INDIANAPOLIS — Already with the backup quarterback in the game getting his first start of the season, the Indianapolis Colts' offense faced quite the potential predicament early in Thursday night's matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First-round pick Ryan Kelly, who had started every game at center this season — including Thursday's — went down on the very first series with a shoulder injury, leaving the all-important quarterback-center exchange to backups Scott Tolzien and Jonotthan Harrison.
Kelly — who logged just three snaps — wouldn't return, but fortunately for the Colts, Harrison was able to pick up right where he left off, playing in 60 total snaps on offense, as well as two on special teams, in Indianapolis' 28-7 Thanksgiving Night loss to Pittsburgh at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It's what I prepare for week in and week out," Harrison said. "I know my role — just be prepared. Man down, man up, and so to me it was just another game, you know?"
Fortunately for the Colts and for Harrison, Thursday's game certainly wasn't anything new. Harrison came into the season having started 19 games at center the past two seasons, including 10 in 2014, his rookie season, as well as the final nine games of the year in 2015.
But after Indianapolis selected Kelly — college football's top center last year — with the 18th-overall pick in April's NFL Draft, Harrison knew versatility along the line would need to become one of his strong suits, so he began focusing on guard as well as center during offseason workouts.
That hard work paid off Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers, when Harrison got the start at left guard in place of an injured Jack Mewhort.
But playing center is a whole different animal. And when Andrew Luck was ruled out of Thursday's game with a concussion, the offense turned to Tolzien at quarterback, who typically gets limited reps in practices.
Fortunately, the Colts' coaches had been preparing for Thursday's very scenario all season by ensuring the team's quarterbacks get plenty of reps with all available centers throughout practices to ensure they're as ready as can be in any emergency scenarios.
"Coaches do a great job preparing the quarterbacks," Harrison said. "Andrew, Scott — all the centers get reps with all of them in practice to make sure we're prepared, so it's not something brand new when a quarterback has to work with a different center."
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano did not have an update on Kelly's injury after the game. He had missed some time in training camp and in preseason with a shoulder sprain, but was able to return in time for the regular season.
Although the Colts' now have a 10-day window before they next take the field — on Dec. 5, when they take on the New York Jets on Monday Night Football — Harrison will be ready to go once again if and when his name is called.
Whether or not he's in the lineup, however, Harrison said he hopes to see a more consistent offensive attack than the one the team showed Thursday night against the Steelers.
"It was just very frustrating," he said. "And when it comes down to it, they played harder than us. And we had many opportunities, and we need to take advantage of that, so hats off to them."