Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie won’t rush to judgement on competition between ‘two starting quarterbacks’

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts may have assembled a roster full of star power and vocal personalities, but if you are looking for hot takes on the team’s open QB competition then Ryan Dinwiddie is not your guy.

“We’ll see them when the lights go on. I don’t really judge practice too much. It’s a lot of skelly and almost exclusively 7-on-7,” the first-time head coach said, downplaying opinions formed in the first week of camp.

“Both guys are doing well. They welcome the competition and they’ve been working well together, so it’s a great quarterback room.”

It’s fair to say that both the present and future of the Boatmen hangs on the decision that needs to be made between prized free agent Nick Arbuckle and 33-year-old journeyman McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Only one will be given the chance to right the ship for the struggling franchise. Both are making a compelling case.

“Both guys have done some really good things,” Dinwiddie explained. “Nick’s been in the system, he knows a lot of the reads. Mac had to pick that up and I think has done a phenomenal job picking up what I’ve asked them to do.”

Bethel-Thompson joined Toronto in 2017 and helped the organization win its 17th Grey Cup that season as a backup. In 2019, he earned the starting role, leading the CFL in touchdown passes with 26 against 13 interceptions in 13 starts, while completing 68 percent of his passes for 4,024 yards.

The six-foot-four, 220-pound QB amassed nine games with at least 300 yards passing and two with over 400 yards in 2019, but that wasn’t enough to secure the team’s faith in him long-term. They signed veteran Matt Nichols in free agency, but flip-flopped after the canceled 2020 season and let the former Bomber walk so they could sign the 27-year-old Arbuckle.

The Georgia State product only has seven games starting experience from his time with the Calgary Stampeders, posting a 4-3 record while stepping in for the injured Bo Levi Mitchell. He made a compelling case to be the CFL’s next breakout quarterback, passing for 2,103 yards, eleven touchdowns, and five interceptions.

That success came with Dinwiddie, then Calgary’s offensive coordinator, calling plays and the feeling across the league is that gives him the upper hand heading into 2021. His head coach won’t dismiss it as a factor, but is quick to remind reporters that Bethel-Thompson is hardly confused by the playbook.

“[Arbuckle] should have an advantage when it comes to the system, but Mac spent some time with me last year,” Dinwiddie said, referencing the period before the veteran opted out of his contract to join The Spring League to attempt a return to the NFL.

“He’d been through the install last year before they canceled the season, so he’s been through it before. It’s not foreign for him either. He’s picked it up and he’s playing fast.”

It appears that Dinwiddie feels comfortable entrusting his young career to either signal caller and his faith extends down the roster. Rookies Kenji Bahar and Nick Tiano are learning fast and 25-year-old Antonio Pipkin makes it three passers on the Argos depth chart that have starting experience.

“He’s doing everything we asked him to do. He’s improving, adjusting to a system that is foreign to him,” Dinwiddie added about the presumptive third-stringer and former Montreal Alouette.

“He’s coming from a system that’s, I would say, simpler than ours. There’s a lot on the quarterback’s plate, but he’s been handling. He’s got a big arm. We’re working through some mechanical stuff with him that we want to change, but he’s dialed in and doing a good job.”

That’s great insurance but ultimately all eyes will remain focused at the top of the depth chart until a decision is made and that won’t happen anytime soon. Dinwiddie makes that clear.

“I’ve got two starting quarterbacks on my roster and we’ll let those guys compete.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.