Colts get their man, choose Alabama center Ryan Kelly during first round of NFL Draft


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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Despite the blur of names, intriguing options and other various possibilities as the 18th overall pick in Thursday night’s NFL Draft neared, the Indianapolis Colts took the simplest approach.

They took the guy – Alabama center Ryan Kelly – they had long ago circled on their draft board.

“He was really our targeted player for months now,’’ general manager Ryan Grigson said. “We got our guy.

“It’s nice when that guy is there.’’

Before the draft got underway, Grigson gathered his personnel staff for one last huddle, asking each to toss out a preferred player in round 1.

Give me one name.

“And (Kelly’s) name was on there more than anybody,’’ Grigson said.

The Colts’ draft board spoke, and in this instance, the best player available coincided with one of the team’s most pressing needs.

Somewhere, quarterback Andrew Luck was smiling as Kelly’s name scrolled across the bottom of the ESPN broadcast. Since his arrival in 2012, the franchise’s most important player has had to had to adjust to five different starting centers: Jon Harrison, Khaled Holmes, A.Q. Shipley, Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn.

“That’s not fair to anybody,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “That’s not fair to the football team.’’

To put an end to the position volatility, the Colts drafted a center in the first round for just the second time in franchise history. The previous, Jackie Burkett in 1959, wound up playing linebacker.

For further context, consider Kelly is just the 12th center taken in the first round in the past 25 seasons.

The Colts envision a remake of the quarterback-center tandem authored by Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday. From 1999-2011, they shared an NFL-record 170 starts.

“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, the same thing can happen,” Pagano said, “That chemistry, that continuity, you can’t replicate that any other way. You can’t replicate it by going down the road we’ve been down for the last four seasons.’’

In four seasons at Alabama, the 6’4″, 311 pound Kelly started 40 of 46 games. He won the Rimington Award as a senior, given to the nation’s top center, after an impeccable season: no holding penalties, no false starts and no sacks allowed.

“I would say that’s good. I can’t see anything wrong with that stat,’’ Grigson said.

Kelly should offer immediate impact, and leaps in front of Harrison and Holmes.

“I think I have the tools necessary to do that,’’ he said, “and playing in the SEC surely helps me out a lot. I’m not saying coming into the NFL is going to be easy. It’s a huge challenge.

“But ultimately this game is a challenge. Alabama taught me a lot about adversity and how to overcome it.’’

Kelly has yet to meet Luck, but he’s eager for the initial introduction.

“I think Andrew Luck’s a great mind in the National Football League,’’ he said.

Grigson stressed the Colts were smitten with Kelly from the first time they watched his game video.

“The tape looks the same game after game,’’ he said. “He’s somebody that popped early.’’

It’s no coincidence the only Pro Day attended by both Grigson and Pagano was Alabama’s.

“They had a lot of players,’’ Grigson said, “but he was who we went to see.

“We wanted to solidify that interior and he was a guy that can lock down that spot for a long time. We’d had some musical chairs there and you want to get a good one if you’re going to take a center in (round 1), and we thought that this guy was that guy.’’

The addition of Kelly gives the Colts the foundation of a solid offensive line that’s still young. It includes a pair of first-round picks – Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo (2011) – and a second-rounder in left guard Jack Mewhort (2014). The other projected starters are Hugh Thornton at right guard and either Joe Reitz or Denzelle Good at right tackle.

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