Chad Kelly is done with being irrelevant.
‘’I haven’t played a game in a year and a half. I’m approaching this as ‘now or never’ time,’’ the Broncos’ mysterious quarterback told me Saturday afternoon at Dove Valley.
Kelly’s last football game indeed was 18 months ago – Nov. 5, 2016 – when the Ole Miss QB tore the ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee.
Actually, though, he has played games in Denver.
“The only way I could stay competitive was I bought a Pop-A-Shot (arcade basketball game) for my home and beat everybody, mostly my girlfriend.’’
Kelly concluded his 2015 season with the Rebels by defeating Dak Prescott and bitter in-state rival Mississippi State. Next up was Oklahoma State – with quarterback Mason Rudolph – in the first Sugar Bowl for Mississippi since 1969, when the quarterback was Archie Manning. Kelly was selected the game’s Most Outstanding Player – the only SEC quarterback to win the award since Tim Tebow in 2010.
Prior to his fifth year, split between two major programs with a junior college stop in between, Kelly was ranked among the top seven quarterbacks (above Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen and Patrick Mahomes) and leading Heisman Trophy candidates (one ahead of Oregon running back Royce Freeman).
However, he underwent sports hernia surgery, and a team that had lost its other offensive talent plummeted from a 10-4 record (which also included victories over Alabama, LSU and Auburn) to a 4-5 mark before Kelly’s career abruptly ended.
Kelly was not invited to the NFL draft Combine because of past transgressions (a 2014 arrest for involvement in a nightclub brawl and another skirmish at his younger brother’s high school game). At the Ole Miss Pro Day, Kelly hurt his right wrist, which forced a third operation within a year.
He was unwanted in the 2017 draft. Well, almost. The Broncos chose Kelly as the final pick (253rd) – "Mr. Irrelevant’’.
With the Broncos, Kelly became the character from the Broadway show “Chicago’’.
“Mister Cellophane should have been my name . . .'cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I'm there.’’
Kelly vanished, on the injured reserve list for the entire season while Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler took turns leading the Broncos into the abyss of agony.
“I want to thank Coach Joseph,’’ Kelly said – and I thought he would mention Vance’s remark last April that Kelly was “my favorite quarterback in the draft’’.
Instead, Kelly told me that Joseph “allowed me to go on every road trip and stand on the sideline.’’ Kelly’s presence went unnoticed. Cellophane Man. “I learned so much about the offense, the play-calling, the Broncos organization, what the NFL was all about. That and being in the quarterback room all year helped my growth. For the past year, I’ve come to work trying to get better every day. It’s my craft.’’
The 6-foot-2 Kelly, who turned 24 on March 26, has tightened his body structure and dropped his weight from 236 to 212 pounds – “where I was in high school and college ... Lot of spinach and chicken paid off."
At the draft this year, Kelly received praise again when Broncos boss John Elway announced that Kelly and Lynch would compete for the backup job behind Case Keenum.
“My reaction was: 'Perfect. I’ll get more reps.'"
And he showed up for the rookie minicamp on Thursday, even though Kelly is not technically a rookie. Kelly and tight end Jake Butt, who spent last season on IR, were the only 2017 picks practicing with this year’s draft class, undrafted free agents and other holdover free agents. Where are you, Carlos Henderson?
Kelly was the only quarterback among the 27 players on the field.
Butt said of his mate’s performance: “He can rip that thing now. You definitely have to wear gloves.’’
Both declared totally healthy, Butt and Kelly were leaps and bounds in front of the neophytes trying to absorb the system at Saturday’s session.
Afterward, Joseph was asked about Lynch. “He can relax now.’’
No so fast, Vance and Paxton. Lynch lost a starting competition to another seventh-round draft choice the past two camps.
And Kelly is determined to be Mr. Relevant.