Kelly Steps Into Big Role At Center
That poise may have been best exhibited in last year's Southeastern Conference championship game when Alabama All-America center Barrett Jones had to leave the game with an injured foot, and Ryan Kelly, a second-year freshman last season, was thrown into the fire in a tough game against Georgia.
Or as Kelly put it, "They just threw me in there like I was a piece of meat."
Kelly, a prep All-America at Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio, had to undergo knee surgery when he arrived at Alabama and missed the 2011 season. Last year he was working with the second offense all season.
Kelly said, "As a two, you come out to practice like you're going to be the starter, because you never know. But I hadn't played with the ones all year and then Barrett got hurt. They just threw me out there like I was a piece of meat, and I don't know what's going on."
The experience, however, helped him figure out what was going on.
"The more and more you work with them, it's a lot like you're stepping into a big role," Kelly said. "You're up to bat, and this is you. It's big time. It's a lot more serious a role, and playing center is obviously the hardest because you're in control of the offense. Whatever you call dictates how it's going to go.
"Being a one is a little more series. Being a two you still need to be ready but at the same time mentally it's kind of hard. You don't know if you're going to play so you get ready mentally, but you might not play. That's the best you can ask for, to go out and have fun with it."
Another Kouandjio, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, also had an observation of Kelly. The all-star left tackle candidate said, "Ryan is more demanding than Barrett Jones.
Kelly said, "I demand the most out of myself, so I think that carries over to everybody else. I'm my biggest critic, myself. I know those guys next to me are going to work hard and that's all I can ask them to do. I know sometimes I'm down and they lift me up. Everybody has their bad days and I think the more relationships we build the stronger we get. That's what we can ask of each other."
Kelly, 6-5, 290, began getting work with the first offense in preparation for the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, although Jones was able to play in that game. Kelly said the practices for the bowl game "was the first real experience I got versus the ones, getting used to snapping to AJ (quarterback A.J. McCarron)."
Kelly had worked with McCarron as early as last summer, but the chemistry between center and quarterback has to be developed. "Every quarterback is a little different," Kelly said. "Each one has his own little quirks. I'm starting to work with him and do what he likes. I'm getting a feel for it. It's starting to get a lot better and click a lot more.
"AJ doesn't like to bend that much. I think that's the one thing I have to get used to."
Kelly said the spring "has been really good. We have some holes to fill. It's going to be a process, but that's how the spring is. It's been great every day coming out there and working with the ones."
Kelly said it was good to work behind William Vlachos in 2011 and behind Jones last year. A bonus this year is that Vlachos has returned as a graduate assistant, Kelly said. "He has some much experience with the game," Kelly said. "He's giving me little pointers on how to put the team in the best position to score touchdowns."
Kelly played in 10 games last year and was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.
His first action game in the season-opener as Alabama was able to clear the bench in a 41-14 romp over Michigan at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. "That was awesome," he said. "I hadn't played in a game since my senior year in high school. This was my second year and I was so nervous. I didn't know what we were supposed to do and messed everything up. Then we played at Arkansas and we were beating them pretty good and so at halftime they said we would play part of the third and all of the fourth quarter. You just feel more comfortable as you get more playing time. I give all the credit to the ones for making that happen because every rep you get in a college game is more valuable than you can imagine."
One man who has an up-close view of how Kelly is doing in Bama nose tackle Brandon Ivory. Asked to compare Kelly with Barrett Jones, Ivory said, "Both of them are pretty good players. Barrett was a veteran already when I was going against him. Ryan and I are kind of on the same level. Both of us are still learning our position. We're helping each other."
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