GREEN BAY, Wis. – New Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Dennis Kelly made a friend during his tour of his new workplace at Lambeau Field on Wednesday.
“When I was going around the building, just worked out that David (Bakhtiari) was coming in right during that time. ‘Brother!’”
It was there that they hatched their plan for Kelly to come out on the practice field on Thursday wearing Bakhtiari’s jersey.
“He was like, ‘It would be a great idea.’ So, it was a good way to introduce myself to everyone and keep things light and fun,” Kelly said. “Apparently, it worked.”
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Indeed it did. With a similar hairstyle and vaguely similar faces, Kelly briefly fooled some members of the media, who aren’t allowed to watch practice where the linemen are working. Even some teammates were confused for a moment.
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“When he first went out to practice, I did a hard double take when he had David’s jersey on,” rookie center Josh Myers said.
With a lot of experience (104 games, 47 starts in eight seasons), including experience in a Matt LaFleur-style offense (25 starts the past three seasons with Tennessee, including five starts in 2018 when LaFleur was offensive coordinator), Kelly is just what the doctor ordered for an offensive line with a lot of viable guard/tackle candidates but not really a pure offensive tackle to provide critical depth.
If Bakhtiari is healthy for Week 1 and he and Billy Turner get through the new 17-game season unscathed, Kelly might be lining up only for extra points and field goals this season. However, last season, No. 3 right tackle Rick Wagner played 58.7 percent of the offensive snaps. The Packers might not have reached the 2019 NFC Championship Game without Jared Veldheer available to replace Bryan Bulaga at the last minute.
Including playoffs, Kelly started all 17 games and logged 1,099 snaps at right tackle last season. He helped power Derrick Henry’s monster season and one of the better offenses in the NFL. However, the Titans released him in March in a cap-related move. With teams around the NFL dealing with their own cap issues, Kelly remained available deep into July. The Packers were interested for months but were wrestling with the cap as well as their quarterback.
“Obviously, ecstatic to be here,” he said. “Great franchise, ton of history, great opportunity. It’s such a wild year for the NFL because of COVID and everything. It seems COVID kind of hit the NFL this year more so than last year in terms of process. There’s a lot of elements that took a hit. Took a lot of patience. There was a lot of my wife and I have conversations, ‘Are we misreading something?’ There were moments but my agent did a good job early on saying something might happen quick but, at the same time, it’s not a crazy idea that things won’t happen until camp for a lot of players. Everything kind of lined up. We had the mind-set that nothing was really going to happen until camp. If something did, it would be a pleasant surprise.”
Kelly does have one claim to fame. He’s scored two NFL touchdowns when lined up as an extra tight end. On Nov. 24, 2019, he scored on a 1-yard touchdown pass in a 42-20 rout of Jacksonville. Eight weeks later, the Titans were in the AFC Championship Game at Kansas City. Kelly’s 1-yard touchdown catch put the Titans up 17-7, though they lost 35-24.
“It was one of those things where Coach LaFleur (as coordinator in 2018), Art Smith (coordinator in 2019), especially, we had it in the game plan for years at that point. When they finally pulled the trigger, I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ it’s actually going to happen. Cool moment. I kept the balls. I’m a record-holder for being the fattest guy to catch a touchdown in an NFL playoff game, so you take that for what it’s worth.”
Any record’s a good record, right?
“That’s what I say.”