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Chad Kelly: Playing for Bills would be 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity'

MOBILE, Ala. -- Chad Kelly wants the Buffalo Bills.

The former Ole Miss quarterback and Western New Yorker hopes they have the desire and the chance to select him in the NFL Draft.

"I mean, that'd be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, of course, to play for your home team, where you grew up and all through the years," the former St. Joe's standout said while here for the Senior Bowl. "It would be truly a dream come true, especially to follow in my uncle's footsteps. But you just never know. Wherever, I'd be very, very happy."

Buffalo isn't "wherever."

It's where Uncle Jim had a Hall-of-Fame career and became a lasting symbol of the Bills' glory days. It's where 17 years have gone by without a playoff appearance. It's where fans continue to long for someone to come even remotely close to Jim Kelly as a franchise quarterback.

Maybe another Kelly is the answer for the team, which could part ways with Tyrod Taylor during the offseason.

"One thing I love about Buffalo is the cold," Chad said. "I mean, that's one thing that growing up there, you love it. And to play in the snow would be just as fun. I remember back in high school, when I played in the snow, the sleet, the rain, and I had the best game I've ever had. So it'd be fun and that's the goal is to, of course, play for your home team like any kid."

Kelly isn't taking part in practices and won't play in Saturday's game. He's still recovering from surgery he underwent on Nov. 14 to repair a torn right ACL. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, told him he's "ahead of schedule" in his recovery and Kelly hopes to be able to participate in next month's NFL Scouting Combine and at the Ole Miss Pro Day.

Kelly has been based in Gulf Breeze, Fla., near Pensacola, at the EXOS training center where he has been rehabilitating. He is under the supervision of athletic trainers and Andrews.

"I'm in good hands down there and I'm just trying to get back as soon as possible, but not rush it," Kelly said. "I've just got to keep working every day."

Kelly's primary purpose here is to meet with NFL team representatives. But after the week's final full-scale practice Thursday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, he plans to throw passes to two of his former receivers on the South squad, Even Engram of Ole Miss and Artavis Scott of Clemson, and anyone else interested in catching balls from Kelly.

The Bills aren't tipping their hand about their plans at quarterback, or if they'll even draft one. But General Manager Doug Whaley said Kelly is very much on the team's radar, and is impressed with the quarterback's decision to accept his invitation to the Senior Bowl even though he isn't physically ready to play.

"Well, you look at it this way, that shows you that he's got the big picture in mind, obviously, with his uncle and everything," Whaley said. "But he knows the business in totality. He can't perform, but one of the big things here is having the interviews with the different teams, so he made himself accessible. So that's a positive.

"And, obviously, the arm. I mean, it's undeniable. The arm is there and this is why we want to get in with him, get our hands on him, have our quarterbacks coach say, 'All right, we see you have the arm. Tell me about your mind. How did you make these decisions? What are you supposed to be looking for? What type of defenses are you calling as in secondary play? Are you identifying the Mike (linebacker)?' All the little mental things that you want to get your hands on these guys (and find out)."

A large part of Kelly's discussions with potential NFL employers will be his history of off-field issues. In 2014, he was tossed off Clemson's team because of disputes with his coaches.

After arriving at Ole Miss, following a junior college stint, Kelly was arrested after being ejected from a Buffalo bar and saying he was going to "get my AK-47 and spray this place." Additionally, he was led off the field when a brawl erupted at his brother's high school game.

"You've got to be honest with them, first of all," Kelly said of his conversations with teams. "But you've got to own up to your mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, but it's about how you learn from them and if you make the same mistake twice.

"And me, personally, all those mistakes happened and I'm through that stage. I was young, I was stupid, but now this is a grown-man business and I have to treat every day and approach every day as this is a job. This is a 'suit' job."

Kelly said the injury, the second of its kind to his right knee, impacted his outlook on life. It helped him to "refocus."

"I made stupid mistakes in the past and you know what? This just kind of reassured that everything can be taken away just like that," he said. "And it's my second one on the same knee (the first happened when he was at Clemson) and heaven forbid something happens, I mean, I have to fall back on something. And I'm very gracious that I went back to school to finish my degree and I got a degree (in general studies). That's the biggest thing.

"With that being said, I've just got to stay focused through the whole process and can't let outside things determine the way I think."

Kelly had yet to meet with a Bills representative here. Whaley said one of his scouts might meet with him, but that the team planned to get together with him either at the Combine or at One Bills Drive.

"Especially the way the NFL is with the personal-conduct policy, you have to do as much research on the off-the-field stuff as on the field," Whaley said. "And I'm sure with him having Jim in his corner and probably a lot of people in his camp that have gone through this before, they're going to give him the right advice and it's just, tell the truth."

Does he have any concern about Kelly feeling any pressure over following in his uncle's footsteps?

"That's something you put in the back of your mind, but then you rely on the mental makeup of the player," Whaley said. "I mean, if Chad is mentally strong enough, that's not going to phase him. And that's one of those things that you want to find out, because you want a quarterback that's not fazed by outside pressure."

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