INDIANAPOLIS — It had been 216 days since Ryan Kelly had last taken the field for a real football game before last Saturday's preseason opener between the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills.
In those seven-plus months between games, Kelly had ramped up his training, went to the NFL Combine, was picked 18th overall by the Colts in the NFL Draft, thrown right into the mix as the assumed starter at center and then went through rookie minicamp, OTAs and minicamp before coming back about a month later to experience his first NFL training camp.
It's quite the whirlwind for any young player, but the Colts were confident that Kelly could handle everything that came his way.
Admittedly nervous heading into his first professional game last Saturday, Kelly said it was nice to simply play the game he loves after he had spent so much time away from the field preparing for his rookie season.
"I think certainly that first rep, having that underneath my belt, it was kind like, 'OK, we're just playing football again,'" Kelly said after the game. "So that was good. Obviously (I have) great guys around me, so it makes it a lot easier to play with those guys."
Kelly indeed got the start at center and played 15 total snaps for the Colts' offense against the Bills last Saturday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. With No. 2 quarterback Scott Tolzien making the start for Indianapolis, Buffalo's defense wasn't shy about applying pressure early and often.
It didn't take long at all for Kelly to realize he was smack dab in the middle of his first NFL game.
"First play," Kelly said. "Once the pads hit and you're hitting somebody else, you're like, 'Alright, I'm back into it.' So I'd probably say from that moment on, you know?"
Kelly was also getting his first significant action since suffering a minor shoulder injury during a July 31 training camp practice.
"I think I need to get back into a little better conditioning," Kelly said with a smile. "They wanted to still limit it a little bit, but still get those game experiences. I like where I'm headed and can probably continue this week."
Kelly and the Colts' next preseason opportunity is Saturday, when they play host to the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium. He's continued to impress his coaches with his ability to take on a leadership role in the offense, as well as his "intensity," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said.
"Nothing fazes him," Chudzinski said of Kelly. "He comes to work and whatever is happening out there – as a center you better be that way to begin with. He's done a great job. … Just blocking and the things that he's going to need to do – directing traffic, all the intangibles."
Kelly said he hopes to see even more progress — both individually and as an offense — when the Colts next take the field on Saturday against the Ravens. After not putting in much preparation at all for the Bills' defense in their preseason opener, Kelly said this game against Baltimore represents another step the group can take forward.
"I think we're still working through some stuff," Kelly said. "(The Bills game) wasn't one of those types of things where you game plan for an entire week, so I think it was more of could we see if all 11 guys could go out there and play together, play as one? So I think we're headed in the right direction."