Jon Harrison adjusting to position switch as Colts retool offensive line
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Imagine the dramatic contrast of emotions April 28 as commissioner Roger Goodell announced the newest member of the Indianapolis Colts.
With the 18th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Ryan Kelly, center, Alabama.
The Kelly clan, gathered at Ryan’s parents’ home in Cincinnati, savored the moment.
“We just kind of had a little celebration with people that have helped me along the way,’’ he said.
It’s doubtful any bubbly was spilled as Jon Harrison digested the news.
While the Colts were adding their latest center of the present/future – maybe they’ve finally gotten it right – the ripple effects at the position were undeniable.
Four days after drafting Kelly, the team released Khaled Holmes, a nine-game starter the past two seasons.
When organized team activities got underway this week, Harrison, who started 19 games since being signed as an undrafted rookie in 2014, was working at right guard.
The Colts preach positional flexibility, especially among their offensive linemen. But the relocation involves much more than Harrison simply sliding over a few feet to his right.
He made his first start at Florida at left guard, then spent the rest of his career as the Gators’ center, starting 38 games in four seasons. In two years with the Colts, he’s been almost exclusively a center.
“Not much guard, not much guard,’’ he said. “I had one game at the end of my rookie year against Tennessee that I did get in and play a couple quarters at guard.
“Outside of that, all my snaps have been at center. I always practiced guard just in case anything were to happen. But live situations, I’ve been at center.’’
Until April 28. Until Ryan Kelly. The Colts also used a seventh-round pick on Iowa center Austin Blythe. The depth chart most definitely was rearranged.
Was Harrison a bit miffed at the influx of young talent at his position? If so, he wasn’t in a sharing mood.
“I’m here to compete either way,’’ he said. “I’m just here to compete. You never know what’s going to happen, but either way my goal is to have a starting role in this offensive line.’’
It’s still early in the offseason process and risky to project the makeup of the starting offensive line for the Sept. 11 season opener against Detroit. However, the left side of the line appears set: tackle Anthony Castonzo, guard Jack Mewhort and Kelly.
The uncertainty rests with the combination to Kelly’s right. Tuesday, Harrison was at guard and Joe Reitz at tackle.
At issue is whether that group is the projected starting five, or whether on-going rehabilitation with Hugh Thornton and Denzelle Good have forced that alignment. Thornton, the incumbent right guard, is being held out of the early portions of OTA work with a right ankle issue. Good, who started four games at right tackle as a rookie, also did not practice Tuesday.
“Just some rehab stuff,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said.
Until there’s better focus, Harrison is pouring himself into the position switch.
“Guard definitely is a little bit different,’’ he said. “Each day I feel myself getting more comfortable with the position and recalling different techniques used to play the position.
“It’s a little different . . . a little more spacing . . . different rules and everything going on. Playing center, I understand all the rules at all the positions. It’s just going to take practice, film, film study, correcting myself and just working on any weakness that I may have at the position.’’
Again, it’s anyone’s guess how the offensive line eventually shakes out.
Perhaps Good or third-round pick Le’Raven Clark supplants Reitz at right tackle and Reitz returns as the invaluable interchangeable part. Reitz has started 41 games, including the playoffs, in five seasons: 19 at left guard, 14 at right tackle, six at right guard, two at left tackle.
“If we had to lineup tomorrow and Joe Reitz was our right tackle, I’d feel really good,’’ Pagano said.