McLeod Bethel-Thompson believes Chad Kelly will ‘put in the work’ as Argos’ QB but warns of challenging ‘CFL transition’

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Chad Kelly has been handed the reins as the Toronto Argonauts starting quarterback, but the man he’s taking over for believes it may be a tougher task than many realize.

Veteran pivot McLeod Bethel-Thompson left the Argos’ starting job vacant when he departed for the USFL last month, seeking better work-life balance and a shot at the NFL. Asked during a recent appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show whether he felt his former franchise was in good hands with Kelly, the 34-year-old refused to downplay the challenges facing his successor.

“The CFL transition, it’s no joke. He loves the game of football. He’s a football junkie. He loves watching film, he loves doing all the process but it’s a hard transition to make,” Bethel-Thompson noted. “I know he’s gonna put the work in and it’s about gelling at the right time and finding the different timings and different spacings.”

Bethel-Thompson led the CFL in passing yards in 2022, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 4,731 yards, 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In 74 games over five seasons with the Argonauts, he threw for 13,261 yards, 70 touchdowns, and 49 interceptions — good enough for fourth all-time in the franchise’s passing record book behind Ricky Ray, Conredge Holloway and Damon Allen.

However, the two-time East Division all-star had to endure plenty of growing pains in his adjustment to the CFL game and did not become an undisputed starter until his final season in Toronto.

“It’s one of the hardest transitions in sports and I don’t think a lot of people give it credit or give it due,” Bethel-Thompson explained. “To be so trained for a specific game and then have to relearn so many of the things that you do in that game while playing the same game, it’s as difficult as you get playing the same sport. It’s not an easy transition.”

Kelly carries with him an impressive resume from south of the border, having thrown for 6,800 yards, 50 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two seasons at the University of Mississippi. Off-the-field issues caused him to fall to the final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he spent parts of four seasons in the league with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts.

The soon-to-be 29-year-old joined the Argos ahead of the 2022 season to much fanfare but started just a single game as a rookie. He was 23-of-35 passing for 264 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the regular-season finale against Montreal while rushing six times for 35 yards and a score.

He rose to prominence after Bethel-Thompson suffered a dislocated thumb in the fourth quarter of the Grey Cup, coming off the bench to secure an upset victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Kelly completed four-of-six passes for 43 yards after coming off the bench and set up the game-winning touchdown with a memorable 20-yard scramble on second-and-15.

Including playoffs, Kelly has completed 31-of-52 passes for 386 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions while rushing 32 times for 167 yards and six touchdowns. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly has attracted plenty of media attention on both sides of the border due to his championship game heroics and has created an air of excitement around his potential.

Bethel-Thompson admits that he too will be watching excitedly to see what Kelly can do at the helm. While he wouldn’t make any bold proclamations regarding how his successor will look under centre, he will always be available as a resource should he need one while navigating the transition.

“I will be rooting my butt off for them and I’m here for him if he ever needs to reach out,” Bethel-Thompson said. “I’ve told him that many times.”