INDIANAPOLIS – It’s replaced the customary How ya doin’? this time of year when Ryan Kelly gets together with family and friends.
Another looming NFL season for the Indianapolis Colts and their Pro Bowl center, and another prominent name to discuss.
That would be the newest quarterback.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, what do you think about the new quarterback signing?’’’ Kelly said Wednesday. “Year after year, you get tired of talking about it.’’
But here we are, talking about it. Again.
From Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz to – drum roll, please – Matt Ryan. Five years with Frank Reich as head coach, and five different starters.
Toss in Scott Tolzien in 2017, and Kelly will be snapping to a different starting QB for a sixth consecutive season opener. Toss in Brian Hoyer in 2019, and he’s delivered snaps to six starters in his six seasons.
Ryan checks in at No. 7 for Kelly.
The instability triggered by Luck’s sudden retirement – Aug. 24, 2019, a date seared into the collective soul of Colts fans – has required Reich and his offensive staff to at least tweak their offensive approach every offseason. And it’s kept general manager Chris Ballard from tailoring his personnel moves to accentuate the strengths of a quarterback who would be around for longer than one or two seasons.
No teammate works closer with the quarterback than his center. They’re tethered at the hip on the practice field to get comfortable with the cadence, snaps from under center or out of the shotgun, how each reads a defense to ensure proper pre-snap blocking adjustments, their mannerisms.
Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday were a dynamic pair from 2000-10. They shared 170 regular-season starts. They developed a rare synergy over 11 seasons. They saw things similarly.
The Colts hoped they were forming a similar tandem in 2016 when they used the 18th overall pick in the draft on Kelly, an All-America center out of Alabama. Luck was heading into his fifth season and already had been selected to three Pro Bowls, but the team still was searching for his long-term center.
The revolving door at the position was kept busy: Samson Satele, A.Q. Shipley, Mike McGlynn, Jonotthan Harrison, Khaled Holmes.
The constant shuffling at center ended with Kelly – he’s started 80 of 97 regular-season games the past six seasons and been selected to three straight Pro Bowls – but it’s transferred quarterback.
“It’s been tough,’’ Kelly said. “I’ve been blessed to play with a lot of great quarterbacks. I take a little bit away from each of those. I still talk to each and every one of them today.
“And that’s a great thing about the game and also the hard thing about the game.’’
Bonds are formed and nurtured. Then, suddenly Luck is gone and replaced by Brissett, who’s replaced by Rivers, who’s replaced by Carson Wentz, who’s replaced by Ryan.
“You have no choice but to get emotionally involved with these guys,’’ Kelly said. “They’re the people that you become friends with. You work with them. You have conversations, whether it’s football, life, whatever. You can’t just ignore that.
“When you leave the building every day, you say, ‘This is just football. It’s just a business.’ As much as it is, I’m close with everyone on the offensive line and I’m sure as hell going to be close to the quarterback.’’
Shortly after the Colts finalized the March 21 trade with the Atlanta Falcons for Ryan, the newest quarterback shared lunch with Kelly and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.
That get-to-know-you process intensified this week when the Colts opened their offseason workout program. Kelly was staring at a blank slate.
“Yeah, I didn’t know much,’’ he said. “Fired up about him being here; (14) years I think is what he’s played. You don’t get to that long without being a helluva quarterback.
“Since the day I met him, you can just tell he’s a great competitor, a great guy. I know they wouldn’t bring him in here if he didn’t have those two qualities behind him.’’
Perhaps, Kelly added, the Colts’ QB Carousel will be given a rest. They assumed the final two years of Ryan’s contract and subsequently guaranteed the $54 million he’s owed for 2022-23.
“Unfortunately I sit up here for the last couple years and had a new quarterback every year, so I’m hoping he lasts a lot longer,’’ Kelly said. “I know he wants to play a long time, which is a great thing.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.