Of all the Bengals players that have graced the field in Paul Brown Stadium through the past few seasons, none have been as accessible to us here at Cincy Jungle than tight end Reggie Kelly. We've interviewed him a few times in the past and he's always been a pleasure to talk to. Before Kelly left Cincinnati for Atlanta to sign with the Falcons before the 2011 season, he debuted his new Kyvan salsa line in Cincinnati-area Jungle Jim's stores.
Even though Kelly doesn't play for the Bengals anymore, his ties to the Cincinnati area aren't going anywhere. Kyvan, a combination of his childrens' names (Kyla and Kavan), is now making a new debut in the Cincinnati area. His salsa line debuts in Northern Kentucky Walmarts (Fort Wright and Florence) on January 23rd and Kelly himself will actually be in the area on March 22 for a taste testing at those locations.
"The salsa is going to be in various locations in the Metro-Atlanta area and it's also going to be in various Walmarts in Kentucky, in Fort Wright and Florence, and it's also going to be in the South Carolina market as well," Kelly said when we talked on the phone the other day. "I'm excited about the opportunity for the salsa to come out in January and I'll actually be in those stores in late March this year to give a free demo of Kyvan. It will be an opportunity for people to sample the salsa and I'll be there to sign autographs and take pictures."
Kelly said that the Salsa has been doing extremely well and that he has gotten great feedback from his peers in the NFL, from fans and from customers. Kyvan can already be found at Jungle Jim's, who are about to open a new location on the east side, and at Findlay Market and he's excited to expand into Northern Kentucky.
That's where the conversation switched to football. After the Bengals chose not to re-sign Kelly, he ended up going back to Atlanta, where he played the first four seasons of his career for the Falcons.
"It was great," he said. "I felt like I didn't skip a beat. I played here from 1999 to 2002 and I played with a lot of great players. To go to Cincinnati and play eight years and now to have my career come full circle, it felt really good to be back. Obviously, I was around a lot of new faces. I had a lot of new teammates, but I saw some similarities to when I first played with the Falcons. I had a great quarterback in Matt Ryan and I had a great quarterback in Michael Vick. I played with some really good running backs in Warrick Dunn and Jamal Anderson and now I played with a great running back in Michael Turner. The list goes on so there were so many similarities when I came back to Atlanta. It was a really good team, obviously we fell short in the playoffs"
Kelly also said that there were similarities between the Falcons and the Bengals, especially when it comes to coaching. Both Mike Smith and Marvin Lewis coached the Ravens defense in Baltimore from 1999-2001 before Lewis left.
"I don't think there were many differences," Kelly said. "Coach Lewis and Coach Smith are close friends. They both coached the Baltimore Ravens so a lot of their coaching tactics are the same. A lot of times when Coach Smith was up giving presentations to the team, I thought I was back in Cincinnati because I heard some of those same words from Coach Lewis, so they're basically cut from the same cloth. That's what made the transition so smooth for me, when I left Cincinnati and came back to Atlanta, because I had the same type of head coach."
Even though Kelly didn't play for the Bengals in 2011, he kept an eye on them and he said that he wasn't at all surprised with the success that they had with so many rookies in key positions.
"I wasn't surprised at all," Kelly said. "I've been around the league for a long time and I know that it's not always how you start but how you finish. I know that any given Sunday any team can win and I've seen teams that haven't been predicted to win many games at all surprise the world. I know the players in the locker room and I know those guys have heart. I knew they were going to put the work in to be successful and they did just that. I tip my hat to those guys. They had an outstanding year. They have a really outstanding quarterback with some talented receivers and I think that they can really do some great things in the future. The foundation is set -- add a few pieces here and add a few pieces there and they'll be one of the toughest teams to beat in 2012."
Kelly also had some things to say about the tight ends he played with in Cincinnati. As a tight end in the league with the Falcons in 2011, Kelly was able to play alongside quite possibly the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL, Tony Gonzalez. He believes Jermaine Gresham has the ability to be one of the three best tight ends in the league, but he's not the only one in Cincinnati that has talent. Kelly believes that when it comes to Chase Coffman, it's just a matter of time.
"I just think that it's only a matter of time," Kelly said. "Some guys block quickly and they catch on really fast and some guys take two, three or four years. Teams let guys go before they find their niche in the NFL as far as playing on Sunday. I know it's only a matter of time before Chase shows the world what type of player he can be. Chase has great hands but he also has the potential to be a great blocker. I really think with the right people around him and the right coaching, he's going to be a great tight end. It takes time sometimes."
Kelly thinks that the best Super Bowl would be played between the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers. He signed a one-year deal with the Falcons and is a free agent again and he said that he's going to keep his options open when it comes to signing a new contract with a different team but that he will take into account his family before he makes any moves. He said that he still wants to play because he still enjoys it and his body can still take it, but if he doesn't sign with another team, there are things outside of football that he enjoys doing and that he wants to do. His Kyvan food line is just one example.
Kelly is a great example of what every locker room in the NFL needs. He's a natural leader and as he nears the end of his career, he has the ability to shape the careers of those who will come after him, such as Gresham. It's nice to see that his Kyvan salsa, sauce and seasoning line is picking up steam and we here at Cincy Jungle thank him for being as accessible as he has been in the last couple years and we wish him the absolute best of luck in his football career and everything he does outside of football.
You can find Kyvan Salsa at Jungle Jim's and Findlay Market now and starting on January 23, you'll be able to find it in Fort Wright and Florence, Kentucky Walmarts. If you want to meet Kelly and get an autograph and try Kyvan salsas, he will be at the Fort Wright Walmart from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on March 22 and at the Florence Walmart from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. the same day.