Kelly feeling confident

Few things stir up fan interest and speculation more than a QB battle. The Sun Devils knew they'd have one on their hands when Brock Osweiler announced shortly that he'd forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. With less than a week remaining in spring practice the battle rages on, as it seems that an unlikely candidate is beginning to make a late push.

Taylor Kelly entered the spring seemingly as the forgotten man amongst the quarterbacks at Arizona State. With most of the excitement surrounding fellow teammates Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank, the Eagle, Idaho native looked to be prematurely casted as the third option by some.

Never fazed though, Kelly has proven that he rightfully belongs in the discussion as he has put together arguably the best two week stretch of any of the quarterbacks on the roster and began to earn significant playing time in practice.

"I think I've done a good job so far in camp," remarked an exhausted Kelly after practice on Tuesday. "I feel like I've gotten better each week. I've been really consistent with my reads and stuff like that. That's a good thing, being consistent, and I think I've been really good with that."

As if the pressure if being thrust into a contentious quarterback battle this offseason weren't enough, Kelly, like the other two quarterbacks competing with him, has been given a crash course into the new Sun Devil offense over the last four weeks.

Coach Graham has preached about having a high octane, quick-striking attack for the Sun Devils this year, one that requires more of the quarterback than in years past. Despite the relative unfamiliarity and limited time to grasp all the new concepts being thrown at him, Kelly insists that he's beginning to feel more at ease within the new offense.

"I'm pretty comfortable with this offense," Kelly said. "The thing I need to work on the most is my passing game, reads and just getting more comfortable with those sorts of things. I really need to work on my reads, get more repetitions with that, but overall I feel comfortable with the offense. You know, when the blitzes come at us now, I know where my 'hots' are and stuff like that."

His newfound comfort has been on full display as the junior's command of the offense and productivity have improved as of late. Kelly's unmatched consistency and dual-threat ability have forced him to be recognized this spring. During last week's scrimmage he completed 6-8 passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing an additional eight times for 52 yards.

"I'm just trying to use my legs when I can, whether on the zone reads or in the pocket," Kelly said. "If the pocket breaks down, I know I can use my feet. It's probably one of my biggest strengths in this offense, being able to run with the ball."

Kelly's ability to run the ball shouldn't detract from his improved passing though. Not only has he worked on his ability to step up in the pocket and make throws, it has also become a common occurrence to see him evade defenders by scrambling outside, buying time for his receivers to make plays down field, adding another dimension to his game and the potential for this Sun Devil offense.

"My footwork has gotten quicker, I've tried to speed that up in my drops," Kelly commented. "I'm seeing things differently now. I've been trying to get the ball out before the receivers make their breaks and really working on my timing. I want to say that's probably been the biggest thing I've worked on; my timing.

"My short and intermediate throws are a strength and just knowing where to go when I see the defense blitz. Just knowing the offense better now and being more familiar with defensive (schemes)."

Further propelling Kelly into the discussion has been his ability to protect the football so far throughout camp. Turnovers have been low for Kelly, only throwing one interception in the team's first two scrimmages while he's been able to move the team downfield with greater regularity, something the coaching staff has been constantly emphasizing to their young quarterback trio this spring.

"The thing they've really been trying to beat into us is taking care of the football," Kelly said. "We beat ourselves when we turn the football over, so if we can protect the football we can control the tempo and fly around. They also want us to know what to do with the football, you know, you've got your one, two, three; check down or run. So it's really about just knowing your reads and getting things out on time."

Last year, Kelly played sparingly as the primary backup to Osweiler, only appearing in two games, against UC-Davis in the season opener and then later on homecoming as the Sun Devils hosted Colorado. He completed all four of his passes last season for 31 yards while running for 24 more, and despite the limited action, Kelly says he feels he benefitted from the experience.

"Oh yeah, just getting used to that game speed, it's a lot different than practice," he recalled. "You're splitting reps in practice with another quarterback and working mostly with the two's, so it's not really like game speed. There's just so much more action and it's a lot faster. So yeah, I thought it was good for me to get out there and compete in a game and under certain situations."

Kelly knows that the quarterback battle likely won't be decided by the end of the week though, and says that he intends to work through the summer to prepare himself for the fall camp. While he has made incredible progress and forced it to a three-man competition, there is still plenty that he knows he can improve on.

"I'm going to work on just getting the ball out quicker," Kelly said. "I also want to work on my feet, getting back with a sense of urgency. I'm just trying to be a surgeon with the football, you know, being really accurate, knowing where to throw it, and being on time. Timing footwork and being really good with the football and working more on my passing game."

With one more practice before this weekend's annual maroon-gold spring game to make an impression on the coaching staff, Kelly admits he feels a sense of confidence growing within him. How far he can go remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, and that's that you can't count him out and that Kelly will most likely be there until the end competing for the job.

"I do feel a lot more confident," Kelly said. "I'm just going to go out there and compete. I've just to keep being consistent, keep doing all things I've been doing and improving on some of things I haven't been doing as well. I just need to keep progressing and get better each week, do my best this last week and show everybody what I've got."

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