INDIANAPOLIS — Chad Kelly was looking for an escape.
The focus of Wednesday’s practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center was on the red zone, and the defense had each of Kelly’s receivers locked up.
So the former Ole Miss star took off from the pocket. He headed toward the sideline then cut into the corner of the end zone without being touched by a defensive player.
But there was no celebration.
Kelly simply flipped the ball toward a trainer and jogged back into the huddle.
He knows these are not the moments that count. This rushing touchdown was far easier on a cloudy May afternoon while wearing a red no-contact jersey than even a fourth-quarter drive in the preseason in August will be.
But it’s a start.
And that’s all Kelly is asking for.
The troubled quarterback was arrested on a trespassing charge in October and subsequently released by the Denver Broncos. He spent the intevening months living in his parents’ basement in Buffalo, N.Y., and waiting for another shot in the NFL.
The Indianapolis Colts provided it after a promising performance during a tryout at the rookie mini-camp three weeks ago.
The offer comes with no promises — not even a roster spot is guaranteed on a team that rarely has carried three quarterbacks during the regular season — but Kelly isn’t complaining.
He met with the local media for the first time after Wednesday’s practice, and he appeared remorseful.
Kelly has been humbled by his transgressions, and he’s anxious for a new beginning.
“To sit at home and kind of see those guys last year out there playing on the football field and going from being the first guy in the building to the last guy out and now you are sitting at home not doing anything. You are on your time, it’s just like, ‘Man, this is wild.’” Kelly said. “So I am very thankful for this opportunity to have these coaches and these players around here and a support staff to kind of make me be a better person on and off the field. I truly see that it’s a genuine thing around here.”
Colts head coach Frank Reich likes what he’s seen so far.
Reich spent 10 seasons backing up Kelly’s uncle Jim with the Buffalo Bills. While that relationship might have helped Kelly get a foot in the door, it means nothing as he competes for a spot behind starter Andrew Luck and backup Jacoby Brissett.
Reich has seen growth from Kelly since those early days during the rookie mini-camp, and he believes the 25-year-old has some traits that could help him succeed in the league.
“I think Chad moves well,” Reich said. “He can throw on the run and then when he moves in the pocket, I think he’s got some natural movement instincts and can deliver the ball from different arm angles. He has played a lot of football. He has played a lot of football for his age and thrown a lot of balls.”
Kelly also understands he’s got a lot of work to do to earn back trust.
The Broncos took a chance on him as the final pick of the 2017 draft, and he showed promise as the team continued its search for a successor to Peyton Manning.
The arrest brought to mind the troubles that followed Kelly from Clemson to East Mississippi Community College and on to Ole Miss, and Denver severed the relationship.
It’s the quarterback’s job now to prove he’s defeated his demons and is ready to start fulfilling some of his on-field potential.
“I think at the end of the day you just have to put in enough work for those guys to trust you because it’s going to take some time, of course, because there have been things that have happened in the past,” Kelly said. “But I am up for the challenge to prove to these guys that I am dedicated to this. I want to do whatever I have to do to be a great teammate, a great leader because that’s what quarterbacks do.”