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There is no controversy, but there is a quarterback question yet to be answered.
Chad Kelly will be the Toronto Argonauts’ starting QB this season; there is no discussion about that at training camp. However, the verdict has yet to be delivered in the competition to become his primary backup.
Three quarterbacks are in camp vying for the backup job: second-year Argo Ben Holmes, along with rookies Bryan Scott and Cameron Dukes.
It’s a trio that has seen both up days and down. Some days it looks like one of the three is starting to move ahead in the positional battle, then the next day there is some regression and one of the other QBs has a solid day.
According to the head coach, that’s to be expected from such an inexperienced group.
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“You can’t get too high or too low on them,” Ryan Dinwiddie told Argonauts.ca following Monday’s practice.
“There’s going to be some growing pains as we continue to work the process. We’ve just got to see continued improvement. We did some good things (in Saturday’s pre-season game in Hamilton) and we did some things we’ve got to improve on when the lights are on this game (Thursday night against Ottawa).”
Holmes is the “veteran” of the three. He was in the QB3 spot behind Kelly and McLeod Bethel-Thompson a year ago. He knows the system but received very few snaps in practice last year and none in a game.
Like his counterparts, he’s had some great days and some not-so-great days. He says the first couple of practices were moving fast for him, but things have slowed down as the camp has progressed and he’s gotten more reps.
“It puts me a leg up on some of the guys,” Holmes told Argonauts.ca, “but we’ve still got to go out and execute every time. Learning from Mac and learning from Chad last year obviously has helped. I know where my reads are, I know where my contours are, I know the drops for each play. I’m familiar with the offence and it just helps you flow throughout a game or throughout a practice.”
Holmes was the surprising starter on Saturday when Kelly had some pre-game tightness in his arm. He threw a couple of interceptions; obviously a pair of passes he’d want to take back.
What’s he looking to do on Thursday against Ottawa?
“No interceptions, that would be great, right?” he said in a self-deprecating manner. “That was my first game in 12 months. I settled in after the first three or four series. There’s positives, there’s negatives; you’ve got to flush the negatives and build on the positives.”
Scott saw his first CFL game action on Saturday. Like Holmes, he’s flashed at times in camp, even more so in the game in Hamilton where he completed 10 of his 12 passes (83.3 per cent) for 97 yards and a touchdown.
His play shouldn’t surprise. He was leading the USFL in passing yards and TD passes last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“It was a great learning experience,” he said of his debut. “It was fun to just get out there with the guys, make plays as a unit. The environment was super fun for me.”
Scott even tried to sing along with the anthem before the game, though he didn’t know all the words. Like the some of the nuances of the three-down game, over time it will become natural.
He loves some of the rule differences already, such as the 20-second play clock.
“I think it helps me get into a rhythm,” he explained.
“Coach Dinwiddie has done an unbelievable job preparing me and preparing us quarterbacks. I’ve told him this and told people around here this, but he’s probably the greatest offensive coach I’ve ever met. Just him, every single day coaching me, has been really fun. I’ve gotten better every day because of him and coach Miller (QB coach Mike Miller). I’m excited to keep improving and I look forward to this week.”
The third QB trying to slide into the backup role is Cameron Dukes. After being named All-NAIA in 2021, he dipped his toes into the professional pool by playing with Las Vegas in the Indoor Football League last year.
Dukes also had a good day on Saturday, finishing 15-21 for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He knows he’s in a tight competition with Holmes and Scott.
“It’s competition at the end of the day, but it’s a friendly competition. We all want to see everybody succeed. We want to push each other every day, so we want everybody to elevate everybody in the room. It’s a great room, we’re all working together every day, staying late, getting in here early.”
Dukes showed off his improvisational skill in the game when at one point he was flushed from the pocket and flipped the ball underhanded from in or near his own end zone.
Is that the kind of play we should get used to seeing?
“Not out of the end zone,” he said with a laugh. “I used it in Vegas once last year. It’s an instinctive play, I’m just having fun with it.”
With the competition so close right now and with time running out before training camp ends, the trio’s play on Thursday may go a long way to determining the final pecking order.
“It’s vital,” said Dinwiddie. “Seeing whether you’re going to be a two, a three, or potentially not here. They’re fighting for a spot on the roster, but they want to be the No. 2 because they’re one play away from playing.”
There was some positive injury news from training camp on Monday. Chad Kelly was able to practice and did not seem to have a reduced workload. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. did not practice, though Dinwiddie told Argonauts.ca that the shoulder injury the receiver suffered on Saturday was just a bruise. He added that Gittens could play on Thursday, but the coach was leaning toward sitting him out.
Robert Priester was at practice but did not take part. Shawn Oakman practiced in pads and helmet for the first time this season.