Players changing positions is common in college and when transitioning to the NFL.
Sometimes this is caused by a need at a certain position or by a coach who thinks that a player would fit better in a certain spot. Sometimes, it’s as small of a change as moving someone from cornerback to safety, or something more drastic as defensive line to offensive line or wide receiver to cornerback. Rarely does a safety or cornerback switch to the offensive side of the ball. Unless it’s Kameron Kelly, who switched positions seven days ago during the fifth practice of training camp.
This isn’t the first time Kelly has played receiver. Back during his time at Wylie High School in Texas, he was a wide receiver, defensive back, quarterback, and return man. He was good at every last one of them. In high school, he totaled almost 1800 all-purpose yards in his senior season. He had 841 passing yards, 568 rushing yards, 950 receiving yards, and 205 return yards. He also had 29 total touchdowns; five passing, 11 receiving, and 13 rushing while adding seven interceptions. Kelly played well all over the field and was offered a full-ride scholarship to play football at San Diego State University.
When he got to San Diego State, he abandoned the offensive side of the ball completely and became a safety, where he played and started until he moved to cornerback due to guys leaving for the NFL. He looked at home in either position, playing at a high level at safety for two years before moving to cornerback and becoming first team All-MWC and San Diego State’s Defensive MVP. He totaled 10 interceptions and 11 pass breakups over his career as both a safety and a cornerback. The numbers back up his ability as a defensive back.
From the tape and stats, Kelly looked like he was well on his way to becoming the best defensive back on a team without a lot of depth at the position. Whether it was at cornerback or safety, his length and athleticism would have allowed him to have an immediate impact for the San Diego Fleet on game days.
So that begs the question: Why would Head Coach Mike Martz have Kameron Kelly switch from defensive back to wide receiver? Is it just an experiment or is our wide receiving corps weak?
Mike Martz is an offensive coach through and through. He loves schemes that stretch the field and open up the box for the run. Marx could see Kelly’s length and athleticism as a tool that they can use to stretch the field even more. And he isn’t wrong. At 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, Kelly immediately becomes one of the larger receivers on the roster. He isn’t the only large wide receiver on the team, however, as seven other receivers are either within an inch of Kelly’s height or within five pounds of his weight.
With that in mind, the reason for switching Kelly becomes somewhat obscure. We won’t find out why until Martz comes out and says what his thought process was. Will it work out though?
The word from camp says that it just might. Coaches have complimented his route running and ability to learn the offense quickly, with Martz even saying that Kelly has “learned more in one day than some guys have learned over the first three days.” Now, an Air Coryell system like the one Martz is supposedly trying to install isn’t the most complicated, usually running off of a numbered route tree that is easy to learn. But the skills of a wide receiver (such as route running) are never easy to learn.
Martz isn’t the only coach to praise Kelly’s ability to pick up offensive concepts. Wide Receiver Coach Az-Zahir Hakim has noted that Kelly picked up the concepts quickly. “We got him from the defense three days ago, and as soon as we inserted him, he was assertive; he knew what was going on; he understood the concepts; he understands where to line up,” said Hakim. With an understanding of the offense and belief from the coaching staff, it is possible that he can succeed. But is this the right move by Martz?
My gut says no. It doesn’t make sense to take the best player in a position group away from that position. While Kelly has a chance to be helpful at wide receiver, he would have definitely been a help in the team’s defensive secondary. Now that he’s gone, the Fleet’s secondary takes a big hit and the team has no idea how much the offense will gain as a result of this move.
It isn’t for certain that Kelly will stay at wide receiver. The coaching staff could decide to move him back to safety, where he thrived in college and will certainly have a positive impact. If he does move back to safety, he can still be used on offense in a limited capacity for trick plays or potential mismatches. It just makes more sense for him to play in a limited role offensively while playing primarily on defense.
As a coach, taking calculated risks is part of the job. I just don’t know if this was the right risk for Martz to take. If it is a permanent move, the Fleet may not gain as much as they’d hope.