Adam Vinatieri was 43 years old and 20 years into his NFL career when Ryan Kelly arrived in Indianapolis as a first-round draft pick in 2016. Kelly and Vinatieri played four seasons together, with the Colts' center becoming an NFL veteran as Vinatieri played deep into his 40's.
And something Vinatieri told Kelly has stuck with the three-time Pro Bowl center, who at 29 years old will be the longest-tenured member of the Colts entering the 2023 season.
"The best thing about this game is that as the guys get younger," Kelly recalled Vinatieri telling him, "it keeps you more hungry, keeps you more willing and more happy to come in every day and learn something new and keeps you young."
Kelly spoke ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft about what things might look like if the Colts picked a young quarterback in the first round – "might be at different points in our lives," he said. The Colts wound up getting that young quarterback in the 20-year-old Anthony Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
"Can't even drink a beer yet," head coach Shane Steichen quipped.
But Kelly's veteran experience – 97 career starts and three Pro Bowls – will be important as Richardson acclimates to NFL defenses whenever he earns his way on the field. Richardson only started 13 games at Florida, and even the most experienced rookie quarterbacks will face well-disguised blitz packages and coverage schemes in the NFL they never saw in college.
And that'll make Kelly's relationship with Richardson unlike what he's had with veterans Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan.
"It's not going to be Andrew Luck back there who's already seen five years worth of NFL defenses, so it's a little big different," Kelly said. "And I think the college game is probably a little bit different now than when I came out. So it's all about relationships. This is a relationships business. If you can sit down with a guy and build a chemistry you're able to now see — like, I'll know the tone of his voice when he's not confidence about this. I can tell, right?
"So it's just that gamesmanship of learning who each other are, how you see the game. I'm thrilled about it. It's a new challenge, which every year is, and certainly will be something different for me that I haven't really gone through with some veteran quarterbacks in the past. It'll be exciting."
While Kelly will be in front of Richardson when he gets on the field with the Colts, the guy next to him will be similarly important.
When Steichen was the Los Angeles Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2020, a piece of advice he offered to rookie quarterback Justin Herbert: Your running back is your best friend.
"It's all about getting completions, completions, completions," Steichen said.
Herbert completed a league-high 126 passes to Chargers running backs in 2020; his 98.3 passer rating that year remains a career high.
For Richardson, then, Jonathan Taylor is in line to be his best friend in 2023. And that means more than just handing the ball off to one of the most dynamic, explosive running backs in the NFL – it means using Taylor as a safety valve on check-downs, and trusting him to pick up blitzes and keep the pocket as clean as possible.
And the message Taylor will give to Richardson: "I got you."
"No. 1, just let him know hey, we have a protection called, I'm keeping you upright," Taylor said. "Don't worry about a thing. We know the five guys up front, those guys are going to keep you upright.
"We're side by side. Look where we're at, we're side by side. That's how it is. I have your back. I'm right here with you. No matter, hey, I need you go to get this guy in the A-gap, or hey, I need you get out quick so I can dump it off to you. I'm right here by your side and that means something."
The team returns to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center practice field to kick off Phase 2 of the Colts' offseason workout program.