Vaught's Views: Kelly knows what he's doing

July 23, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - When Eric Kelly asked the Minnesota Vikings to release him, he knew what many others were thinking.

"Some people said I was stupid to leave, that I didn't know what I was doing," said Kelly.

Minnesota had traded away two draft picks in 2001 to pick the cornerback from Kentucky in the third round. Kelly played in 48 games in three seasons with the Vikings and had 161 tackles and three interceptions. However, last year he had just eight tackles after making 79 in 2001 and 74 in 2002.

The Vikings wanted Kelly back as a reserve cornerback. He thought he deserved more playing time and could still be a NFL starter.

Rather than play it safe and stay with the Vikings, he got his wish and was released. However, it didn't take the Houston Texans long to sign him and now he's hoping to compete for a starting spot when training camp opens next month.


"Everybody in the NFL is a great player," Kelly, who was working at the first Dennis Johnson Football Camp here Thursday, said. "It's going to be hard, but it is no matter where you are at.

"I just felt like it was best for me to move on. I prayed about it and stepped out on faith. I trusted God and landed with the Texans. It was a blessing. I am in a lot better situation personally and business-wise."

He set UK record with 13 pass deflections in 1999

Kelly was a two-year starter at Kentucky and set a school record with 13 pass deflections in 1999 when he also had a career-high three interceptions. Many were surprised when the Vikings picked him so high because he did not have the traditional speed some NFL cornerbacks do. However, his aggressiveness and confidence enabled him to work himself into the starting unit.

"Kentucky is not known for getting guys drafted high," Kelly said. "It's like you are an underdog coming out of Kentucky. To be successful in the NFL, you have to prove a lot of people wrong. I think a lot of us are underdogs, but we continue to stick together and continue to move on."

Kelly was one of several defensive players at Kentucky during Hal Mumme's coaching tenure who have gone on to successful pro careers. That seems more than a bit ironic since part of Mumme's downfall was his disdain for defense and inability to field a competitive defense.

But Kelly, Marlon McCree, Johnson, Dewayne Robertson, Chris Demaree and Otis Grigsby all became effective NFL players.

"There is great coaching in the NFL," Kelly said.

Meaning there wasn't at Kentucky?

"Maybe guys just started to mature and understand football better," Kelly said. "Kentucky had a lot of talent. Don't get me wrong about that. We just moved on to better situations."

A politician would have to applaud that tactful answer that failed to criticize Mumme or former UK defensive coordinator Mike Majors. However, he does wish that more people understood a player can go to Kentucky and still be an effective NFL player.

"You can go anywhere, even a small college, and play in the NFL," Kelly said. "That's what I'm telling these kids. God blessed me with the strength and courage to overcome having people think I couldn't make it. I love telling kids they can make it. They can look at me and see I've done it, so they know I am not lying.

"I like being able to help kids overcome obstacles and realize they can dream. It's important for somebody to do that. I want kids to see me and realize it's okay to dream."

He can also point to Johnson

He can also point to Johnson, the former UK defensive end who ended his third NFL season by making 12 tackles for the Arizona Cardinals against the Vikings.

"He's really doing well," Kelly said. "He led his team in sacks, just like he did here. He had 12 tackles against us, which is great for a defensive lineman. He could be a dominant player one day."

Dominant? Isn't that a bit strong considering Johnson goes into training camp not even assured of a starting spot?

"He's working hard and really looking good," Kelly said. "You can tell his body is starting to change more into that of an adult. He's getting more muscle and strength. He's starting to understand the game more. I am really looking for him to have a breakout year."

And Kelly?

"You know me. I'm confident I can do the job. All I wanted was a chance, and now I have it," Kelly said.

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