Kelly Is Answer To Other Question

A huge question regarding Monday night's BCS National Championship Game is whether Alabama All-America center Barrett Jones will be ready to play against Notre Dame. Which leads to a question of what happens if Jones is not able to play against the Fighting Irish.

The quick answer: Alabama's back-up center is Ryan Kelly. Kelly has a name that might suggest he is a player for Notre Dame. He's a 6-5, 285-pound redshirt freshman from West Chester, Ohio.

Kelly may or may not be in the lineup when the second-ranked Crimson Tide, 12-1, meets Number One Notre Dame (12-0) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., Monday. Kickoff will be at 8:30 p.m. EST (7:30 central time) with television coverage by ESPN.

In Bama's last game, a 32-28 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game – a de facto play-in game for Monday night's BCS National Championship – the Crimson Tide's Barrett Jones suffered a sprained foot in the first quarter. But Jones, the Rimington Award winner as the nation's best center, soldiered on, finishing the game. Jones has practiced only for the past few days after undergoing a rehabilitation process.

Almost no one knew Jones had been injured until after the December 1 game against Georgia.

"At the end of the second quarter, I saw him limping," Kelly said. "I didn't know what was wrong."

Bama Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland told Kelly to be ready, and he began warming up.

Kelly said, "We prepare for ‘next one in,' but when it really happens – the guy in front of you goes down – it gives you a little shock. I warmed up, but luckily Barrett came back in the second half and did a really good job.

"But they told me to be prepared in case he couldn't go."

That situation continued in the week before Christmas and for a few days after the brief holiday break as Jones was in a black non-contact jersey and spent practice time working with trainers and strength/conditioning coaches.

Stoutland said that Kelly "has been great. To this day he is preparing himself as though he is the starter, which I think is really, really good. I've watched him get better in every practice."

Jones said that he had "many conversations" with Kelly while Jones was recuperating.

"Ryan responded very well," Jones said. "He's going to be a great player. I think he'll be an All-America. He's outstanding; a lot more talented than I am. He's got a lot of body quickness and a lot of explosiveness and is just a very good player. You're going to have a special treat watching him over the next few years."

Stoutland said, "I've noticed in the past couple of months he's become a lot more confident in who he is as a player and in what he is doing. I think that confidence comes from knowing what to do. He really understands the offense now.

"It's not easy. It's not just learning the offense, but a lot of technical things involved in detailing the game. All these things factor into whether the play is going to be successful. I think he feels much better about that."

Kelly came to Alabama prior to the 2011 season as a four-star athlete and rated the nation's second best center. He had played at Lakota West High School. As a sophomore he was a guard. As a junior he began the season at center, but his coach said Kelly would be a center in college, and so he was moved to center after the second game. As a senior he played both safety and tackle.

He said, "I hadn't played center since Pee Wee ball. So I had to play center and learn all those techniques. Then we had some injuries and I sometimes had to move out to tackle. I never knew from week to week if I would be a center or a tackle, so I had to learn it all and I think that helped me."

In the final game of his senior season he suffered a knee injury, which involved over six months of rehabilitation and resulted in Kelly being redshirted in his first year at Bama.

He returned to action last spring and was immediately the back-up to Jones, who made the move from left tackle to center.

Kelly played in nine games in 2012 and was named Freshman All-SEC.

Kelly said, "The first game I played in was against Michigan. It was a little bit of culture shock, getting used to the speed of the game and the quickness of the defense. It's a lot different than high school. Playing a lot against Arkansas and a lot against Auburn was good experience. The more reps you get the better it is for you to get acclimated to the game and how fast it goes. It was really nice."

Ironically, Michigan was one of the schools Bama beat out for the services of Kelly. He said, "It was really between Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan. I had been told not to go somewhere because of the coach who recruits you. And that's true. The coach who recruited me is not here anymore. That's the world of college football we live in. I loved the atmosphere, great people. And the way they do things here is a little different than anywhere else – pride in tradition, emphasis on academics, and football excellence. I really felt at home here."

Kelly said his work with the first unit in early bowl practices was beneficial.

"It was great playing with those guys in the offensive line," he said. "There is so much experience in that offensive line, it really helps a young guy like me to learn from them. You really have to take control of the offensive line at the center position. Everyone is relying on you to make calls, and whatever they do is what you do. So it's really important to be in the film room. It's important to be the best you can. Really, everything kind of fell into place. I really didn't know if Barrett was coming back or not and I prepared like I was the starter. That's what the coaches told me to do and that's what I did. Luckily he came back, and he's looking pretty good."

"I've been running with the Twos (second team offense) all year and they are awesome, too, but the experience with the Ones -- they've all started numerous seasons. It really helps being a redshirt freshman coming in with those guys next to you. They know what they are doing and it really gives you a confidence booth in making the right calls. They are really encouraging, which is nice."

And while he was with the first offense, that also meant going against Alabama's first defense in the Tide's practice system.

Kelly said, "When Barrett was out, I was going against the Ones all week and going against them, just the size of a Jesse Williams, has really given me a really good instructive on getting ready for (Notre Dame nose tackle) Louis Nix, which makes me better. Going against Jesse Williams and Brandon Ivory, quick guys and big guys with quick hands. If you can get them moving, it means that I'm having a better performance, working my hands and working my feet. It has been a really good challenge and I enjoy working against those guys every day."

He said the toughest part of his job is "Knowing the game plan. Defenses have tendencies to get into certain formations, but sometimes get into something we haven't studied. That's why we have rules. So when I make a call, that's what everyone else makes his call off of. So if I'm wrong, everyone else is wrong. Not letting anybody down and making the right decisions when they need to be made."

Kelly gets high marks from the man who worked alongside him in bowl practices. Left guard Chance Warmack said, "Ryan understands he has a lot of responsibility playing behind Barrett and to be ready to step in and take that role as a starter if he has to. And he did just step right in and do his job. He knows the plays well enough to play the game. He's a tremendous athlete. People may not know much about him because he hasn't played very much. But he's a heck of a center. He's really good."

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