Chad Kelly insists a few months away from football helped put life in perspective.
He read the Bible while living in his parents’ basement. He recommitted himself to the game. And now he believes he can avoid any more trouble off the field.
The once-promising young quarterback thinks his latest humbling experience will help jump-start his career with the Indianapolis Colts in what even he acknowledges could be his last NFL chance.
“You just have to put in enough work for those guys to trust you because it’s going to take some time,” he said Wednesday. “There have been things that have happened in the past, but I am up for the challenge to prove to these guys I am dedicated to this.”
Only time will tell if Kelly will be one of the few who actually turns the corner, though he may have found the perfect landing spot.
His new coach, Frank Reich, was a longtime backup to Kelly’s uncle, Jim, a Hall of Fame quarterback with the Buffalo Bills. The man who signed Kelly, general manager Chris Ballard, decided to take a low-risk gamble by establishing guidelines for Kelly to meet. Kelly declined to elaborate on any specific provisions.
Expectations are low in Indy, too, given that the Colts already have an established Pro Bowler in Andrew Luck, a solid backup in Jacoby Brissett and a known quantity in Phillip Walker as their No. 3 quarterback.
And with Luck missing his second week of offseason workouts because of a strained calf, Kelly will get even more snaps so he can learn a new offense.
“He has come in and he’s picked up the system well,” Reich said. “I think he’s — from what we saw at the rookie minicamp — he has progressed from there. I think Chad shows to have a little bit of a knack and some instincts. He has made his share of mistakes out there, but I think he’s certainly showing he belongs out there competing.”
NFL scouts all saw his promise. And the Denver Broncos overlooked the potential pitfalls when they took Kelly with the final pick of the 2017 draft.
He was booted off Clemson’s roster after arguing with coaches during the 2014 spring game. He pleaded guilty to a non-criminal charge of disorderly conduct stemming from a December 2014 incident in which he allegedly punched two bouncers and threatened to use an AK-47 to “spray the place” after he being ejected from the bar.
In October 2016, Kelly charged onto the field when a bench-clearing brawl erupted during his brother’s high school football game. And then there was the torn ACL that ended his senior season at Ole Miss.
There was more trouble in the NFL.
After missing his entire rookie season to rehab from the knee injury, he took only one snap, a kneeldown, before he was cut in 2018 after he left a Halloween party and entered a house belonging to a man and woman he did not know. In March, he pleaded guilty to a second-degree trespassing charge.
Over all those months, Kelly pondered his future. A few teams were interested but none was willing to sign him.
“I really didn’t know,” he said when asked if he thought he’d get another chance. “I really couldn’t tell you what I was feeling like — you were kind of lost, you kind of look to the good Lord, you talk to close friends and family, and at the end of the day you’ve got to move on. You’ve got to get ready for whatever life brings you. I was just reading, doing as much as I could to stay active on the field and in the weight room.”
Indy finally offered him a tryout earlier this month during a rookie minicamp and apparently he did enough during those three days to convince Ballard he was worth a chance. Kelly signed May 20.
If he sticks around long enough, Kelly will at least give the Colts an extra training camp arm to diminish the wear and tear on Luck. But if he stays out of trouble and finally starts playing football the way many believe he can, Kelly could give the Colts another solid backup option.
“There is something there,” Reich said. “He can throw on the run, and then when he moves in the pocket I think he’s got some natural movement instincts and can deliver the ball from different arm angles. He has played a lot of football for his age and thrown a lot of balls.”