FOXBORO -- Tommy Kelly might have nine NFL seasons under his belt, but he takes nothing for granted.
"My rookie year, coming in undrafted. That's how I feel right now: Coming in undrafted, free agent, you know," the 32-year old said Wednesday. "Nothing [is] guaranteed to you; you're the bottom of the totem pole. You can easily be replaced."
The former Raiders defensive tackle signed a two-year deal with New England in April. He's thrilled for the opportunity (but of course -- Oakland hasn't been to the playoffs since 2002) and is taking it seriously. Talking to Kelly, he doesn't think he's special for starting all 16 regular season games for the last five years. He's proud of being reliable, but knows those past achievements didn't make the cross-country trip from California.
"I've got to make the team first. Bill [Belichick], he doesn't guarantee anybody will make it," Kelly shrugged.
"When you're dealing with a coach with a resume [like his] . . . if somebody like that believes in you, it makes you feel good about yourself," he said. "But at the same time, it's a program where you've got to prove yourself. If you don't prove yourself, he'll get rid of you."
That shouldn't be the case for Kelly.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound lineman worked closely with Patriots stalwart Vince Wilfork on Wednesday. Considering Kelly's experience, and New England's recent dispatching of Brandon Deadrick and Kyle Love, he's a good bet to start alongside Wilfork in the 4-3.
In the meantime, he's keeping his nose in the playbook.
Kelly's sack numbers dropped from 7.5 in 2011 to just one in 2012. The season was one of his worst statistically and a $4.775 million cap-clear made his release even more attractive to Oakland.
So the Raiders walked away.
"Whatever happened last year, it happened," Kelly said. "I'm counting on moving on from that. I ain't really tripping. I know I'm going to bounce back, so I ain't really worried about it."
It seems the Patriots aren't worried either; Kelly was on the market for less than two weeks before getting picked up. Clearly, they saw something they liked. Maybe it's all that field time.
"When you play D-tackle you've got to be reliable, because it's a physically draining and mentally draining position," Kelly said. "And that's what I really pride myself on, is being dependable. I'm going to give my teammates all I've got."