The opportunity for a young backup to start a game is a tremendous one. But it’s almost never an overwhelming experience, at least emotionally. Perhaps they might be overmatched from a physical standpoint, but the reality is that starting and competing at this level has likely been their goal for as long as they’ve played football.
So as Pittsburgh Steelers first-year safety Kameron Kelly runs with the first-team defense heading into Thursday’s practice, he’s keeping that perspective, preparing to take the field with the starters at free safety if Sean Davis is not able to get back in time from an ankle injury he suffered in the third preseason game.
“It’ll be a lot of fun”, he told Jacob Klinger of PennLive of the opportunity to start against the New England Patriots, if it comes down to that. “I’ve been preparing for this since I was a little kid, so I’m trying not to think about it or make it too big of a deal”.
To go from being released outright last year as an undrafted rookie by the Dallas Cowboys to starting the season opener for the Steelers a year later would certainly be a huge turn of events for Kelly, even if it would only be on a temporary basis, but he has earned the right to be in that position with his consistent and quality performance throughout the offseason, which has opened the coaches’ eyes.
He was one of over half a dozen players from the former Alliance of American Football that the Steelers ended up signing from April all the way through August (Jayrone Elliott being a late addition), but the only one who survived all the way to the 53-man roster, or practice squad. I believe he was something like one of six who remain on a roster now.
After he was released by the Cowboys last year, he never caught on with anybody later in the season, even on the practice squad, but he had inked a contract with the San Diego Fleet of the AAF. While there, he recorded 14 tackles with four interceptions and nine passes defensed, playing primarily as a safety, but also working at cornerback, and even starting out at wide receiver. He played for San Diego State in college.
To go from starting against the likes of Garrett Gilmore to playing against Tom Brady, however, is quite a culture shock, and one he understands he’ll have to adjust to. Even if he doesn’t start, he figures to take the field as a sub-package defender.
“I mean I’ve got butterflies right now”, he admitted, “but after the initial contact after my first real hit that’ll be fine”.