Bring in the Closer

Drew Tate is averaging a touchdown every five carries. Not bad for a backup quarterback.

Calgary Stampeders quarterbacks Henry Burris

Calgary Stampeders quarterbacks Henry Burris

CALGARY — Drew Tate is averaging a touchdown every five carries. Not bad for a backup quarterback.

The Calgary Stampeders have been inserting Tate to finish some scoring drives from short yardage and Tate has been effective.

The move reduces wear and tear on starter Henry Burris, who was named the CFL’s offensive player of the week Tuesday, and makes Tate feel more involved in the game.

“It’s an opportunity for me to get in, make a play and help the team out,” Tate said Tuesday at McMahon Stadium. “This is the first year I’ve ever done it and it’s worked out so far.

“Just to take an extra hit off Hank is basically what it comes down to.”

The lot of a backup quarterback in the CFL, especially on a team where the No. 1 is as entrenched and as durable as Burris, is he gets into games where the score is so lopsided, his team isn’t likely to lose even if he makes a mistake. Or, his team is so far behind there’s virtually no chance of winning.

Tate feels he’s had a real effect on the outcome of games by punching the ball in for four touchdowns on third-and-goal situations.

“It’s still six points,” the 27-year-old from Baytown, Texas, said. “Every little bit helps.”

Tate can throw the ball too. He’s completed 21 of 28 passes for five touchdowns this season. But when Burris needed a breather, Tate has converted majors from the opposition’s doorstep.

The six-foot, 192-pound Iowa product has been given that chore more than Stampeder backups in recent years. Quarterbacks coach Dave Dickenson, who calls the offence on game days, says Tate has carved a niche for himself in his second season with the club.

“What I like about Drew is he’s competitive and he likes that extra responsibility,” Dickenson said. “He took ownership. If you’re going to be a quarterback sneak runner or do short yardage, you’ve got to be tough. He’s not an overly big guy, but you’ve got to fight for every inch and you’ve got to have great ball security. No turnovers. Hank is cool with it too. It’s probably cost him a touchdown throw here or there, but I think overall he’s healthier because of it.”

It’s also important to keep the backup mentally involved in the game, said Dickenson, a former quarterback himself, because he’ll be more prepared to play in the event the starter goes down to injury.

“As the weather gets colder too, I honestly think it’s good to get your backup in sometimes,” he continued. “I used to hold on field goals for that reason as a backup because I felt at least you’re on and off the field and you are touching the ball. If you do get the call, you feel more comfortable with game situations.”

Burris, 35, doesn’t mind giving up the ball to Tate if his backup is successful.

“He’s a young guy so his body is much fresher than mine,” Burris said with a smile. “He’s on top of what he needs to do. He stayed focused each and every week. He knows the game plan inside and out. I think it does save some hits on me, but it gets him in there and allows him to do some things.”

While Tate isn’t as powerful a runner as backs Joffrey Reynolds or Jon Cornish, the offensive line doesn’t make adjustments for Tate when he comes into the game. Left guard Steve Myddelton can’t recall too many times where Tate was stopped by the defence.

“The thing with Drew is when he comes in, it’s usually in a third and short situation,” Myddelton explained. “He comes into the huddle and now that he’s got a bunch of touchdowns this year, we all feel confident that he’s going to get the job done, so we get ready to hunker down, drive off the ball and get him in the end zone. He’s just got a nose for the end zone.”

The Stampeders (10-3) depart Saturday for Montreal and a rematch against the Alouettes (9-4). Calgary beat the Als 46-21 at home on Friday.

Calgary head coach John Hufnagel said halfback Brandon Isaac, who hurt his shoulder Friday, was unlikely to play in Montreal, which would activate John Dixon from the practice roster.