INDIANAPOLIS — After a strong rookie season in 2016, year two didn't begin or end how Indianapolis Colts center Ryan Kelly wanted.
Kelly suffered a foot injury during training camp that required surgery, which put him out for the first four games of the regular season. Seven games in, Kelly got banged up and entered the NFL's concussion protocol. He was not fully cleared in time to return to the field by season's end, cutting his season short with five games left.
The good news is Kelly is now both healthy and optimistic, having just wrapped up an offseason workout program in which he didn't miss a beat with the first-team offensive line.
"I feel a lot better. I think starting off the season having the foot surgery probably didn't help me too much and just couldn't really get it going," Kelly said during OTAs.
However, he understands injuries are life in the NFL and hopes last year's injury-plagued campaign is in his rear-view mirror.
"Unfortunately in the NFL, you're going to have seasons like that," Kelly said. "Hopefully it's only one, and you can move past it. Like I said before, new staff, I'm feeling good, totally got cleared for everything else and it's a new chapter, it's a new season. Year three, looking forward to it."
The presence of a player like Kelly is critical to the success of the Colts' offensive line moving forward. Not only that, but the Colts had a new offense to install this spring under head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
Kelly reflected on the importance of he and his linemates being present.
"I know that the offensive line – that's all I've ever played, so that's all I've ever known – and I think it's always been the most special group on the team because at the end of the day, I think we have four or five new guys in the room. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you lose guys in a room like that, it definitely changes the dynamic of it," Kelly said. "I think you have to have this time right now to assert yourself and identify who you guys are and I think we're just a tough, smart group. I think where we were from day one to where we are now, I think we've come a long way. Coach (Dave) DeGuglielmo has been incredible for us, just helping us get along."
The Colts aren't missing many faces from the line from last year — Mike Person and Kyle Kalis are contributors from 2017 who weren't re-signed for 2018 — but they do have some new players to get acclimated.
The Colts signed guard/center Matt Slauson as well as tackles Austin Howard and undrafted free agent Jared Machorro this offseason. They also drafted guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith.
Kelly — being the center — makes the offensive line calls, so him being around during the installation of the new offense is important, but the Colts also needed to get the new guys acclimated.
The offensive line is a group that totally plays as a unit, so the more they gel outside of game action, the more likely they are to perform at a high level when the games do get started.
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the idea of an interior line comprised of Kelly with sixth-overall pick Nelson on one side and either second-rounder Smith or the veteran Slauson on the other is definitely something to get excited about.