The charges against Tulane running back Robert Kelley for simple robbery and simple battery were dropped Tuesday afternoon by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office.
Kelley was arrested Aug. 4 after an incident with a fellow Tulane student at The Boot, a university-adjacent bar, which involved a fight and a stolen bicycle. Throughout the ensuing legal process, Kelley never stopped attending school and is still on pace to graduate at the end of the academic year.
“Robert Kelley is currently enrolled as a senior at Tulane University,” the university wrote in a statement. “His status on the Green Wave football team will be determined after the resolution of any student disciplinary proceedings. Federal law prohibits the university from disclosing any disciplinary action taken against a student regarding his or her enrollment in the university.”
The senior was expected to be Tulane’s starting running back coming into the season, but was kept out of preseason camp because of the lingering legal issue and academic uncertainty. Now, despite the dropped charges, Kelley’s attorney, Scott Bickford, said not all of the obstacles have been cleared for Kelley to return to the field.
“I understand the university now has to go through a process of determining if it wants to bring any disciplinary charges at this point,” Bickford told The Advocate. “I can only hope they expedite the review of this case and they will come to the same conclusion that Mr. (Leon) Cannizaro’s office came to, which is (that) there are a lot of problems with this case. I think, in the end, I think and hope the university will just drop it and let Robert get back to playing football.”
If Kelley is unable to return this season, he is eligible for a redshirt and a fifth season of eligibility because he never sat out for a season after signing with the Green Wave out of O. Perry Walker in 2011.
Regardless, Bickford said it’s an unfortunate situation for Kelley, whose collegiate career is now in jeopardy.
“He’s a kid who grew up in New Orleans and got an opportunity to play at Tulane, and it really is a great story,” Bickford said. “His dad drives a (New Orleans Recreation Department) bus, and he was able to earn his way to a great school and excel on the field, and after one unfortunate night which resulted in some charges, his entire career came careening to a stop. It’s disappointing because none of those charges were true but it put his life on hold regardless.”
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson spent nearly 25 minutes at a lectern during Tuesday afternoon’s weekly press conference. It didn’t take long to discover a common thread in the line of questioning Johnson faced.
The Green Wave’s self-inflicted mistakes were covered repeatedly, stretching from the quarterbacks to the kickers to the offensive line. Nearly every area of Tulane’s 1-3 start can be traced to an unnecessary or occasionally unforced error, Johnson said.
“I’m the first one to blame,” Johnson said. “Our special teams have been shoddy at best, and that’s on me. I’ve taken ownership in that and I hope our players take ownership in their issues.”
His concern is justified by numbers.
Tulane is tied for last place nationally in giveaways (10 interceptions, three lost fumbles) and quarterback Tanner Lee has been intercepted nine times, the most of any player in the FBS.
Lee’s issues are exacerbated by difficult down-and-distance scenarios, caused largely by negative-yardage plays and a litany of penalties. Opponents average 6.25 tackles for loss against the Green Wave this season (No. 84 nationally) and Tulane’s 44 penalties are tied for most in the country.
“It needs to stop now, and that’s what we talked about this week,” Johnson said when asked about penalties. “I just have to start taking them out and start putting somebody else in, even at the risk or playing a lesser player. There’s no more young kids, we have four games under our belt.
“It’s time to knuckle down and start doing the best we can. It’s just silly.”
Deep snapper Michael Lizanich missed Saturday’s 47-13 loss at Duke after suffering a pulled hamstring in pregame warmups. His absence caused a variety of problems, including a snap which turned into a safety, a fumbled punt returned for a touchdown and a missed extra point.
Johnson said he expects Lizanich to be back for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at Rutgers, and if he can’t go, backup deep snapper Matt Marfisi will be more prepared.
Meanwhile, the status of kickoff specialist Trevor Simms is still unknown. The baseball player who joined the football team in Week 2 greatly improved the Green Wave’s kickoffs, but was injured making a tackle in a 35-20 win over Southeastern Louisiana.