|Raiders believe blocked FG is tip of iceberg for talented DE Tommy Kelly|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 September 2007 12:11|
For weeks, Sapp has been telling anyone who would listen that the Raiders' fourth-year defensive end is one of the best young players in the NFL.
Kelly took a big step toward confirming that last week when he blocked a field goal as time expired against Cleveland, helping Oakland snap an 11-game losing streak dating to 2006.
``He'll be better than me,'' Sapp said. ``He'll have better numbers than me when his game's over. ... I know him. This kid's picking up everything you could possibly imagine. His game has just evolved.''
Sapp should know. The two joined the Raiders at the same time in 2004. Sapp had just signed a free agent contract after spending nine years in Tampa Bay, while Kelly signed with the team as an undrafted and unheralded free agent from Mississippi State.
The two have since formed a tight-knit relationship which often calls for Sapp to speak on Kelly's behalf. That's because Kelly, 26, doesn't talk to the media, at least not about football. He will exchange pleasantries with a handshake and smile, but that's as far as it goes for Oakland's 6-foot-6, 300-pound defensive lineman.
``He's just shy with you guys, but he's hilarious,'' Sapp said. ``He'll come up with some off-the-wall stuff that just makes you laugh.''
Few people within the Raiders organization were laughing much during the past 11 months. Before Sunday's game against the Browns, Oakland hadn't won since Oct. 29, 2006, an 11-game slide that matched the second-longest streak in franchise history.
Kelly halted the skid with one swipe of his left hand when he blocked Phil Dawson's second attempt at a 40-yard field goal. Dawson had been successful on his first try, but the kick was negated when the referee ruled the Raiders had called timeout before the attempt.
It was the first blocked kick of Kelly's career, moving him one step closer to Sapp in a career that already has striking similarities.
Through their first three years in the NFL, both players had comparable numbers. Sapp made 37 starts, 146 tackles, 22 1/2 sacks and five forced fumble; Kelly made 31 starts, 133 tackles, 12 sacks and six forced fumbles.
But while Sapp played one position - defensive tackle - Kelly has moved from nose guard to tackle to end and played all three with equal success.
``When I was coaching in Denver, we had a guy named Trevor Pryce, he played all three different positions,'' Raiders defensive line coach Keith Millard said. ``He's been a Pro Bowler at the defensive tackle position and he's been a Pro Bowl-caliber type as a defensive end. (Kelly) can play any position across the defensive line. That's a compliment to his abilities.
``We really count on Tommy to do just about everything in our defense and do it well. He's really working hard to get that done.''
With Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess likely to sit out his second straight game with a calf injury, the Raiders are also counting on Kelly to help improve an anemic pass rush that has generated just five sacks in three games.
Yet Sapp says Oakland is playing Kelly out of position at defensive end.
``For me, a three-technique is gravy for him because you can't move him,'' Sapp said. ``You can't double him because he can play low, and you can't block him one-on-one. There's a couple intricate parts I've got to teach him with this and that or whatever. After I get finished with him in the next year and a half, he'll be able to get protections and everything down.''
If that's the case, then why are the Raiders insistent on playing Kelly at defensive end?
``Because I'm here,'' Sapp said with a hearty laugh. ``The professor ain't gone yet.''
Notes: QB Josh McCown sat out practice for a second straight day while QB Daunte Culpepper took all the reps in practice with Oakland's starting offense. McCown is nursing injuries to both feet and was wearing a walking boot on his left foot.