Argos, Harris Move on From Each Other
Scott Milanovich remembers the first time he worked out Trevor Harris and the first impression the quarterback left with the head coach.
The Argos head coach watched on film how Harris threw the football and how he would work the pocket. But it wasn’t until Milanovich was given a close-up look at Harris when he began to realize what film couldn’t reveal.
“He came up for a workout,’’ began Milanovich, who at the time lived in Hornell, N.Y. “We were in a high school gym in the middle of winter.
“He threw the ball fine, but it’s easy to throw in a high school gym. The one thing I remember was him going up and jumping off two feet and grabbing the rim with two hands. It showed me he was a better athlete than what I saw on film.”
Harris is from Waldo, Ohio, but was more than willing to make the drive to New York State for a shot at being signed.
The Argos had both Harris and running back Chad Kackert on their negotiation list, two guys who became good friends during their time in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
They would then become teammates in Toronto, each one part of a Grey Cup winning club in 2012, when Kackert was named MVP.
The fortunes of both, however, have changed dramatically. Kackert is biding him time on Toronto’s practice roster. Harris is now in Ottawa, taking over the starting QB reins from Henry Burris and preparing for his first return visit to Toronto on Wednesday night.
A lot will be said and written about Harris lighting it up for the Redblacks. But the bottom line is that he had a choice to return to the Argos after serving as their starting QB in place of injured Ricky Ray last year.
Talks began between Harris’ representatives and the Argos begans long before Ray returned to the field, but nothing in the way of a new contract was arranged.
Harris has always been the ultimate team guy, a well-grounded, highly respected and well-liked individual who was having an MOP season until late in the season in 2015.
Whether it was pressure, whether his demands were made public, whether it was a moment when Harris became rattled, something went amiss and the writing was on the wall when Milanovich made Ray his starter.
The way Harris is playing is eerily reminiscent of how he played early last season in Toronto, when he produced a near perfect game in the season opener against a difficult Edmonton defence, then engineered a sublime late touchdown drive in Regina to tie the game before leading the Boatmen to a win in overtime.
At the end, though, Harris threw a pick six against Calgary in an Argos home game played in Hamilton. Then came the hook the following week against Montreal.
It was over, by all intents and purposes, Harris needing and deserving of a new home. And much like last season, he is now filling in for a veteran quarterback who is bound for the Hall of Fame.
“He’s doing well for them,’’ said Milanovich. “He did well for us. He’s a smart kid who understands the game, works hard at it and who wants to be a coach. Those are the things you look for in a quarterback.”
People are going to second-guess how the Argos allowed Zach Collaros to walk away for nothing and now Harris. They’ll look at Ray and his numbers and question his quickness — as if Ray ever was quick — and draw the conclusion that he should never have been brought back.
What people fail to see is how long the CFL season is, the many changes, the highs and lows and how it’s imperative to find a rhythm late in the season when momentum is required for a post-season run.
Collaros came of age in the second half of the 2014 Grey Cup, a loss to the Stamps, but is still a ways away from returning from a knee injury.
Harris has never taken a snap in the post-season and it’ll be interesting to see how Ottawa deals with its quarterback situation once Burris is healthy.
“We made Trevor an offer,’’ said Milanovich. “He and/or his agent turned it down. It was a good offer and this was before Ricky was healthy enough to play. Then Ricky did get healthy enough to play and we had to make a decision and it’s the decision we went with.”
It was business and Harris decided to go elsewhere.
“We wanted Trevor back and I think the world of Trevor,’’ continued Milanovich. “I still pull for him when we’re not playing him. He and his camp made a decision. They were offered a legitimate starter’s contract when Ricky was not playing. It’s his right to not take it and we have to make a decision that’s best for us and we did.”
And life goes on.
Brandon Isaac’s first season in Toronto saw the franchise with two veteran arms in Ray and Jarious Jackson, plus two young guns in Collaros and Harris.
“He (Harris) was a hungry guy,’’ said Isaac. “He and Zach would come into the gym and play basketball (when the Argos were based at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus). He was always prepared, a God-fearing guy who did his due diligence in the dark (away from the field), waiting in the background for his opportunity.
