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New Role for Reggie Kelly


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Following Sunday's victory over the Steelers, the Bengals tight ends huddled together in the locker room to congratulate each other. Just minutes after the game ended, the two most recognizable Bengals tight ends weren't in uniform.

Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht celebrated with their teammates - and it felt great, Kelly said, but there was something missing. He hadn't played and he won't play this season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in training camp.

After being unable to walk for several weeks after surgery, Kelly is mobile again and back with his teammates. The veteran tight end is rehabbing at Paul Brown Stadium and back with his team. He stood on the sidelines Sunday and was as happy as anyone the Bengals finally came through against the Steelers, but it was different.

"No doubt, when I was out there on the field, and didn't have my pads on, it felt weird. I definitely wanted to be out there (playing)," Kelly said Monday. "The emotion, the butterflies -- just the whole thrill of being out there -- the electricity in the air. I wanted to be out there with my guys, with my teammates. I felt like I needed them, they needed me. They stuck together, they played hard. The one thing about it, they finished to the end. I believe that's attributed to last year's season."

Kelly said that's what may hurt the most - he felt like this team could be something special.

"I was so excited about this upcoming year. Any time you have a year like we had last year, you certainly want redemption," Kelly said. "There was an electricity even during off-season training. The guys were expecting big things and I was expecting big things. That's why I was sad when I went down, because I knew I wasn't going to be a part of this great year."

Kelly's injury was seen by millions of viewers on the HBO series "Hard Knocks" that followed the Bengals' training camp.

The cameras originally focused on Kelly as the unsung team leader, the veteran that every player respects, but the storyline was turned on its head when he suffered the injury. The cameras followed Kelly into the training room and showed Bengals' trainers telling him his season was over before it began. At that moment, Kelly thought about asking the cameras to leave, but now he's glad he didn't.

"When you get an injury as such, you get sad, you get down and you want some time for yourself to detox and get your thoughts together," Kelly said. "After they filmed it, I was happy they did so the fans, the media and everyone could get the inside scoop of an NFL player, the emotions that go along with it. A lot of people think because we're NFL players that we have no emotions, that we're robots. I want them to know we do care about the game."

Nobody can doubt Kelly's dedication to the game. Kelly's now walking and hopes to jogging within a month, and ultimately return to play for the Bengals in 2010.

In the meantime, Kelly is acting almost as a coach.

""I know I can still be a part of it, I can still contribute. I'm not going to go into a shell, I want to make sure my presence is felt.

His mere presence has been uplifting, said quarterback Carosn Palmer, whose locker is next to Kelly's in the Bengals' locker room.

"It's just nice seeing him. He brought a comfort level for me playing with him," Palmer said."He loves the game, he loves practice. It's good to see his face when you haven't seen him for a while and now he's around and trying to contribute in any way he can. He's got some young tight ends who eat up every word he has to say. Having him around for them is huge. He's been my lockermate for five, six years. It's nice to have him around."

The Bengals' tight end position was dealt another blow in the preseason when Utecht suffered a concussion and was put on the Reserved/Injured list. Left are a couple of third-year players, Daniel Coats and J.P. Foschi and a rookie, Chase Coffman.

"I told Chase that the first week he was here. I compared it to the situation I was in my rookie year with Jon Kitna, just eat up every word he's got, because you're not always going to have a guy like that around and you don't realize that as a rookie," Palmer said. "You don't realize how fortunate you are to be in that situation, and I tried to stress that to him, that it's not always going to be like that,"

Kelly likes what he's seen from the young tight ends.

Kelly on Coats: "Ben has the talent to make a lot of money in this game. He just needs the confidence."

Kelly on Foschi: "J.P. has been tremendous. When a guy come from another team and learn the offense that quickly, you know he's a smart player. He's a great blocker. He has the nastiness that you want from any blocking tight end."

Kelly on Coffman: "Chase is still a baby in this game. When you have a guy with all those qualities, he can be an outstanding player int his league. ... Do it all. He could be the next Jason Witten, a guy who can block, who can catch and go to Pro Bowls every year."

No matter how much he's been impressed by that group, Kelly's hoping to push them in a different way next season.

"I can feel it in my bones," Kelly said of his return. "I have an itch that needs to be scratched, so I've got to come back."

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