January 11, 2024

Jones on Bethel-Thompson: ‘He’s a true leader’

Danielle Del Valle/CFL.ca

They say there is no substitute for experience.

The Edmonton Elks were a young team in 2023 that had its ups and downs on their way to a challenging season that ultimately saw them play a lot better over the second half of the schedule.

The team is now hoping that the addition of quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson can catapult them to new heights when combined with a roster that has been learning the ropes over the last couple of years.

“He’s a proven winner and a tremendous person,” said head coach and general manager Chris Jones in an interview on Monday from Nashville, TN where the CFL is holding its annual president and general managers meetings. “Those two things in conjunction bode well as far as being a leader.

“A lot of people can use that word very loosely, but I’ve been on the squad where he’s actually been the guy out front and that’s what I’ve seen out of him, that he is a true leader.”

» Elks sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Elks release wide receiver Steven Dunbar Jr.
 Elks release veteran DB Aaron Grymes
» CFL reveals list of 2024 pending free agents
 CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents



Jones was part of the Toronto Argonauts coaching staff in 2021 when the team went 9-5 during a shortened season on their way to finishing first in the East Division with Bethel-Thompson being named an All-Star within the division. The quarterback then doubled down in 2022, guiding the Argos to another first-place finish and a Grey Cup title.

The veteran now joins a team whose offensive identity in 2023 was running the football. The Elks finished first in yards per attempt on the ground with 6.1 behind a one-two punch of quarterback Tre Ford and running back Kevin Brown. Bethel-Thompson, meanwhile, led the league in passing yards in 2022, opening up a whole new dynamic for the offence while also helping Ford develop his game even further.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind,” said Jones about Bethel-Thompson assisting with Ford’s development. “I’ve talked to (Bethel-Thompson) about helping (Ford) where he needs to be. Ford is a tremendous athlete, there’s a lot of upside there for him and for us.

“He’s going to be a really good player in the future”

It’ll be a challenge to lift the Elks from last place in the West Division and into contention, but the team showed signs over the last half of the season by going 4-5 after going winless in the first nine games. Names like Bethel-Thompson, Ford, Brown, defensive lineman Jake Ceresna, wide receiver Eugene Lewis  and linebacker Nyles Morgan are some of the players that Edmonton can build around going forward as the team prepares to tackle on free agency.


“Obviously, any time you lose football games it’s very tough,” Jones said. “A lot of these guys have been in our uniform now for a couple of years. On one hand they haven’t had a lot of success but then on another they are going to be a little tougher. They have been through some real tough times together.

“We have got some really good people in our uniform. Now what we have to do is learn how to win and once you get on that roll and you learn what you’re doing it becomes a lot easier.”

Jones is hoping that the continuity – coupled with the added experience of guys like Bethel-Thompson – will help the team take that next step. Edmonton had the shortest list of pending free agents this off-season and has already worked on extending five of them before the free agency period opens in February.

“We’ll take a look as we go along,” said the head coach and general manager about his team’s approach to free agency. “We only have six or seven guys left in free agency on our team and we certainly want guys back, we want that continuity.

“What we are trying to do is keep our football team together and we will address free agency but we won’t be overly active.”

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