For Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, transitioning to the role of a full-time starter will be both a challenge and a relief.
Kelly served as the Titans’ primary backup offensive tackle from 2016-2019, and he’ll now step into the starting role at right tackle following the departure of Jack Conklin in free agency.
The far-increased role will put more pressure on Kelly and require consistent, quality performances, but it will also make game preparation a lot easier.
“It has its different challenges but I also have the benefit of knowing I’m going to be on one side, one set of assignments, one set of rules,” Kelly said. “So, it kind of helps in that aspect of it.”
While Kelly was a backup for the Titans, he was the first choice at both right and left tackle whenever the regular starters were injured or suspended. He always had to be ready to step into either position at a moment’s notice.
That required him to practice hand placement, stance and footwork at both positions during each week of practice.
As a result, he was never able to pour all of his focus into a single position.
“There’s that mental aspect of what you are doing from a technique standpoint,” Kelly said.
“It’s getting whatever those mental triggers are for you to figure out, ‘OK, well now I’m on the left so now I need to make sure I’m doing this. I do this better on the left side compared to the right, and vice versa.'”
Kelly: I never doubted that the Titans had confidence in me. They could’ve gone out and traded for someone last year when Lewan was suspended but they had enough confidence in me to let me fill in.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) March 17, 2020
Now that he’s a full-time starter, Kelly’s focus can shift entirely to right tackle, which will make the role transition feel a bit easier.
Still, Kelly understands that the added playing time will be challenging.
“I’ll be playing a lot more, playing 70 snaps a game for 16 weeks, until they get that 17th game in,” he said. “I’m excited for it because I’ve never really had a true opportunity like that. I’ve felt that I just need that opportunity to show that I can do it, and I’ve got one now.”
Kelly was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March but avoided the open market by re-signing with the Titans on a three-year contract just a few hours into the open negotiation window.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson decided to bring Kelly back because he was confident in Kelly’s ability to transition into a full-time starting role.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” Robinson said.
“We’ve won games with him in there, and feel confident about him starting at right tackle for us.”
Cover image: USA Today/Denny Medley