The Colts are holding their rookie mini-camp this weekend, and there's really only one player in the building who is essentially guaranteed a starting spot: first round center Ryan Kelly. As a result, all eyes are naturally on number 78, the new starter up front to provide protection for Andrew Luck.
Kelly had a prolific collegiate career at Alabama, where he was a three-year starter, a first-team All-American, a Rimington Award winner, and a three-time National Champion. He didn't allow a single sack in either of his last two seasons at the school, and Alabama's program has helped make the transition to the NFL level easier. In fact, head coach Chuck Pagano says he's way ahead of where other players might be in that adjustment - though he was careful to not raise the expectations too high for the rookie.
"It's really early obviously. I'm excited to look at the tape and I'm trying to get my eyes on, like everybody else, try to get your eyes on everybody. He's a pro already," Pagano said on Friday. "I mean, again, he's got a long way to go and I'm not going to set him up to fail or anything like that, and he'll be the first one to tell you that he's got a long way to go, but coming from the program that he came from, playing at the level that he's played, you can tell that he's way ahead. Sitting in the meetings, sitting in Coach [Joe] Philbin and Coach [Joe] Gilbert and Coach [Frank] Giufre's meeting and spending some time with them as they install what we had today to give them from a run-pass game protection, things like that, it was pretty easy and the recall was excellent. You can just tell presence, like you fit right in. We knew this, it's not too big for him, but again, like Kelly they all have a lot of work to do, they have a long way to go, but a great start."
Pagano knows that there will be some rough patches in Kelly's adjustment to the NFL just like there is for every newcomer, and so the head coach is making sure that he's not raising the expectations too high at this point for a guy who's only had one mini-camp practice. But so far, the reviews are great for the Colts' new center.
Kelly acknowledged that there is certainly an adjustment from the college level to the NFL, but he also explained how playing at Alabama has helped prepare him for that. "I think playing for Coach [Nick] Saban and certainly playing in a pro-style offense helped me a lot," he said on Friday. "Just being able to identify defenses, MIKE points, I think it probably helps for just a little bit of a quicker transition to the next level."
The Colts will be counting on that quick transition, as Kelly will slide into the starting center spot from day one. The team already had plenty of confidence in their first round pick adjusting to the NFL level quickly and being able to protect Andrew Luck for years to come, and the first day of rookie mini-camp just helped confirm that.