‘His arrow’s going up’: Argos’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie believes high-profile rookie Chad Kelly has ‘earned’ the backup quarterback job

Photo courtesy: Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca

The Toronto Argonauts have already made clear that veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson will be their starting quarterback to begin the 2022 season, but now the heated battle for the team’s backup job has been decided as well.

On Sunday, the team announced the release of Antonio Pipkin, the team’s incumbent number two quarterback, as part of the CFL’s mandatory mid-training camp roster cutdown. This means that high-profile offseason addition Chad Kelly has lived up to the hype, officially seizing the backup job behind Bethel-Thompson.

“Chad, he’s been here for about 10 days and Pip’s been in this league for about five years,” head coach Ryan Dinwiddie told the media of his decision Sunday. “I just felt like Chad took the reins and ran with it. He earned the two job.”

Kelly had drawn praise from Dinwiddie for his performance throughout the initial phase of training camp, but Friday’s preseason loss to the Ottawa Redblacks confirmed the assessment.

Pipkin drew the start and finished a respectable 7-of-9 passing for 60 yards and an interception, adding a 10-yard scramble, but it was Kelly who caught the eye of every observer. The big-armed CFL rookie was 7-of-12 for 78 yards and carried four times for 19 more, flashing far more potential than even that stat line would suggest.

“Once it’s live, you can kind of confirm who you think he is,” Dinwiddie explained. “He did some good things. It wasn’t pretty all the time, but he’s playing behind a pretty tough offensive line, guys that are probably fighting to make our club against the starting defence.”

“He did some good things, some things we wanted to be operated a little bit differently, but for the most part, I think his arrow’s going up and he’s doing the right things.”

That led to the release of Pipkin, who was entering his fifth CFL season despite being two years younger than Kelly. The 26-year-old dressed for seven games with the Argos last season, completing 13-of-26 pass attempts for 158 yards and one interception. He also ran the ball 27 times for 131 yards and five touchdowns.

The native of Gary, Ind. started his CFL career as a member of the Montreal Alouettes in 2017. He dressed for 27 games with the club and threw for 1,295 yards, four touchdowns, and eight interceptions, while also rushing 58 times for 318 yards and nine touchdowns.

Kelly, meanwhile, is entering his first CFL campaign with high expectations. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly threw for 6,800 yards, 50 touchdowns and 21 interceptions over two seasons as the starter at the University of Mississippi while rushing 187 times for 841 yards and 15 scores.

Despite his dominance at Ole Miss, off-the-field concerns led Kelly to fall all the way to the final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft — known as Mr. Irrelevant — and a charge for criminal trespassing saw him released by the Denver Broncos just over a year later. He spent two uneventful seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before coming north, where he has become the latest big-name college quarterback to get CFL fans and media excited.

Few of those players have panned out in the past and some may question the Argos’ decision to enter the season with a backup still learning the Canadian game. Dinwiddie has no such concerns over Kelly’s inexperience.

“He is a rookie, but at the same time, I felt like he’s established himself as a solid two. We felt like it was time to put Chad in that spot and develop [Austin Simmons] as our three for now,” the Argos’ coach said. “We might look to bring in some young blood to add to the QB room, but right now we just felt like Chad took that next step and won the two job.”

Fans will get a chance to see Kelly in action again next Friday when Toronto wraps up their preseason against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Dinwiddie expects the 28-year-old rookie to see roughly a quarter of action, but McLeod Bethel-Thompson will get the majority of the first half to shake off the offseason rust.

While a quarterback controversy could begin to brew as the season goes on, Kelly will hold the clipboard to start his CFL career. Nevertheless, by winning the backup job he’s taken the first step towards fulfilling his promise of stardom.

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