Notes from the North

How's this for quarterback stats: 27 for 30, 360 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions?

Not too shabby, huh?

While football fans all over North America are waiting impatiently for the start of the new NFL season (can you believe the annual Hall of Fame game kicks off in less than two weeks?), the Canadian Football League is already in full swing and the action is hot.

After an off-season of significant quarterback movement, Temple University grad Henry Burris, 37, has ended up with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, leading an offence that seems to be loaded with talent. In this past weekend's game against the Montreal Alouettes, Burris tore the Als apart with a passing performance for the ages, completing 90 per cent of his passes and posting an incredible 156.3 passer rating.

If you're not familiar with the CFL, you might remember Burris from his career at Temple, where he set numerous school records, or from his brief stint in the NFL in 2001 and 2002 (riding the bench with Green Bay for a while before getting a little bit of playing time with the Bears in late 2002).

Burris is a threat both with his legs and with his arm and seems perfectly suited for the TiCats' new high octane offense. The team started slowly, with two close losses, but has turned things around with strong wins over East Division rivals Toronto and Montreal. In each of those last two games, Burris has outperformed CFL legends, first Ricky Ray, newly acquired by the Argos, and then Anthony Calvillo, the league's all-time leader in just about every passing category.

Burris and 'Cats offense have benefited greatly from the addition of Sioux Falls grad Chevon Walker at running back. With speed to burn, Walker gives the Tiger Cats a threat out of the backfield of the like they haven't enjoyed in several seasons. He's so good in his first year in the league that he's knocked former all-star Avon Colborne to the bench.

Walker has also proven himself to be a receiving threat, joining a talented 'Cat receiving corps that already includes burner Chris Williams (New Mexico State), second-year pro Bakarai Grant (UC-Davis) and Canadian threats Dave Stala (Saint Mary's), rookie Samuel Giguere (Sherbrooke) and newly acquired free-agent sensastion Andy Fantusz (Western).

Led by a revamped but impressive offensive line, the Tiger Cats offense under Burris is a force to be reckoned with, having averaged almost 32 points per game in their first four outings. Only Calgary (37 ppg) is doing better.

If Hamilton has a weak spot, however, it's on defense. They've need every point they've been able to score on offense, as the D has given up 34 per game. Fortunately, after allowing 43 and 39 in their first two games (both losses), the TiCat defense seems to have settled down a bit in their last two, holding Toronto to 27 and now the Als to 24.

With Burris leading that impressive offense, the Tiger Cats seem to be able to score on any team. Hamilton will need the defense to continue to improve, however, if it hopes to celebrate Ivor Wynne Stadium's final season after a long, historic run with a Grey Cup victory.


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