Caleb Kelly Post-Spring Game

Caleb Kelly Post-Spring Game

Oklahoma Spring Review: Caleb Kelly Returns to Action From Injury

Playing just four games in the last two years, Caleb Kelly looks to make the most of his final year as a Sooner.
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Caleb Kelly is hoping 2021 is finally a year that breaks in his direction.

In his first two years under Alex Grinch, Kelly has been largely unavailable through no fault of his own.

Injuries have limited him to just four appearances over the last two years, but he returned to the field looking healthy in Oklahoma’s Red/White Game.

Unfortunately for Kelly, the linebacker room has built experienced depth in his absence.

Brain Asamoah, DaShaun White and David Ugwoegbu all split reps at the position, with freshman Shane Whitter coming on strong to finish the year.

Caleb Kelly

Caleb Kelly

But Kelly brings his own experience too.

Most importantly, he looked mobile in the spring game and didn’t seem to be overthinking moving around on his knee.

First seeing action on the initial drive of the game, Kelly almost seemed overeager at times.

Form the jump, he correctly played his run fit, but then once he located the football, he over-pursued running back Eric Gray.

Kelly followed that up with a few great plays. Appearing to be decisive, he correctly identified the next three plays, covering Gray out of the backfield (something OU struggled with early last season) and even coming up and making a tackle in the run game.

On the sixth play of the game, Kelly had his only real error. 

Failing to stick to Jeremiah Hall, Kelly got caught with his eyes in the backfield, allowing the window to stay open for Spencer Rattler to rifle the ball into Hall’s hands. Thankfully for Kelly, Hall was unable to handle the pass, and Kelly’s arrival at the last second was enough to distract Hall and aide the incompletion.

Otherwise, Kelly did his job in pass coverage.

Matching up briefly with Jadon Haselwood on the third drive of the game, Kelly was able to work through the play and get over to cut off a window in Haselwood’s direction, effectively closing off his side of the field in pass coverage.

Kelly did get caught in traffic on the next running play, failing to shed Wanya Morris, but the running play went away from him and he didn’t really have much to do to clean things up.

Caleb Kelly

Caleb Kelly

In the second half, the former 5-star recruit got a drive and a half before Grinch gave him the rest of the game off.

Right out of the gate, Kelly showed off his athleticism as he was tasked with spying freshman quarterback Caleb Williams. The senior did a great job keeping containment on Williams, quickly identifying exactly where he needed to be.

After again taking Hall out of consecutive plays with good zone coverage, Kelly almost worked his way into the spring game highlight reel.

Facing a second and goal, Hall was sent in motion from right to left across the formation. After the ball was snapped, the interior pressure caught Hall up, freeing Kelly to lock on to Williams and identify the pass play. Kelly was able to get his hands up and bat down the pass, but really he should have been able to pull down the interception and make a house call all the way into the end zone.

Getting two plays of action late into the second drive of the second half, Kelly allowed Brian Darby to haul in a pass before he was unable to get off of Ian McIver’s block as Gray juked out Jordan Mukes and found pay dirt.

It’s unclear if Kelly’s early identification of various plays is due to his seniority and football IQ, or just his mastery of Lincoln Riley’s vanilla spring game offense, but regardless it’s a great sign that he isn’t thinking much about where he needs to be or how healthy his knee is, and is just playing instinctual football.

His experience will be essential in helping the younger linebackers continue to grow through the season, but it’s unclear how much playing time he will actually get.

Kelly seemed to have taken a step forward at the end of 2019 when he debuted in Grinch’s defense, but the entire unit took another step forward in 2020, and it will be impossible to know if Kelly is in lockstep with his peers until he sees action on the field.

All in all, his 19 plays over four drives ended up being a nice day at the office, as at the worst he appears to be a solid rotational piece with high-end upside as a starting inside linebacker. 

Caleb Kelly is hoping 2021 is finally a year that breaks in his direction.

In his first two years under Alex Grinch, Kelly has been largely unavailable through no fault of his own.

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