TEMPE, Ariz. – When Tommy Kelly joined the Arizona Cardinals last Wednesday, he was handed a playbook and told to learn his new defensive scheme.
Not a big deal. He hadn’t practiced with the team yet and was about to play in a meaningless, vanilla preseason game the next day. Flipping through the playbook was just like learning a new language in a week, Kelly said.
Kelly has been glued to his iPad and his book for the past week, learning the plays, the nuances of the scheme and the personality of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. But following his first practice with the Cardinals on Tuesday, the playbook came to life as Arizona began preparing for San Diego on Monday night, making Kelly’s job easier.
“I figure, everything’s been streamlined now,” Kelly said. “You know exactly what we’re going to run. Then it’s much easier to learn the defense than just looking at the playbook and flipping through it, not knowing what the coach is going to call. But when I know what he’s going to call, I kinda got a feeling at how he likes to call stuff.”
His first week in Arizona was like preparing for a test without knowing what would be on the test, Kelly said. His second week will like taking the same exam, but with knowing the answers.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Kelly has been able to pick up the defense just fine.
“It’s not real hard,” Arians said. “It’s just what gap to get in. Defensive line, that playbook isn’t real deep.”
Kelly, who signed a one-year contract worth $955,000 with Arizona, said he “kinda asked” to be released by the New England Patriots on Aug. 24.
He had 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks in five starts last season in New England before tearing his ACL. Upon returning to training camp this year, Kelly resumed his role with the first team and started the first three preseason games.
But he could sense something was changing.
“I saw what was going on,” Kelly said. “I mean, you’re starting me, but you’re taking me out. I don’t know why you're taking me out. I had a situation with my deal and I saw what he was doing, so I got on my agent and we got together and I was just happy.”
Kelly landed in Arizona, a team that was in need of depth on its defensive line and a spark in the pass rush ever since Darnell Dockett was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in training camp.
The 33-year-old Kelly could provide both.
“I think I can do anything you need me to do,” he said. “I can stop the run. I definitely can rush the passer.”
But Kelly will do it his way without trying to be Dockett.
“I can’t go out there trying to be him,” Kelly said. “I got to be Tommy. I’ve been in the league same amount of the years. I can do the same thing, baby. All I've got to do is worry about learning the playbook. I’ll learn the playbook and play hard and I’ll be OK.”