INDIANAPOLIS — Jonotthan Harrison entered this offseason with a simple mindset of improvement.
But when the Indianapolis Colts selected center Ryan Kelly with the 16th-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft — playing the same position at which Harrison started the final nine games of the 2015 season, no less — the third-year Florida product said his "improvement" mindset was pushed into overdrive.
The National Football League is a business, and Harrison understands that. But sometimes a team learns the most about its players during times of intense, but friendly, competition.
"I'm looking forward to it," Harrison told Colts.com last week. "I'm always up for a competition, very competitive guy, and seeing that happen just upped the amount of work that I'm putting in. Either way I was willing to work hard, but this was just pushing it to a whole other level because I'm willing to compete for a starting position on this offensive line."
Head coach Chuck Pagano called Harrison a "really pleasant surprise" in 2014, when the undrafted college free agent emerged to eventually become the Colts' starting center. In all, Harrison played in 15 games with 10 starts in his rookie season, helping pave the way for an offense that collected 6,506 net yards, setting a franchise single-season record.
Then, last season, Harrison moved back into the starting lineup for Indianapolis' Week 8 game against the Carolina Panthers after then-starter Khaled Holmes went down with a neck injury. Once again, Harrison would stick around, starting the final nine games of the year in the middle of the Colts' offensive line.
But the team knew it had to address its protection up front entering this offseason, and used all four of its offensive selections in the draft on offensive linemen: Kelly (first round; 16th overall), tackle Le'Raven Clark (third round; 82nd overall), tackle Joe Haeg (fifth round; 155th overall) and center Austin Blythe (seventh round; 248th overall).
Instead of taking those selections as a slight, however, Harrison knew that overall competition makes the entire team better.
"You know, as the coaches have said, they've brought in a bunch of linemen to up the level of competition," he said. "So I know all of us in that room are just willing to compete to earn our keep on that line."
But Harrison warns not to mistake the feeling of competition with added pressure.
"You can't really focus on the pressure," Harrison said. "You just have to just compete, really. You have to compete, you have to, I guess, up your level of focus and intensity, but you can't look at it as pressure to perform, or else that will throw you off your game."
For Harrison, earning his keep might mean a move to another position along the line, something he said he feels "really comfortable" with.
Whether it's at center, guard or potentially as a swing tackle, Harrison is "willing to do whatever it takes."
"I'm aiming to be a starter on the offensive line here," he said. "…We just help each other, just help keep pushing each other knowing it'll pay off in the long run."