INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Kelly on Tuesday rolled his left ankle during an offensive line drill, sat on the turf off to the side and, before he knew it, had the ankle taped by team trainers and was jogging back onto the field for the next round of 11-on-11s.
As it turns out, that brief intermission from Tuesday's second day of OTA practices has really been the only opportunity the rookie center has had to catch his breath since the team selected him 18th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft just 19 days ago.
To say the last two-plus weeks have been a whirlwind for Kelly would be an understatement. He is the assumed starter at center for a Colts team looking to bounce back and return to the playoffs. For now, most of Kelly's time is spent learning and mastering the playbook while being able to apply those lessons on the field.
Admitting the process can be "a little nerve wracking," Kelly said he's been greatly aided along the way by his teammates and coaches, who will eventually lean on him just as much in the coming months.
"The guys in that offensive line room have really taken me underneath their wing and are showing me stuff," Kelly told Colts.com after Tuesday's practice. "You know, they're going to hold me accountable, too, because at the end of the day, you have to do your job to let the guy next to you know that you're doing it right."
Kelly enjoyed a standout career at the University of Alabama, where, from 2013-15, he was the starting center for one of the top programs in college football. His last two seasons, Kelly didn't allow a single sack, and he was rewarded with the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's top center, following his senior year.
Looking to solidify the interior of their offensive line — and hoping to get a starter for years to come — the Colts zeroed in on Kelly for the 18th-overall pick in April's NFL Draft. Fortunately for general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, Kelly was available when it came time for Indianapolis to call in their first-round pick, giving the organization one of its easiest initial draft nights since taking quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in 2012.
Grigson told Colts.com recently just how important it was to him to acquire such a standout at the center position specifically.
"At that position you have to not only be inherently football smart, but also a confident and decisive communicator," he said. "And this is all in the midst of bullets flying across from you, crowd noise, maybe a 350-pounder on your nose ready to tee off on you and then you still are expected to snap the ball and do your job at a high level, in a split second right after you are essentially making sure everyone else can do theirs. Takes a special player and person to be a great center and isn't always about the physical aspect like at other positions. We feel Ryan has all those attributes from a physical and intangible aspect."
For Kelly, other than mastering the playbook, one of his top priorities is to build a rapport with Luck, who, like the Colts team itself, is also looking to bounce back from an at-times rough and injury-plagued 2015 season.
The organization made the first step in that process pretty easy by putting Kelly right next to Luck in the team locker room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
But the rest, the rookie acknowledges, is up to him.
"You can't just go out on the field every day and just expect that relationship to grow," Kelly said. "So just the little things: if it's eating lunch with him or eating breakfast with him in the chow hall, those things keep building relationships, and I think certainly the more time we work together, the better off we're going to be."
Pagano said Tuesday that the team itself doesn't "have a choice in the matter:" Kelly is the man at center for the Colts.
"We've got some guys here that have played the position, but, you know, like anybody else, there's going to be some growing pains," Pagano said when asked about the importance of the Luck-Kelly relationship. "And we know that — he understands that — so we're just going to take it one day at a time and keep working."
Perhaps not coincidentally, daily improvement is top of mind for Kelly, as well.
"From where I was yesterday to where I am today, it's certainly gotten better," he said. "You're never staying the same, so I've just been trying to come out here and do my best every single day, and I know these guys that are in this offense, and this team, really do want to win. You can feel that, so that's been great and it's kind of been a motivator as well."