Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph recalled last weekend that Chad Kelly was a “little tubby kid” when he joined the Denver Broncos last year, a Mr. Irrelevant who was not able to play during the 2017 season while recovering from wrist surgery.
The former Red Lion High School quarterback has since traded meals with fried foods for dishes featuring spinach and chicken, slimming down his 6-foot-2 frame. And, after about 18 months away from football, Kelly now feels primed to battle Paxton Lynch for Denver’s backup quarterback job.
“I knew I needed to move around, get back to my old playing weight (from) back in early college and high school,” said Kelly, who was listed at 224 pounds at the beginning of last season. “(I’m) kind of feeling I can move around and do some things with my legs, but also (remain) powerful in throwing the ball …
“It’s been (a) really long (wait). But finally getting out here, you can kind of feel like yourself again. This is what you do. This is your job.”
Injury bug: “Consistency” was the word Kelly uttered most during his media session following Saturday’s walkthrough practice with Denver’s rookies. He has not had much of that since his senior college season at Mississippi, where he finished third on the school’s all-time list in career passing yards (6,800) and passing touchdowns (50) before a bevy of injuries caused his draft stock to tumble to the final pick of the final round.
Tears to the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in his knee ended his college career in November 2016. Then, during last spring’s pre-draft process, Kelly ruptured a ligament between two bones in his throwing wrist, which also required surgery.
His draft status was also likely damaged by an checkered off-field past that included multiple suspensions in high school at Red Lion and a dismissal during his first college stop at Clemson. There were several other troubling off-field incidents.
Still, the rookie nicknamed “Swag” is looking to put those incidents behind him.
Last year, Kelly eventually landed on injured reserve with the Broncos, fading into the background of a tumultuous 2017 quarterback carousel. Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Lynch started games for an offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring (18.1 points per game) during a 5-11 season.
Getting his chance: The Broncos stabilized the top of their quarterback pecking order by signing Case Keenum to be the starter during free agency, a move Joseph said has “been a weight off all of our backs.” Denver traded Siemian to Minnesota, while Osweiler signed with Miami. General manager John Elwaysaid after last month’s draft that Kelly would compete with Lynch for the backup job, a public comment that caused Kelly to take note.
“At the end of the day, I thought of it as, ‘OK, perfect. I can get more reps,’” Kelly said. “That’s what it’s about — being consistent in what you do, being athletic in what you do and going out there and competing.
“I just look at it as another opportunity to get better each and every day, and each and every rep.”
Getting a head start: Kelly has gotten a bit of a head start as the only quarterback working with the Broncos’ newcomers during last weekend’s rookie minicamp. He threw a variety of routes to pass-catchers like second-round draft pick Courtland Sutton, ran the 11-on-11 periods and got feedback from coaches during individual drills.
Kelly said it’s been “awesome” working with new quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan, whose list of pupils is headlined by Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning.
“(Kelly) can rip that thing, now,” said tight end Jake Butt, who was also on the field during rookie minicamp after spending the 2017 season on injured reserve while recovering from knee surgery. “You definitely gotta wear gloves. He’ll be spinning that bad boy pretty tough. He’s learning the offense. He’s taking leadership. He’s doing a good job.”
Next chance: Denver’s organized team activities with the full roster will begin May 22. That presents Kelly with his next chance to show what he can do with his healthy, slimmed-down body.
And to regain the consistency he’s been missing for the past 18 months.
And to officially challenge Lynch for that backup quarterback job.
“He’s definitely put the work in,” Joseph said of Kelly. “He’s throwing the ball really well right now. I’m really proud of Chad.”