TORONTO — Chad Kelly and the Toronto Argonauts will finally kick off their 2023 CFL season.
Toronto hosts rival Hamilton (0-1) in its season opener Sunday night at BMO Field. The Tiger-Cats began their campaign last week with a 42-31 road loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Kelly, 29, begins his first full season as Toronto's starting quarterback. The nephew of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly spent '22 as the Argos backup behind veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who's now playing for the USFL's New Orleans Breakers.
Kelly looked sharp in his only appearance for Toronto during the pre-season. He completed four-of-five passes for 105 yards and added a seven-yard run in starting the Argos' 34-23 exhibition loss to the Ottawa Redblacks in Guelph, Ont., on June 1.
The six-foot-two, 216-pound Kelly played a big role in Toronto's 24-23 Grey Cup win over Winnipeg last November. Replacing the injured Bethel-Thompson (dislocated right thumb) in the fourth quarter, Kelly completed four-of-six passes for 43 yards and had a crucial 20-yard run on second-and-15 that set up A.J. Ouellette’s game-winning five-yard rushing touchdown.
"It feels like an eternity but after we had the little ceremony (Grey Cup ring presentation last week) with everybody, it really kicked in that it's here," Kelly said. "I know everyone is anxious to get out there and show what they can do."
Kelly drew one start last year with Toronto but enters a season as a team's No. 1 quarterback for the first time since his days at Ole Miss (2015-16).
"It definitely feels different but trusting the guys around me to make plays, that's what my job is," Kelly said. "My job is to get them the ball and keep us in second-and-manageable each and every time we step on to the field."
Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said Kelly sat with coaches and participated in the game-planning process for Hamilton.
"He's put in the preparation, now he has to grow on the field," Dinwiddie said. "He's had a good camp and continues to grow and when you see that as a coach you're happy with it.
"He doesn't have to be great and amazing for us to win this football game. He just has to do the little things right, take care of the football and let the game come to him."
Toronto's '22 Grey Cup banner will be raised before the game.
"The incentive is always going to be there when they're playing Toronto, same for us versus them," Dinwiddie said. "They're going to come in with an edge and they obviously want to beat us at home, especially with the banner going up."
Toronto finished atop the East Division the last two years under Dinwiddie, who has amassed a 20-12 regular-season record since joining the Argos. Dinwiddie has a 6-2 record versus Hamilton and is 4-0 at BMO Field versus the Ticats.
More impressive is Hamilton quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell's stellar 12-1 record all-time versus Toronto. That record is Mitchell's best against any CFL opponent, but it was set while he was a member of the Calgary Stampeders.
The six-foot-two, 199-pound native of Katy, Texas, has 27 TD passes and only eight interceptions versus Toronto. Mitchell finished 17-of-33 passing for 200 yards with a TD and two interceptions last week versus Winnipeg.
"They were down (29-4 at halftime in Winnipeg) and look how they came back," Kelly said. "They (Ticats defensive players) fly around to the ball, they play sound defence, you don't see many guys out of place, out of position.
"We have to make sure we set the tone early because Hamilton is Hamilton, they're going to hit you. We've just got to play sound offence, play great defence and be consistent on special teams."
While Kelly and Co. have had recent Hamilton game film to review and break down this week, the same can't be said for the Ticats.
"It's always a bit of a challenge until you see because every team's different every year," Orlondo Steinaauer, Hamilton's head coach/president of football operations, said earlier this week. "Yeah, they have a common identity but there's always wrinkles.
They've had a lot of time to prepare for us but we've got to focus on ourselves an getting better in a lot of different areas. I would say it posed a little bit of a challenge but its nothing we're focusing on."
All-star cornerback Jamal Peters rejoined the Argos this week after being released by the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. It's unclear if Peters will suit up Sunday.
Meanwhile, Canadian linebacker Henoc Muamba is out with a knee injury. Muamba was the Grey Cup MVP and top Canadian in the Argos win over Winnipeg.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press