June 21st, 2024

Bethel-Thompson to take charge of Elks’ present while mentoring their future

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on June 3, 2024.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson is back in the CFL, tasked with solidifying the Edmonton Elks' present while providing for their future. Saskatchewan Roughriders' Clint Ratkovich (25) scores a touchdown as Bethel-Thompson (10) chases during first half CFL pre-season action in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday May 25, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson is back in the CFL, tasked with solidifying the Edmonton Elks’ present while providing for their future.

The 35-year-old quarterback signed a one-year deal with Edmonton in January after leading the USFL in passing in 2023 and guiding the Boston Breakers to a 7-3 record.

The year before, Bethel-Thompson was the CFL’s top passer and helped the Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup.

Edmonton’s last playoff appearance was in 2019. It has finished fifth in the West Division the past three seasons, winning a combined 11 regular-season games.

The Elks signed Bethel-Thompson to help them win now. They also added such veteran players as Canadian offensive linemen Hunter Steward and Shane Richards, defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, kicker Boris Bede and returner Javon Leake (CFL’s top special-teams player last year) while acquiring Canadian receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. from Toronto in a deal that sent American defensive lineman Jake Ceresna to the Argos.

Bethel-Thompson spent five seasons with Toronto (2017-19, 2021-22) and was part of two Grey Cup-winning teams (’17, ’22). His best Canadian campaign was 2022 when he threw for a CFL-best 4,731 yards with 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Edmonton is also counting on Bethel-Thompson to mentor Canadian Tre Ford, who led the Elks to their four wins last season after starting the year behind Americans Taylor Cornelius and Jarrett Doege.

The six-foot-one, 185-pound Ford, the ’21 Hec Crighton Trophy winner while at Waterloo, completed 153-of-227 passes (67.4 per cent) for 2,069 yards with 12 TDs and six interceptions. He also ran for 622 yards (stellar 9.4-yard average) and three TDs.

This isn’t unchartered territory for Bethel-Thompson. In 2021, he and Nick Arbuckle were teammates in Toronto before Arbuckle was dealt to Edmonton and Bethel-Thompson installed as the starter.

Ford, 26, is in the final year of his rookie deal. He’s eligible to become a free agent this off-season could also sign an extension with Edmonton beforehand.

Here’s a look at the other CFL starters:

WEST DIVISION

B.C. Lions – Vernon Adams Jr. threw for a CFL-high 4,769 yards last season as the Lions posted a second straight 12-6 record and second-place finish. Both times B.C. has lost to Winnipeg in the West final but there’s added incentive to break through this year as Vancouver hosts the Grey Cup. Jake Dolegala and Chase Brice are the backups.

Calgary Stampeders – Incumbent Jake Maier threw for 4,244 yards (career-best, third in CFL) but had almost as many interceptions (15) as TDs (19) as Calgary (6-12) finished third in the West. In the off-season, the Stampeders signed veteran Matt Shiltz, who made four starts last year with Hamilton, including its East Division semifinal loss to Montreal.

Saskatchewan Roughriders – Veteran Trevor Harris returns after missing most of ’23 with a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee. The Riders were 3-1 when Harris, 38, was hurt but managed just three wins the rest of the way to miss the CFL playoffs for a second straight year. Veteran Shea Patterson and Jack Coan are the backups.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Zach Collaros had a career-high 4,252 passing yards (second in CFL) last season with a league-leading 33 TDs. Twice he’s been named the CFL’s top player and has guided Winnipeg to four straight Grey Cup appearances. The 35-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down. Veteran Chris Streveler returns to serve as the backup.

EAST DIVISION

Hamilton Tiger-Cats – Bo Levi Mitchell begins his second season after injuries limited the 34-year-old Texan to just six starts last year. Over that span, the two-time CFL MVP/Grey Cup champion completed 78-of-132 passes (59.1 per cent) for 1,031 yards with six TDs and 10 interceptions. Taylor Powell, who made nine starts as a rookie, is a solid backup.

Montreal Alouettes – After leading Montreal to its first CFL title since ’09, Cody Fajardo will attempt to earn a repeat of the franchise’s consecutive Grey Cups in 2009-10. Fajardo was the MVP of the Alouettes’ 28-24 championship win over Winnipeg and earned an extension through 2025. Veteran Caleb Evans, who ran for eight TDs last season, and Davis Alexander are the backups.

Ottawa Redblacks – After three seasons in Winnipeg, Dru Brown finally gets his shot to be a CFL starter. Brown completed 62-of-89 passes for 983 yards with nine TDs and no interceptions last season in spot duty with the Bombers. Dustin Crum, a bright spot last year as a rookie starter, offers a change of pace coming off the bench.

Toronto Argonauts – Cameron Dukes gets the nod with Chad Kelly, the ’23 CFL outstanding player, suspended for at least the first nine regular-season games for violating the league’s gender-based violence policy. Dukes split his two starts last year as a rookie. If he’s hurt or struggles, Toronto re-signed Arbuckle during training camp.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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