touchdown passes gave the Stamps a chance to beat the Argos, but the visitors fell short 31-29.
In announcing his intent to start Tate in place of Burris in Friday’s game, Hufnagel said Burris has played “a bit hesitant” in Calgary’s 2-5 record over their last seven games. Hufnagel wants the 36-year-old “to catch his breath” before the final two games of the regular season.
Burris is unhappy with that decision, but says he harbours no ill-will towards Tate.
“I always feel I should be out there. I think I’ve earned that right to be out there and that’s something I feel I shouldn’t even have to talk about, but it was the coach’s decision and I’m a team guy,” Burris said.
“Drew is a friend of mine and I want to see him do well out there because he’ll help our team out. I don’t want him to go out there and not be prepared. I kind of got a good feel for Saskatchewan and the thing I can do is help him out with some of my experiences because I’ve played against them three times already this year.”