Training Camp Tour: Rookie center Ryan Kelly key to improving Colts’ offensive line

Mike Renner breaks down the biggest takeaways from the PFF training camp tour stop in Anderson, Ind.

| 3 months ago
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Training Camp Tour: Rookie center Ryan Kelly key to improving Colts’ offensive line

The Pro Football Focus analysis team will be visiting all 32 NFL training camps over the next few weeks, with a report from each stop. Be sure to follow the crew throughout their trip, and get the full schedule of PFF visits here.

Can rookie C Ryan Kelly bring stability to the Colts’ O-line?

Ever since Peyton Manning left town, the Colts’ offensive line has been a sore spot for Andrew Luck and fans alike. The reality is, though, that for as bad as they’ve been, the offensive line has been given little to no help. Whether it’s the constant barrage of seven-step drops, no extra men left in to block, or Andrew Luck holding on to the ball, for much of the past few seasons, they’ve been given arguably the toughest assignments of any line in the league. We saw that rise to competency a season ago after Matt Hasselbeck took over at quarterback and the quick passing game came to the forefront.

Enter rookie center Ryan Kelly from Alabama. Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson and company thought highly enough of Kelly to make him the 18th player selected in this year’s draft. As we’ve seen in recent years, though, first-round offensive linemen aren’t always the “safe” picks they were once touted as.

Kelly went up against some of the stiffest competition in the country a season ago (especially on his own team), and still graded out among the best centers in college football. The problem is that center isn’t necessarily a make-or-break position from a pass-protection standpoint; an average center, over the course of the season, will give up a good number fewer pressures than an average guard, and far fewer pressures than an average tackle. Centers rarely end up with one-on-one blocks in pass-protection, and are most often utilized as part of a slide protection.

That being said, they do still matter. A center who consistently gives up ground via the bullrush will lead to more edge pressures being converted into sacks. Last year, Colts’ centers allowed two sacks, 10 hits, and 30 pressures, while Ryan Kelly didn’t give up a sack in either of his past two seasons at Alabama.

We asked Kelly about the Colts’ pass-protection:

“We’re going to protect the quarterback, give Andrew [Luck] the most time to put shots down the field or get off quick passes, whatever it’s going to be.”

What role does WR Phillip Dorsett fill?

With Andre Johnson (UFA) and Coby Fleener (Saints) leaving Indianapolis, 157 targets from a year ago are now up for grabs. Dorsett, last year’s first-round pick, is the obvious choice to see a bulk of those passes. Dorsett managed only 215 snaps as a rookie, and averaged a meager 1.52 yards per route. It’s rumored that the Colts will transition to far more three-WR sets this season, and if that’s true, the question becomes who mans the slot?

In 2015, that was Johnson and Fleener’s role, primarily, while Dorsett only took 47.3 percent of his routes from the slot (T.Y. Hilton took 28.0 percent and Donte Moncrief took 14.7 percent). Dorsett’s skill-set, though, doesn’t really scream “slot weapon.” His biggest weapon is his deep speed, and that doesn’t do nearly as much when running from the middle of the field at the safeties. We’ll get a clearer picture of each receivers’ role as camp wears on.

Additions to secondary enough to mask pass-rush concerns?

Patrick Robinson looked at home donning his new Colts jersey Wednesday afternoon in Anderson, Ind. After a maligned start to his career in New Orleans, Robinson flourished manning the slot in San Diego a season ago. There he had 79.4 overall grade in 713 snaps and allowed the sixth-best yards per coverage snap in the league (0.78). Now he’s being paired up with Vontae Davis in what could quietly be one of the league’s best CB duos. Davis has been better than advertised for the Colts after they only needed a second-round pick to pry him from the Dolphins back in 2012. But over all that time, he’s had another above-average corner patrolling the opposite side of the field to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

You could have two All-Pro corners, though, and it wouldn’t matter if you give a quarterback all day to throw. The hopes of any sort of pass-rush lies in two former PFF Pro Bowl outside linebackers and a second-year defensive end coming off a torn ACL. That’s concerning. It’s even more concerning when you see the recent career trajectories of Robert Mathis (35 years old) and Trent Cole (33).

Robert Mathis’ season grades since 2013

Robert Mathis Grades

Trent Cole’s season grades’s since 2013

Trent Cole Grade

Second-year defensive end Henry Anderson, though, could legitimately be Indianapolis’ best pass-rusher, even after an ACL injury robbed him of a full rookie season. Anderson is currently on the PUP list and didn’t practice Wednesday, but he indicated that the knee wasn’t going to be a problem when he puts the pads on.

The former Stanford defensive end was the 10th-ranked 3-4 DE through eight weeks in 2015, but he admitted to us that his pass-rush wasn’t up to the level he expected from himself, going as far as to state, “My pass-rush was pretty poor last year.” (He still graded positively in this facet of play.)

If fully healthy, we expect big things from Anderson in year two.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Kelly has to protect the guy who just received a kings ransom so that’s a lot of pressure to place on a rookie. Alabama produced a pretty decent center some years ago (Dwight Stephenson) so the Colts are hoping history repeats itself.