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Edmonton Elks training camp sees Bethel-Thompson, Ford forging QB partnership

It has all the ingredients of an awkward partnership. But, so far, the Edmonton Elks’ quarterbacking tandem of McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Tre Ford are doing and saying all the right things.

Ford emerged as one of the most exciting players in the CFL last year. His scrambles and scampers made more than a few highlight reels through the year. And, by the end of the 2023 season, the Niagara Falls, Ont. product looked to have the inside track to be the Elks’ starting quarterback going into 2024.

But, in the off-season, Elks coach and general manager Chris Jones turned heads when he inked veteran Bethel-Thompson. The former Toronto Argonauts pivot had spent a season in the USFL with the New Orleans Breakers and wanted to come back to Canada.

In 2022, he led the Argos to the Grey Cup and topped the CFL with 4,731 passing yards.

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Click to play video: 'Argos celebrate Grey Cup championship win'

Argos celebrate Grey Cup championship win

So, as training camp opened in Edmonton this week, Bethel-Thompson was at the top of the depth chart, while Ford slid in as No. 2. But, through the first days of practice, Jones has decided to use a “double-barrelled” approach on the offensive sets, meaning both quarterbacks get the same amount of reps.

Bethel-Thompson said that the chance to work with Ford was one of the reasons he decided to sign with the Green and Gold.

“I don’t notice any awkwardness,” said Bethel-Thompson Tuesday at Commonwealth Stadium after the Elks completed their first session with the pads on. “I love working with Tre, I love his potential, and he’s a huge reason why I’ve come here, right? You can see what he represents and why it’s important to have great Canadian talent in this league.

“I love the opportunity to play my best and help take this team someplace, and also give everything I possibly can to Tre.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton Elks reflect on disappointing season and look ahead to a better year to come'

Edmonton Elks reflect on disappointing season and look ahead to a better year to come

The Elks finished 4-14 last season, but were 4-6 with Ford as a starter. The Canadian quarterback threw for 2,069 and added 622 yards rushing — a whopping 9.4-yard average per carry. But Jones said there are areas where Ford needs to improve, such as getting the ball out of his hands more quickly and not always relying on his legs to get him out of trouble.

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“They both are extreme professionals,” said Jones. “McLeod has got a plethora of experience, playing at a lot of different levels. Tre’s a smart enough guy to go, ‘hey, let me tap into that part of his game.’”

But Jones said while Bethel-Thompson is at the top of the depth chart, the door isn’t closed on Ford.

“We have a pecking order. We have a depth chart for a reason. Everything is charted. We look at the completion percentage, where the throws are, the accuracy of throws. Everything is a competition, but there’s a position chart for a reason.”

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Jones said the situation reminds him of 2017, when he coached the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Kevin Glenn was the established veteran, who had thrown for thousands of yards in his career, and the young upstart, Brandon Bridge, was waiting in the wings. Glenn threw 25 touchdown passes that season, Bridge added another 10.

“I’m just going to make the most out of the opportunity,” said Ford. “McLeod is here, he is a great dude. I’ve connected with him, for sure. I’m learning a lot from him. So I’ve got to soak in all the knowledge that he’s providing and use it improve my game.”

Edmonton Elks quarterback Trey Ford speaks to media during a year end press conference in Edmonton, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Bethel-Thompson admitted he’s still shaking off the rust, and he’s not past being the “new guy” with the Elks.

“On the football field, it’s getting comfortable and getting my eyes in the right place. It’s about getting comfortable with the plays so I’m not passive, I’m aggressive and my eyes are ahead of the play.

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“Off the field, it’s just getting to know your teammates and learning how to get to the lunch room, and how to interact with new guys and make sure you’re putting names to faces. It’s a lot of new people. Both of those (on field and off) are sort of brick-by-brick operations.”

Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson speaks to the media during a media day ahead of the 109th Grey Cup at Queensbury Convention Centre in Regina, on Thursday, November 17, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

And while he doesn’t regret spending a year in the USFL — he led the league in passing yards in 2023 – he’s happy to be back in Canada.

“That was a made-for-TV product, right?” he said. “They did a good job, they had a lot of resources behind them. I think that league is going to be around for a long time. It was a different operation.

“I enjoyed my time there, I enjoyed being with my daughter every day. I enjoyed being back in the States. But I’m happy to be back in the CFL. This league has a long history, and hopefully it will go for a lot more years and have a brighter future ahead.”

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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