Ryan Kelly is ready to step into some big shoes and fans will like how they’re being filled. (Ryan Kelly Facebook Photo)
Ryan Kelly, Big Man, Big Reason not to Worry About the Offensive Line
By: Larry Burton
When some people point to potential problems Alabama could experience this season, one line that almost always seems to come up is the loss of such important people on the offensive line, mainly, Alabama’s All American Barrett Jones, who played tackle, guard and last season, center at Alabama. Jones play solidified an offensive line that many feel was one of the best lines in Alabama’s history.
Replacing a man with the experience and talent of Jones to many, is something that is just irreplaceable.
People in the know around the Crimson Tide program, don’t share that worry. They know the replacement is Ryan Kelly and if you don’t know him yet, you should get to know why the insiders are not worried that the center position at Alabama this season. Like Jones, he has played all the positions on the offensive line at one time or another, but unlike Jones, he’s known his time in Crimson will be just at center.
Kelly is the next in a long line of great centers at the University of Alabama. He was tutored his first year at Alabama by William Vlachos, a center who helped guide the Crimson Tide to national championships in 2009 and 2011. Vlachos was the “Little Engine That Could” at Alabama. He was the smallest in stature at just over six foot and about 285 pounds, but he became one of the strongest on the offensive line in the weight room and used that strength to gain advantages over much bigger defensive personnel.
Kelly said that he learned much during his first year at Alabama on the scout team from Vlachos like how to leverage your strength and position on defenders. He also learned by the example that that Vlachos set that through hard work and correct skills, you can whip much bigger men.
Then last year, as a red shirt freshman, he backed up Barrett Jones, who likewise tutored Kelly. Like the lessons he learned from Vlachos mentoring, he learned so much more by not only studying the play of the man, but the man himself.
In an all important SEC Championship Game last season, Kelly learned about giving your all, leaving it all out on the field and holding nothing back as he watch Barrett Jones play through pain from a foot injury that included a break and torn ligaments to help lead Alabama down the field one more time to win the SEC Championship game en-route to another national championship. Jones had to leave the field on crutches to get to the locker room, but not before finishing that last drive. It was an injury that would have sidelined most normal men.
“I’ve had the chance to learn from two of the best, (referring to Vlachos and Jones) and I feel lucky to have also had the coaching staff that I’ve had since I’ve been here.” Kelly said during media days just prior to the National Championship Game in Miami this past winter. “I know I’ll have big shoes to fill, but I feel like with all the help I’ve had to get where I am, I can handle it. It’s a lot of responsibility, calling the offense, helping the guards, reading the defense, it’s an important job.”
And it is a job that Kelly seems to take very seriously. His work ethic in the entire “process” is 100%, from weight training, to film study, from hard work and preparation, Ryan Kelly is making himself into a man who is already on the watch list of the Remington award, the national award given to the nation’s best offense center. Those people know a thing or two about who’s who in the world of the best of the best centers in the nation and they feel he is one to watch to be the very best.
Vlachos made that watch list too at 6’1″ and 292 pounds, Jones made that list and won that award at 6’4″ and 305 pounds. When he hits the field this fall at 6’5″ and around 295 pounds, Kelly will be the tallest, biggest and perhaps, one of the strongest players at that position in a long time.
As for filling Jones shoes in another area, in his first appearance in the Alabama media room this spring, when he was asked if AJ McCarron pushed him over a line call like he did Jones in the championship game, would he push back as Jones did?
“I guess we’ll see what happens… Never know.” said a grinning Kelly.
But what we do know about Kelly is that the offensive line won’t suffer with Jones gone as long as this big guy from West Chester, Ohio is there snapping the ball.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter