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Chad Kelly eager to prove himself as Toronto Argonauts starting quarterback

GUELPH, Ont. — Chad Kelly is over the 2022 Grey Cup game. Toronto's backup quarterback played a pivotal role in the Argonauts' stunning 24-23 upset win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly (12) celebrates after defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 109th Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. Kelly played a pivotal role in the Argonauts' stunning 24-23 upset win over the Blue Bombers.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

GUELPH, Ont. — Chad Kelly is over the 2022 Grey Cup game.

Toronto's backup quarterback played a pivotal role in the Argonauts' stunning 24-23 upset win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But with the start of the CFL team's rookie camp Wednesday at the University of Guelph, Kelly said it's time to look ahead and not live in the past.

"Essentially, you don't want to see any Grey Cup stuff," Kelly said. "You don't want to talk about it, we've been told not to talk about it and that's kind of the motto you have to have.

"This is a new year, it doesn't matter what we did last year. Yeah, we've brought in some new guys and some guys who did fantastic for us have left and people have to fill that void and really work hard."

However, Kelly did find a cool Grey Cup memento Tuesday when he opened his equipment bag for the first time since the game.

"I found the wristband," he said with a smile. "It brings up some good memories, right?"

The six-foot-two, 216-pound Kelly came up huge in the Grey Cup. Replacing starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson (dislocated right thumb) in the fourth quarter, Kelly — the nephew of former Buffalo Bills star quarterback Jim Kelly — completed four-of-six passes for 43 yards.

But it was Kelly’s crucial 20-yard run on second-and-15 that set up A.J. Ouellette’s five-yard touchdown run that put Toronto ahead 24-23 at 11:36. Canadian defensive lineman Robbie Smith cemented the stirring win by blocking Marc Liegghio's 47-yard field goal attempt with 54 seconds remaining.

And it will be Kelly who will spearhead Toronto's title defence. The 29-year-old enters his second CFL season firmly entrenched as the starter as Bethel-Thompson is currently with the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers.

Not since his final season at Ole Miss (2016) has Kelly been a starting quarterback. Following his college career, Kelly spent time in the NFL with the Denver Broncos (2017-18) and Indianapolis Colts (2019-20) before joining the Argos before last season.

"I'm thankful," Kelly said. "Obviously (the Argos) believe in me.

"I've got to prove it on the field and go out every day and just work extremely hard and get the guys to believe. And then get the guys who aren't on the offensive side of the ball to play hard and believe in me too that I have their back and they have mine. Every day is going to be a grind and we're just going to keep on working hard and do what we do."

Toronto is banking heavily upon Kelly. He's one of four quarterbacks on its training camp roster with returnee Ben Holmes, Byron Scott and rookie Cameron Dukes.

Kelly spent the off-season in Toronto, meeting often with head coach Ryan Dinwiddie, who immediately named Kelly his starter heading into camp when Bethel-Thompson departed.

"I think the physical tools are there," Dinwiddie said. "He's just got to be consistent, take that next step, learn the offence inside out and take charge when we go into our no-huddle (and) I expect him to do that.

"Just continued growth and understand we know how confident he is but we've got to build confidence as far as execution. I think he'll get there."

Dinwiddie, who also serves as Toronto's offensive co-ordinator, expects to tweak his unit to suit Kelly's strengths.

"We're not going to be as much dropback as we were with Mac," Dinwiddie said. "We'll have some quarterback runs for him.

"We've got to be smart about that . . . (but) that's something he can add to our offence."

While he has a firm grasp on the starting job, Kelly is eager to show he's worthy of the No. 1 job.

"You've got to have a chip on your shoulder, right," he said. "Every time I get on the field I feel like I am a man on a mission . . . and my mission right now is to go do it."

Kelly drew one start last year, Toronto's regular-season finale (38-33 loss to Montreal). He completed 26-of-45 passes for 297 yards with two TDs and three interceptions on the season while rushing 25 times for 137 yards (5.5-yard average) and six touchdowns.

Kelly said being able to watch Bethel-Thompson throughout the '22 campaign was beneficial.

"Last year, Mac had a hunch on his back where he was like, 'I have to grind, I have to get it,'" Kelly said. "Seeing that, how he led and how he did an amazing job of getting us to where we needed to go, you try to follow suit."

Kelly said he spent time this off-season working on his mental toughness.

"Obviously we're all mentally tough in some aspects but (it was) how could I take my game to another level and that's what I did," he said. "I'm six years removed from college, I'm obviously a different player and I've got to know what I do best and how I can keep growing in certain aspects.

"Having accelerated vision, still having a quick first step to get out of the pocket, still being able to deliver a catchable ball every time I step out there. It's about adjusting on the fly."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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