Badgers' Kelly hopes to lose injury-prone reputation, get NFL shot
MAY 05, 2014 1:00p ET
Brendan Kelly is well aware of the label that has been attached to his name -- one with which no football player ever wants to be associated. And as a so-called fringe NFL prospect, the last thing the former Wisconsin outside linebacker needs is the stigma of being called injury prone.
Still, Kelly recognizes there is only one way for him to shed such a tag: Get into an NFL camp this offseason and prove his capabilities.
"The injury-prone thing is always going to nag me," Kelly said by phone. "But if I chart it out, it's showing that, hey, as my career has gone on, I'm able to get a handle on my body, realize what it can and cannot do and really just settle in and play underneath myself. That's been the biggest thing.
"I'm not too concerned with being labeled as you've had so many injuries, teams are scared of you. I always look at that as a challenge. I can't wait to play every single game healthy for this next team I'm with and prove that I can be a football player in the NFL."
Kelly, a 6-foot-6, 255-pounder from Eden Prairie, Minn., was a rare breed in college football as a sixth-year senior last season at Wisconsin. But the reason for his prolonged stay in college was injuries.
It began his freshman year back in 2008 when he suffered what he dubbed a "freak accident" after his hand got caught between two helmets during a play and he broke his thumb. He played in just three games, missed the rest of the season and took a medical redshirt.
In 2009, Kelly originally was believed to have pulled his groin during fall camp. Though he tried to play through it, the pain became so unbearable that he didn't play in the team's bowl game. Only later was it revealed that he had torn four muscles off his pelvis and would require two surgeries.
The groin injury ultimately forced him out of the entire 2010 season, and he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA before the 2013 campaign.
Although Kelly appeared in only 11 games over his first three years in the program, he stayed healthy enough to play in 37 games with 22 starts over his final three years. Last season, he switched from defensive end to outside linebacker and finished the year with 35 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. In his career, he tallied 108 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks.
The fact Kelly played two different positions in college could make him more attractive in the NFL. He said he had heard from teams that might want him as either a defensive end or an outside linebacker, depending on the scheme, and he feels prepared for either role if the opportunity is granted.
Of course, Kelly's string of bad luck prevented him from showcasing himself to NFL teams this offseason. He pulled a hamstring muscle only days before Wisconsin's March 5 pro day and could not perform for NFL scouts. The past few months instead have been spent rehabbing and gaining strength.
Kelly said he was close to 100 percent and would be ready should any team invite him to an NFL rookie minicamp in May.
"You get an injury, you can take that as a negative," Kelly said. "But that's not going to help you in life at all. You've got to try to take every positive aspect out of that that you can. Sometimes, you even trick your mind into becoming more motivated or working that much harder or doing that much more. I've kind of always taken it that way."
Kelly has been training at NX Level in Waukesha, which is a workout facility made famous in recent years by former Badgers and current Houston Texans defensive end standout J.J. Watt. Other NFL players that have trained alongside Kelly this offseason, he said, have been Watt, Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Nick Hayden, Jacksonville Jaguars fullback Bradie Ewing and Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler. All five players are former Badgers.
"Everybody just comes back there," Kelly said. "That's one of the big things, too. You get that competition in that gym that you're not necessarily going to get at other gyms. That's kind of what I looked for."
Kelly said he arrived in Waukesha on Jan. 5, just four days after Wisconsin's 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, and has remained there ever since.
"Honestly, I think it's given me an advantage," Kelly said. "I've realized this NFL thing, you've only kind of got one or two shots at it and that's kind of it. I figure I'm going to give it everything I've got, make an investment here on the front side and hopefully stuff pans out on the back end for me."
Though the NFL Draft takes place May 8-10, the likelihood of Kelly hearing his name called appears slim. But plenty of players have excelled as rookie free agents, and Kelly is hoping to be one of them.
All Kelly wants is a chance to prove he isn't as injury prone as some might believe -- and to show he's capable of being an NFL player.
"If I end up going that free=agent route, that's something where I'm going to put in that work that needs to be done," Kelly said. "I'm going to take advantage of the opportunities when they come."
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