“I’m very proud of him, happy for him because he’s really worked hard for this opportunity and as you can see he’s making the best of this opportunity. Hopefully he continues to have success.”
WILLIAMS’ ELECTRICITY BACK ON
Chris Williams has regained the form that made him the most explosive player in the CFL, when he terrorized teams during his days in the Hammer.
When he left the Ticats for the NFL in 2013, Williams wasn’t able to replicate his exploits in four down football, in part because he wasn’t given the proper opportunity, in part because he just didn’t have an NFL game.
In his first year back to the CFL last season, he showed flashes in Ottawa, but seldom did you see the complete package from his time in Hamilton.
He’s now back to that form, a threat each time he touches the ball and the Argos are now faced with trying to game plan against him.
Speed kills, it’s been said and often validated, and it’s Williams’ flat-out speed that puts fear into defensive backs and defences.
In three games, Williams has six touchdowns on 25 receptions. He has produced 493 receiving yards and 574 combined yards.
In last Friday night’s tie against visiting Calgary, Williams hauled in 10 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s very explosive, he makes things happen,’’ said Argos veteran linebacker Brandon Isaac, who can recall the playmaking ability of Williams when he too lined up with the Ticats. “You watch him on film and he’s very electric.
“He’s electric right now and hard to stop, but hopefully we can draw some things together, put some plans together, and slow him down.”
In the Hammer, it was Williams’ elite level on special teams that made him such a force and presence, outside and inside, shifty and elusive, he was a combination of Rocket Ismail and Pinball Clemons.
“He was always a dynamic player,’’ recalled Isaac. “He was always a better special teams player because he’d score a lot of touchdowns on punt returns and off missed field goals. I think he’s one of the fastest guys from zero to 60. His acceleration is tremendous. He makes plays, but hopefully we can put some things together and slow him down.”
Of course, it’s still early, but three games into the season, no defence has been able to slow Williams or disrupt the obvious chemistry he has with quarterback Trevor Harris, who trusts his receiver will go up and make a play.
“I see that,’’ added Isaac of the quarterback-receiver relationship. “I also see DBs fearing his speed. A lot of people play too far off of him. When he catches the ball he has too much space.”
He then referenced Williams’ 52-yard TD catch-and-run in Thursday’s 26-26 tie with the Stampeders. Williams caught the short pass out in the flat near midfield. But, with Calgary’s Fred Bennett about to angle him to the sideline, Williams simply burst past him on the outside and was gone.
“I think Fred Bennett was in the right position, able to push him out of bounds,” Isaac said. “But because (Williams) was so fast and caught the ball with a couple of feet of room in front of (Bennett), he was able to get up the sideline.”
Isaac added, however, that you can’t focus on Williams when defending Ottawa.
“It’s not just him (Williams),’’ continued Isaac. “Their receiving corps is working really, really, really well.”
“(Greg) Ellingson is a phenomenal receiver as well. Ernest Jackson is like the dog who goes hard and will make the hard play. (Brad) Sinopoli is that underneath guy, Mr. Reliable. Those guys put defences in an uncomfortable position. They try to expose weakness.
“Stoobs (Argos defensive coordinator Rich Stubler) is a very intelligent guy, he lines us up and we have a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. A lot of things happened (in B.C. last Thursday) but we were able to get off the field and hopefully that will continue to happen, find that continuity and build because we are in our first year in this system. Game to game we are improving a lot, making some great changes and showing well overall as a team.”
ARGOS INJURIES PILE UP
There wasn’t much encouraging news on the injury front in Argoland.
Tracy Robertson, a very good defensive tackle, will be sidelined for as many as six weeks after an MRI revealed a sprain in his MCL, the second time in as many seasons that he has sustained an early-season injury.
First-year defensive halfback Joshua Mitchell has a hamstring issue.
“He’ll be out for a while,’’ said head coach Scott Milanovich.
As for Jermaine Gabriel, who missed last Thursday’s game in B.C., after being hurt in Regina, the Argos are in what Milanovich describes as a wait and see moment.
“He’ll try to practise (Monday),’’ he said.
Matt Black started at safety against the Lions.
Meanwhile, defensive back A.J. Jefferson is expected to be back.