TEMPE, Ariz. — The connection was hard not to make: A young quarterback from Idaho who played his college ball at Arizona State now wearing No. 16 for the local NFL team.
“He kind of reminds me of Jake (Plummer) in that number,” Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said, referring to Taylor Kelly.
Four months removed from throwing his final pass as a Sun Devil — a four-yard touchdown strike to Demario Richard for the game-winning score in the Sun Bowl –Kelly arrived at Cardinals headquarters for rookie mini-camp.
He was one of 50 players on the field Friday, 20 of whom were like Kelly, invited to try out.
“It’s awesome. This experience that the Cardinals are giving me is unbelievable,” he said.
Kelly worked out for the Cardinals prior to the draft. They were the only NFL team to call afterwards and offer him an invitation to try out.
“I’m very fortunate for that,” he said. “The Cardinals, they saw something in me to bring me in to workout. I’m very blessed to get this opportunity and make the most of it.”
The mini-camp runs through Sunday.
As a three-year starter at ASU, Kelly ranked third all-time in touchdown passes (79) and fourth in total passing yards (8,819). He finished his career with the highest completion percentage (63.3) and the most net rushing yards by a quarterback (1,404), a credit to his dual-threat ability.
College numbers, however, don’t carry over to the NFL.
Kelly said he feels like he’s starting all over.
“I’ve got to go back to my freshman year of college. That’s what it is right now is you’re learning a new system,” he said. “My mind was running a million miles per hour. I’ve got to start slowing that down and get in the playbook and understand my reads.”
After day one, Kelly admitted mistakes were made, like being late on some reads and second-guessing his throws.
The NFL game is much faster and much different, Kelly said, because for the first time in a long time he found himself in a huddle.
“Just the language of it, being in the huddle instead of just getting (the play) from the sideline with a signal,” he said. “You have to remember all the different snap counts. The verbiage, that’s the big thing that I’m learning and I’m going to continue hitting the playbook. There’s going to be mistakes. You just got to minimize those as much as you can and go out there and play fast.”
The Cardinals invited only one other quarterback to participate in the mini-camp, Phillip Sims out of Winston-Salem state.
Whether either Kelly or Sims last past the weekend would appear to be a long shot — especially with four quarterbacks already on the roster — though Arians did leave the door open, albeit perhaps only slightly.
“I kind of like both of these guys,” he said. “It might be something where we keep a guy for a fifth arm to work with the rookies in the afternoon.”
Kelly said he knows his time to make an impression is short.
“That I can play in the NFL, that I can be a starting quarterback for one of them, especially the Cardinals,” he said. “For me to have a great showcase this weekend and put those talents out on the field and show these coaches what I can do to win ballgames.”
And why not, remember, Kelly wouldn’t be the first quarterback to make the ASU-Arizona Cardinals jump.
“Once I walked into the locker room, went to my locker, saw 16, (it) just put a little smile on my face,” he said. “(Jake) sent me a text this morning, wished me good luck. I’m just going to make the most of this opportunity.”