Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin will state it clearly for all those wondering: His team does not have a quarterback controversy.
Henry Burris is a 14-year CFL veteran, a Grey Cup champion and one of the most prolific passers in league history, brought to Hamilton to be the cornerstone of the franchise. Yet, the recent use of backup Dan LeFevour has increased beyond routine short-yardage situations as the Tabbies have won four of their last five, including last Sunday’s East Division semi-final over the Montreal Alouettes. They have also recently used third quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to great effect.
It works, the Ticats say, because these pivots are truly selfless.
“Henry is a good a guy as I’ve ever coached, so he understands why we do it and the value of it,” Austin said. “There is no quarterback controversy. Do I expect him to like it all the time? No, but that’s okay. What I expect him to do when he’s in the game is to perform, and he’s done that. Henry is our guy, he’s our starting quarterback and that has never changed, just because we have a package for Dan or for Jeremiah.”
The Ticats will close practice Friday to all outside the team as they run final on-field preparations for Sunday’s East final against the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre – a move that is rare in the CFL. Naturally, that makes one wonder what sort of quarterback packages they have in store this week to perplex the Argos and their veteran defensive co-ordinator, Chris Jones.
LeFevour, a 26-year-old out of Central Michigan University, rushed 18 times for 61 yards last Sunday, including the winning two-yard touchdown in overtime. He also completed three passes for 36 yards, while Burris was 23 of 36 for 204 yards and a major.
LeFevour laughs when asked if it has created tension among the quarterbacks, calling Burris one of the most giving players he’s ever been around.
“There are only so many reps in a week, so they have to decide how much time they want to spend on the things I do when I’m in there and the things Jeremiah does,” LeFevour said. “Hank understands that everyone has a role and we’re just trying to win. There isn’t a better quarterback that you could do this sort of thing with than Hank.”
Burris, 38, the CFL’s leading passer in the regular season, admits it gets him out of his rhythm to come in and out of games, and can interrupt his ability to recognize defences. But he’s on board with winning playoff games and sees some benefit in keeping fresh, getting extra time to make adjustments on the sidelines and see defences from another vantage point.
“Of course, you always want to be out there, but when you see the success coming from it, it’s a good thing,” Burris said. “I don’t make excuses. I just make sure when I am out there, I do my job. The bottom line is when they put together a game plan, Dan and Jeremiah have done a great job of executing.”
After last week’s game, Austin was asked, as a former CFL quarterback himself, how he might have liked coming in and out of games. He laughed and admitted he might not have.
While the packages have varied dramatically from game to game, depending on the opponent, it’s clear opponents better be prepared for all three pivots.
“We’ve been around those guys for some time and they’re all very unselfish,” Austin said. “They have a great desire to do what they’re asked to do.”