Kelly Ready to Rebound

CLEMSON - Aaron Kelly entered the 2006 season with high expectations. After catching 47 passes for 575 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, why wouldn't he?

After two years in the weight room, Kelly also improved his physique and was seemingly poised to have another strong season as a redshirt sophomore.

But it didn't happen.

After an incredible start to the season highlighted by an 8-1 record and a 31-7 win over Georgia Tech, Kelly and the rest of the Clemson offense fell off the national radar with a 1-4 finish.

He finished the season with a respectable 30 receptions for 355 yards, but struggled with his run blocking and never became the true big play threat many expected him to be.

Looking back, Kelly said there were several reasons for the drop off, both with him and the team.

"You look back to some of the games we had early in the season; we were probably too unbalanced at times. There were games where we would run and run and we didn't have to throw the ball to win," he said. "But looking back we probably should have thrown a little more [earlier in the season]. That could have helped us get into more of rhythm as the season went on."

Kelly will be the first to tell you the strength of the offense was with running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller, but he'll also tell you that his year's group of wide outs has to be more productive when given the opportunity.

If the Tigers plan on utilizing the downfield passing game more, there has to be more confidence in the quarterback and receivers.

"James and C.J. are great backs," he said. "Nobody will deny that. But we as a unit have to be ready to capitalize on opportunities. Last year we didn't have those opportunities as much so it will be important for us to show this season that we can be weapons too.

"And I think you will see us go downfield more this year, especially off of play-action."

Kelly, standing in at 6-feet-5 inches tall, should be the beneficiary of such a game plan, and he's been using the offseason to prepare for more passes being thrown his way.

In fact, wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney recently called Kelly Clemson's top wide out this spring.

"James and C.J. are great backs," he said. "Nobody will deny that. But we as a unit have to be ready to capitalize on opportunities."
"His game is at a whole different level," Swinney said. "He's a guy we have to get the ball to. He's going to make a bunch of plays and was our best guy on the field this spring. He's pushing 200 pounds and is strong, so we are excited about him."

Kelly said his ability to continue to work in the weight room has been a critical component to improving his game.

"I'll be honest, it's kind of hard for me to gain weight," he said. "I've been eating more meals and doing different things but it's not easy. I've been working on that and all of my skills though. I know the opportunity I could have this season so I've been focusing on all parts of my game since the spring.

"I have the opportunity to be a go-to guy in this offense so I've been doing everything possible to work on my game."

So will it all pay off?

Judging by Swinney's comments and looking at Kelly's build, the answer appears to be a resounding "yes."

Of course, improved play at quarterback will likely dictate how good Clemson's wide receivers, and the offense as a whole can be this season.

"Both Cullen and Willy have been doing a great job for us," said Kelly. "I think we will be fine there. They both can get the ball downfield." Top Stories