As the 2023 season approaches, CFL.ca is here to catch you up with the Five Things To Know series. Each article will look at key storylines facing each team this season, while examining off-season movement and where your team might stand in 2023.
Toronto’s quest for a second consecutive Grey Cup title will be the main story surrounding their 2023 season. After an incredible performance in last year’s championship thriller, the Argos enter a new season with a target on their back.
Knowing what they accomplished last year, that target should be worn as a badge of honour.
Back for a run at a second straight Grey Cup are the architects: general manager Pinball Clemons and head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. Pinball has been especially busy over the winter on both the trade front and in free agency. As a result, Toronto is returning a vast majority of their core group of players.
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Of course, there’s one key piece missing: quarterback and emotional leader McLeod Bethel-Thompson. After five seasons in double blue, Bethel-Thompson made the difficult decision to join USFL’s New Orleans Breakers for the 2023 season.
And that’s where we’re getting things started.
IT’S CHAD’S CHANCE
The Argonauts are showing considerable confidence in quarterback Chad Kelly to start the season. Kelly enters 2023 on top of a depth chart for the first time since his days at the University of Mississippi. Toronto is banking on Kelly looking like the guy who salvaged their Grey Cup win over Winnipeg after Bethel-Thompson exited the game late.
But considering Kelly’s small body of work, we’re also talking about a calculated gamble here. Kelly has attempted all of 52 CFL passes with just one start under his belt. The other quarterbacks on the roster have a combined zero CFL passes in Ben Holmes, Cameron Dukes, and Bryan Scott.
The flip side to Kelly’s relative inexperience is how highly thought of he is internally. A former quarterback himself, Dinwiddie’s eye for talent is well trained and his track record for working with the position is strong. We know Kelly has the chops. His numbers at Ole Miss were strong and his limited CFL sample size has been impressive.
It’s Kelly’s time and, while it’s a gamble, I’m also excited to watch it play out.
THE LAST RIDE
We weren’t sure if Harris was coming back for a 13th CFL season after winning a third straight Grey Cup in November. But Harris decided against retiring and opted to return to the Argos for one last season. It’s an understandable decision when you consider what drives the future Hall of Fame running back.
Harris lives for competition, and that itch hasn’t necessarily been adequately scratched the last couple years. He’s missed 17 games over the last two seasons due to injury, so returning for a chance at a full campaign is a strong motivator even with all those Grey Cup rings.
It’s also important to point out that, when healthy, Harris was effective last season. In his eight regular season starts, Harris racked up 670 yards of total offence before returning to the lineup with a pair of strong outings in the playoffs.
The Hall of Fame can wait for one last Harris ride.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Bethel-Thompson’s departure is significant. Otherwise, though, the Argos are bringing back the vast majority of their most important offensive weapons. Both Harris and backfield partner AJ Ouellette return for 2023 and should make for an intriguing thunder and lightning duo in the run game.
The same story is true at receiver. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. signed a huge extension this winter after a breakout campaign that saw him go for 1,101 and five touchdowns. Returning with Gittens are DaVaris Daniels and Markeith Ambles, who finished as Toronto’s number two and three receivers, respectively, last season.
Familiarity is going to be huge for Kelly as a first time starter, so bringing back a large number of key playmakers is an important box to check.
A BLOCKBUSTER ADDITION
With Wynton McManis and Henoc Muamba both re-upping over the winter, linebacker was already set to be a solid position for the Argos. So, when Toronto sent a first-round pick to the BC Lions in exchange for Jordan Williams in February, it caught a lot of people off guard. It also gave the Argonauts an embarrassment of riches at the position.
The addition of Williams, the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2021, gives defensive coordinator Corey Mace some great options. It also provides healthy internal competition. The game breaking McManis is set to slide back into his natural Will position, which means Williams and Muamba should compete for playing time in the middle all season.
Last year saw Williams rack up 89 tackles, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Muamba, on the other hand, finished with 75 tackles, two interceptions, and three sacks.
This should be a fun battle.
After a strong single season with the Argos that ended in a Grey Cup title, defensive end Ja’Gared Davis signed back with Hamilton over the winter. And while saying goodbye to a three-time East Division All-Star is significant, Toronto didn’t flinch when they signed budding superstar Folarin Orimolade on day one of free agency.
Orimolade put the league on notice in 2022. In his third season with the Stampeders, Orimolade racked up six sacks, one forced fumble, one interception, and one touchdown. Still just 27 years old, Orimolade will be counted on to anchor Toronto’s pass rush this season. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I think he’s up for the challenge.