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Argonauts' Kelly embracing being 'the guy' for defending Grey Cup champs

Chad Kelly Toronto Argonauts Chad Kelly - The Canadian Press

A year removed from a whirlwind Grey Cup-winning rookie season with the Toronto Argonauts, quarterback Chad Kelly is entering the 2023 season as 'the guy' for the Double Blue and embracing what comes with it.

The 29-year-old joined the Argonauts last season after spending time with the National Football League's Denver Broncos (2017-18) and Indianapolis Colts (2019-20).

Kelly played sparingly in a backup role behind then-starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson during the 2022 season, throwing for 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Buffalo native also helped on the ground in short-yardage situations, rushing for 137 yards and punching in six touchdowns on 25 carries.

Months later on a cold Regina night, Kelly's name would become forever linked to the 109th Grey Cup against the two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Bethel-Thompson was forced to miss the final quarter of the game with a thumb injury, prompting Kelly, like a closer three outs away from a World Series win, to finish the job. The former Ole Miss Rebel took control in the fourth quarter and helped lead the Boatmen to their first league title since 2017.

Much has changed for the Double Blue since that Mosaic Stadium championship game. The most notable move being Bethel-Thompson's departure from the CFL to join the United States Football League's New Orleans Breakers to be closer to family, leaving the keys to Kelly.

"It was huge," said Kelly on what it was like having the chance to learn behind a player of Bethel-Thompson's calibre and the lasting impact he had. "To have a guy that just didn't give up, kept on going every single day, brought the energy; he brought everything you want to see in a franchise quarterback."

Entering a new season, the former `Mr. Irrelevant` of the 2017 NFL Draft class as the last pick by the Denver Broncos (253rd overall) is anything but this time around.

"It's a lot different," Kelly said on being the projected starter of the 2023 Argonauts. "I don't want to say I feel comfortable, but I feel like I essentially belong. I've met some fantastic people. I've just really been kind of dedicated to bettering myself on the football field and off the football field. I've surrounded myself with a great team to help me in all aspects of my game."

Reflecting on his first season in the CFL, there were nuances and intricacies unique to the Canadian game that Kelly admits took some getting used to.

"I would say probably just a waggle," Kelly said on what was the biggest change from the American to the Canadian game.

"There's a lot of moving parts and at first, you're starting to think, 'Hey, I just need this guy to get over here.' You're not really worried about the defence. Now, I'm starting to see things rock and roll and man, zone [coverage]. That's how you have accelerated vision. So I felt like I've definitely come accustomed to it."

Having grown accustomed to the offence now, continuity will play a huge role in 2023, as the Argonauts have a plethora of returning weapons such as perennial All-Star Andrew Harris at running back and Most Outstanding Canadian runner-up Kurleigh Gittens Jr. at receiver.

"We can do a lot more things," said Kelly on the Argos' 2023 offence. "With everybody having a chance to already run the system, and being a part of it back in Calgary and, you know, Markeith [Ambles] and D.D. [DaVaris Daniels] and Kurleigh coming along... There's a lot of guys that trust the system and know the system. Know it in-and-out, and that's what we're always trying to strive for. How can we get better?"

A few quarterbacks traded their old jerseys for new ones in a shuffling of the stars this past off-season: Bo Levi Mitchell gave up his Stampeders’ red and white for Hamilton Tiger-Cats' black and gold, and former Roughriders QB Cody Fajardo and Montreal Alouettes QB Trevor Harris switched teams. But the biggest move the Argos made in the off-season was the one they didn't make – opting not to bring in an established, veteran QB to compete with Kelly. A move that Kelly took as a sign.

"Huge," was the way Kelly described how much confidence that was instilled in him and his abilities at that moment.

"I think they saw my work ethic last year, I think they saw what I could do throughout the year and, obviously, at the biggest stage I could go out and still be ready."

With the Argos' regular-season opener against their rivalled Tiger-Cats just weeks away, Kelly is looking forward to just playing his game and letting the season roll on.

"I think just kind of just let it come to me," Kelly said. "You don't need to press...I think at the end of the day, things will take care of itself. We have great coaches in coach (Ryan) Dinwiddie. He knows what he's doing out there. So it's not like it's his first rodeo."