Around the CFL: Argonauts RB Andrew Harris proving age is just a number

McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns and Kurleigh Gittens Jr. had 152 receiving yards with a touchdown reception as the Toronto Argonauts defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-21.

Andrew Harris is well aware of what happens to many running backs when a 3 is the first number of their age.

“I got replaced in Winnipeg. That’s how it goes,” the 35-year-old bruiser said this week.

But while the messy breakup between the Blue Bombers and their homegrown franchise player led to some off-season drama, it now seems like it might have been the best thing for both sides.

Even though their rushing numbers are down, the Blue Bombers are 7-0. The Winnipeg-born Harris, meanwhile, signed with the Toronto Argonauts in the winter and is second in league rushing yards with 407 in five games, having played two fewer games than league-leading rusher Jamal Morrow of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (437 yards).

Last week, the five-foot-10, 216-pound Harris went beast mode. He became the first Canadian and the sixth player overall to reach the 10,000-yard rushing mark for his career when he carried the ball a whopping 26 times for 143 yards and also hauled in seven passes for 45 yards in Toronto’s 31-21 road win versus Saskatchewan.

The Argos (3-2) are the only team in the East with a winning record.

As Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett pointed out this week, if the CFL was picking most outstanding player nominations now, the two finalists likely would both be Canadians – Harris and quarterback Nathan Rourke of the B.C. Lions.

“Obviously, there was a void here Toronto had. I’m definitely happy I got the opportunity to fill that void,” Harris said. “We’ve got some great running backs that will be replacing me at some point here, too. At the end of the day, I’m just excited about the opportunity and to still be able to play at the level I’m playing at. I’m doing my best to take care of my body at this point and doing all the right things off the field to make sure I’m healthy and playing at a certain level every week.”

The first player ever to be named Grey Cup MVP and top Canadian in the same game in 2019, Harris admits he wasn’t at his best when the CFL returned in 2021.

Harris told the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen his marriage broke up last year. His physical conditioning was not where it needed to be and he missed half the season due to injury, though Harris was back for the playoffs and another Grey Cup win.

“I think last year was just off in a lot of areas. Maybe that’s just translating to me playing better this year. It looks like I have a chip on my shoulder,” Harris, the CFL’s rushing leader three years in a row from 2017 to ’19, said. “Last year was really just a bad year for me overall on and off the field. The stuff off the field kind of led to on the field more than anything. This year, my head is a lot clearer as far as my surroundings and everything going on in my life.”

Harris said the Argonauts have developed a system where he goes all out on the first day of practice each week before cutting his reps, preserving his body for games.

He also has to monitor himself away from practice.

“In my younger age, I didn’t really stretch or get treatment. I was eating whatever I was eating. I was kind of careless, right?” he said. “As you get older, you realize a late night doesn’t bode well for recovery or not stretching properly or getting treatment once a day isn’t good enough.”

Harris said life is good in Toronto. Him and his girlfriend are expecting a boy around Grey Cup time, which could make for some interesting days if the Argos win the East.

This, of course, would be a good problem to have.

“I’m kind of back to doing what I regularly do,” Harris said. “Maybe a little extra motivation being with a new team and playing the way I am. I don’t really feel there’s any difference from where I have been in the past other than the fact I’m just a year older and a little bit smarter and maybe a little bit slower.”

Harris said that last line with a laugh – for good reason. Hey, even if he is slower, teams can’t seem to slow him down.

What we liked in Week 7

• Speaking of turning back the clock, how about Montreal Alouettes QB Trevor Harris? The 36-year-old was 25-for-31 for 341 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-33 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.

• Staying with the theme of veterans making an impact, 2019 CFL most outstanding player Brandon Banks had a huge 35-yard punt return for the Argos to set up their winning touchdown in Saskatchewan.

What we didn't like in Week 7

• Hamilton Tiger-Cats QB Dane Evans taking a critical time-count violation penalty late in the fourth quarter of a 17-12 loss in B.C. Mistakes like that are why the Ticats are 1-5.

• Redblacks receiver Darvin Adams dropping a late pass in the end zone that would have tied the game against Montreal. Mistakes like that are why the Redblacks are 0-6.

• Argos coach Ryan Dinwiddie asking Boris Bede to try a 61-yard field goal near the end of the first half in Regina. Bede missed and Mario Alford returned it 113 yards for a touchdown. Head-scratching call.

What to watch in Week 8

• Khari Jones, fired as Montreal head coach earlier this season, is now a football operations consultant for the Ticats. Hamilton hosts the Als on Thursday in a battle for second in the East.

• The Calgary Stampeders’ injury list. Coach Dave Dickenson said several players had COVID-19 early in the week. The Stamps host the Blue Bombers in a heavyweight battle on Saturday.

• The Redblacks’ depth chart. Could QB Nick Arbuckle, acquired from Edmonton earlier this season, make his first start for Ottawa in Toronto?

Week 8 picks

Montreal Alouettes at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (-3), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT

Harris returns to Hamilton for the first time since committing four turnovers in a loss in the East semifinal last year. PICK: Hamilton

B.C. Lions (-1.5) at Saskatchewan Roughriders, Friday, 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT

Roughriders had a COVID-19 outbreak last week and QB Cody Fajardo is battling a knee injury. PICK: B.C.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-1.5) at Calgary Stampeders, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT

Calgary has COVID concerns and it’s impossible to bet against the Blue Bombers until they lose. PICK: Winnipeg

Ottawa Redblacks at Toronto Argonauts (-5.5), Sunday, 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT

The Argonauts eked out a win against a severely short-handed Roughriders team and the Redblacks lost yet another close game. Ottawa’s due for a win. PICK: Ottawa

2022 record: 12-15

Odds from FanDuel as of Wednesday night.

Power rankings

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-0, last week: 1): Keep finding ways to win even when not at their best, like last week in Edmonton.

2. B.C. Lions (4-1, last week: 3): Like Winnipeg, managed to win on a bit of an off night against Hamilton. Sign of an improving team.

3. Calgary Stampeders (4-1, last week: 2): Returned from bye week with some COVID-19 absences and now have to face Winnipeg.

4. Toronto Argonauts (3-2, last week: 4): Two wins in a row against Saskatchewan have the Argos in control of the East, but their play has been uneven.

5. Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-3, last week: 5): Discipline problems, a COVID outbreak and an injury to Fajardo are all concerns for Grey Cup hosts. Pressure goes way up if Riders’ losing streak hits three games this week.

6. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1-5, last week: 6): Came close to upset in B.C. on a short week with bad travel. Top Canadian receiver Lemar Durant is set to make his season debut this week.

7. Montreal Alouettes (2-4, last week: 9): Much-needed win in Ottawa for new coach Danny Maciocia in his second game.

8. Edmonton Elks (2-5, last week: 7): Made things challenging for the Bombers, but the home losing streak is now at 10 games.

9. Ottawa Redblacks (0-6, last week: 8): At some point, the Redblacks have to win one of these close games. Doesn’t feel like a winless team.

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