ATLANTA – When John Kelly started his collegiate career as a running back at Tennessee, he got used to the specter of a loaded depth chart.
Through his three years with Tennessee from 2015-17, Kelly competed with Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, among others, for carries and yards in a loaded backfield. Kelly finished his college career with 1,573 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on 327 carries, showing his versatility with 37 catches for 299 yards in his junior season.
That was enough to get the Los Angeles Rams to select him in the sixth round of the 2018 draft. And now the rookie is getting the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
Kelly’s situation with the Rams is similar to his former one in one way — as he did at Tennessee, Kelly is going to have to scale a packed depth chart at the position if he’s to have a major impact. Todd Gurley is the Rams’ star running back, and when Gurley was feeling the pinch of injuries late in the season, the Rams signed veteran back C.J. Anderson to help. Anderson has been a major asset, providing power running inside and gaining 466 rushing yards in his last four games.
If Kelly was disappointed he wasn’t getting those carries, he certainly wasn’t showing it.
“It felt like it was something good for the team to do,” Kelly said during the Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday. “C.J. came in and provided a lot of experience in the room that none of us had, that playoff experience. C.J. is a very good competitor and a great guy to learn from — he has a lot of study habits I can pick up on. I’m glad we brought C.J. in.”
Kelly hasn’t had as many opportunities, gaining just 74 yards on 27 carries in four games in his rookie campaign, but he said there’s one word that has summed up his 2018 season:
“Patience. It’s been a good season for us, but patience is the main thing I’ve learned. I have to continue to study my playbook, study everything I’ve been working on.”
He’s also had to deal with Gurley’s trash-talking. The former Georgia star had a few things to say about the rivalry with the Vols when Kelly joined the Rams.
“He kinda (said things) early in the year, but I’m not sweating him. My boys are going to make it happen, and I always have confidence in them down in Tennessee. So, I’m not tripping on Todd.”
More importantly, Kelly’s on the biggest stage of his life after the Rams overcame Karmara's New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game to get here. Did he feel for his former teammate after the Rams’ overtime win?
“Most definitely,” Kelly said after a laugh. “Alvin played a very good game. Of course, I’m glad we came out on top, but I was proud to see that Alvin had the success that he had.”
Between Gurley and Anderson, there isn’t much of a chance for Kelly to get a ton of carries in Super Bowl LIII unless somebody gets hurt. The rookie isn’t discouraged, though he’s well aware there is a history of relatively unheralded players who make the Super Bowl their opportunity for the biggest game possible.
“All it takes is one play! We’re all excited, and anyone’s liable to win Super Bowl MVP. Just one play,” said Kelly.