WINNIPEG – You’re in the pool, start swimming — that’s pretty much how receiver Aaron Kelly describes his introduction last season to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
At the time, the team itself wasn’t treading water too well.
After Kelly was signed near the end of August he managed to finish 2013 with 22 catches and a respectable 321 yards by the end of the season, while the Bombers finished in the league cellar at 3-15. He finished fifth on the team receiving list.
The lean six-foot-five import is now entering his fourth season in the CFL and has a combined 20 starts with the Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he spent his first two seasons.
Kelly joined a team last year that had just sacked its president, general manager and offensive co-ordinator. They also were still in the process of burning through four quarterbacks, hoping to find one who could find a way out of their slump.
“When you need timing and stuff like that you want to get familiar with a quarterback and when it changes up it makes it difficult,” says the soft-spoken Georgia native.
This year, Kelly says he’s benefiting from a chance to attend training camp, learn the offence from the ground up and become familiar with the team’s quarterbacks, before he has to play a regular-season game.
“I think it will give me the ability to be a little more comfortable,” he said. “You come in the middle of the season and you’re just kind of thrown in there, and you know just like thrown in a pool and just trying to survive . . .
“Getting in from the start you get all the details and all the coaching.”
Kelly has had a good camp so far as the first pre-season game approaches Monday, when the Toronto Argonauts visit. It’s about the only game confirmed this year as the league and players association remain embroiled in a contract dispute.
Starting quarterback Drew Willy and Max Hall, who was the most consistent quarterback at the end of last season for the Bombers, both like the way Kelly has been hauling in passes at camp
“We’ve had some good connections already in the past few days. He’s done a good job on the seam routes and corners,” said Willy, who likes Kelly’s size.
“His catch radius is very big and he’s done a great job for us and we’re looking forward to him helping us.”
Hall has also had a pretty good camp himself and likes what Kelly delivers.
“Aaron Kelly is a good football player,” says Hall, the only quarterback the Bombers decided to keep from 2013.
“He’s just easy to throw the ball to. But, for being such a big guy, he’s got a nice stride, he’s quick on his feet. And what I really like about him, he knows how to separate man coverage. And so, as a quarterback, he’s a guy you can go to, a guy you can trust.”
There are four quarterbacks in camp right now for the Bombers, five if you count a guest slot for the University of Manitoba Bisons.
Getting to work with that many is another bonus to attending camp, says Kelly, should something happen during the season that would force a change.
“In camp you get a chance to work with everyone and get your timing down with everyone, so when you get into the game, you’ll be ready to work with whoever.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014