Prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, we took a close look at the Colts offensive line to get an idea of how the unit was progressing. While the group did not have a stellar season, it did show some promise down the stretch that could be an encouraging sign for the future.
One player who I did not bother to make a priority prior to the draft was 2016 first round draft pick Ryan Kelly. He received a positive response from fans and analysts for his first-year performance and as a first round pick, there wasn’t a likely threat to Ballard targeting his replacement.
Now we come back to Colts starting center Ryan Kelly to try to learn more about where he is strong and also about his greatest opportunities for improvement as he heads into his sophomore NFL season.
If you missed the initial film analysis, please find the links below.
This play provides Kelly with the opportunity to show his footwork and hand-fighting technique as he mirrors the defender and keeps the pocket clean. The defender runs himself back and forth but Kelly gives no ground, keeps his shoulders square, and allows Luck plenty of room to step up into the pocket.
While Kelly makes this block look easy, less athletic or less technically sound center’s will struggle here — especially later in games.
Another key element for an offensive lineman is to anchor against opposing defensive linemen and rushing linebackers. Here, mammoth-sized defensive tackle Justin Ellis (#78) attempts to push Kelly back into Luck to generate pressure. The initial burst is thwarted and hand-fighting ensues with Kelly coming out the winner.
Once the big defender’s attempt to throw his weight at Kelly failed, it was all over.
As those who have watched the other films breakdowns already know, one of my favorite and often one of the most important pieces to being an offensive lineman in pass protection is the ability to get a block on multiple players on the same play. The Colts in particular have struggled mightily against twists and slants that generate pressure up the middle while offensive linemen are already occupied.
Here Kelly plays a keep role in helping keep the pocket clean as he shoves one defender away from the pocket to his teammate Joe Haeg and moves laterally back to get a body on a defender attempting to twist through the middle. On this play, Jacksonville sent six defenders and Jonotthan Harrison ended up losing his man, so Luck had to face pressure anyway, but he didn’t face it due to Kelly.
Here we see Kelly with a goal line run blocking assignment. In this case, the key is to get some push and create enough of a wedge to give the running back just enough space to burst over the line. We can see the Kelly fights for leverage off of the snap and gets the defender’s shoulders to roll back. Once he does he gets a 2-3 yard push, which is all the negative space the running back needed to squeeze into the end zone.
Speaking of run blocking, the greatest key for these more quickly developing plays is for the offensive lineman to win at initial contact and to turn the defender in the desired direction long enough to create a running lane. I had numerous examples of this in the games I analyzed for Ryan Kelly. He is particularly good at bursting out of his stance, getting proper leverage and giving the runner a clear lane.
This play is another example of Kelly not only getting the initial leverage but working up power and momentum very quickly out of his stance to shove the defender down the line. This creates a nice cut-back lane for Frank Gore.
If you’re watching film or even watching a quick replay of quarterback pressure, one thing to keep a close eye on is the shoulders of offensive linemen. To properly pass protect, the concept is to keep your shoulders square to the quarterback. Think of drawing a vertical line from the defender to the quarterback. The offensive player’s shoulders should effectively create a “T”.
Here, Kelly starts to lose the battle and attempts to rotate his body to regain control. It would have been better for him to have used his feet and kept his shoulders square. Once his shoulders are pointing back to his quarterback, Luck has no choice but to get rid of the ball.
While this play was more of an exception that the rule, this is the kind of pressure that I remember from most from Kelly in 2016. He got better near the end of the season but once in awhile he would get off-balance and defensive linemen would get his shoulders back over his feet. This results in pressure directly in Luck’s face and ends in a batted pass — it may have gone off of Kelly’s head. That will teach him!
The most consistent weakness in Kelly’s game shows up A LOT on plays where offensive linemen are asked to block in space.
On this play, Kelly gets out in front on a screen to Frank Gore and gets moving laterally but apparently either 1) doesn’t identify someone to block quick enough or 2) is physically incapable of adjusting his direction quick enough to have an impact.
It is clear to me that Paul Posluzny (#51) is who Kelly needs to block. He fails to do so and Posluzny makes the tackle.
Here is another example of Kelly simply whiffing on the defender. Gore makes a great move to avoid the tackle here but if he doesn’t have to re-direct here, he will have a lot of open space to the left side. Instead he cuts back to the middle to get what he can out of it.
Once again, where is Kelly going? He is completely lost here and managed to find no one to block. Instead of running 7 yards up the field, he should have moved laterally to get in front of the defender who makes the tackle. His lazy angle and failure to quickly identify a target made this play a light jog — maybe he was just keeping warm.
It’s not unexpected that through three games Kelly would give up some kind of quarterback pressure and make a couple of mistakes. Even veteran offensive linemen will have some plays they wish they could have back. Generally, though, he was excellent. He displays lateral mobility as a pass blocker, he shows the strength to anchor, he does a great job of creating running lanes by turning the defender away from the hole, and is strong enough to get short-yardage push in goal line situations.
The only black marks on the tape was a consistent inability to locate/identify defenders on screen plays or while blocking in space — or a physical inability to lay an effective block when he did engage on the move. Additionally, while he improved later in the season I remember that he would sometimes lose the leverage battle against defenders and get pushed back into Luck in pass protection.
If he improves in these areas, he will be a dominant NFL center and will turn out being the inside presence the Colts have desperately needed in front of Luck for so long.