If knee injury sidelines Ryan Kelly, Colts will turn to rookie Danny Pinter

Colts

Ryan Kelly #78 of the Indianapolis Colts before the game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – The possibilities reside at different ends of the spectrum.

One: Ryan Kelly.

Two: Danny Pinter.

Those are the options at center as the Indianapolis Colts emerge from their bye and head to Detroit to face the Lions on Sunday.

Kelly, the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. His status is uncertain after he “dinged’’ a knee in Wednesday’s practice.

Pinter, the rookie who’s still learning the position.

Kelly, who became the NFL’s highest-paid center when he signed a four-year, $49.65 million extension in early September.

Pinter, the fifth-round draft pick out of Ball State.

Kelly, who has started 24 consecutive games, including the postseason, and has been on the field for 391 of 397 offensive snaps this season. He’s missed only 82 of a possible 1,603 snaps during his 24-game streak.

And Pinter, whose NFL experience consists of 21 offensive snaps, including seven at center in week 3 mop-up time against the New York Jets, and one on special teams. He primarily has been used as an extra blocker in selected situations.

The either-or situation is a result of Kelly injuring a knee Wednesday. He didn’t practice Thursday or Friday and is questionable for Sunday.

While not ideal, there’s every chance Kelly anchors the offensive line against the Lions with only limited work on Wednesday.

“If he’s ready to go, even if it’s only on one day’s work, we feel confident he’ll play really well . . . if he’s in there,’’ coach Frank Reich said Friday on a Zoom conference call.

On a veteran line, Kelly’s status is unquestioned.

“Just the experience, his intelligence, his toughness,’’ Reich said. “He’s a pro. How he handles himself in meetings. The guys just know he’s our leader up there.

“He’s our leader as far as communications, as far as getting us all on the same page. He’s proven it time and time again.’’

No one should underestimate the magnitude of Kelly’s absence, if it occurs. In the pecking order of most indispensible Colts, Kelly would rank near the top, perhaps a rung below left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Castonzo, by the way, had his streak of 33 consecutive starts end when a rib injury kept him out of the Cleveland game.

If Kelly’s streak ends, the Colts will turn to Pinter.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Danny,’’ Reich said. “Mentally, he’s ready. Physically, he’ll be up to the task if he has to play.’’

Pinter’s journey to this point has been one of constant relocation.

The South Bend Adams H.S. product initially was recruited by Ball State to play tight end before moving to tackle as a junior. He started his final 24 games at tackle.

However, the Colts envisioned the 6-4, 306-pound Pinter being better suited to slid inside. He’s worked extensively as Kelly’s backup since training camp.

“We always thought that was going to be his natural position even watching his college tape, watching him move, getting to know him as a person,’’ Reich said. “He has the aptitude for that position.

“He’s gotten a lot of good work there. From day 1 here, he’s started taking center reps and obviously had a lot of good work this week.’’

Pinter hitched himself to Kelly’s coattails from the outset.

“Ryan is awesome,’’ he said during the offseason. “Even when I’m not working out with him, he sent me a text and said, ‘Hey, any questions you’ve got, don’t be afraid to ask me.’ He’s been awesome from that standpoint. He’s a great person to watch on tape. He’s one of the best in the league at the position.

“I’m just always trying to dig up something that I can from him, but I’ve been working on this transition for a while. I knew moving inside – as soon as my senior season ended – I knew that was probably the reality.’’

More injury issues

As expected, All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard will return to the lineup after missing two games with a groin injury.

“Got good work in, made good progress during the week, so he’ll be good to go,’’ Reich said.

Kelly and tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) are the only “questionables’’ for the game.

It’s possible Reich and general manager Chris Ballard will shuffle the active roster prior to Sunday.

Rookie wideout Michael Pittman Jr. (knee) practiced this week and is eligible to be activated off of the injured reserve list.

“Was happy with the progress that he made,’’ Reich said. “It felt like he got a little bit better every day . . . I thought he looked solid today.’’

Reich will huddle with position coach Mike Groh and coordinator Nick Sirianni before getting with Ballard to determine whether Pittman is game-ready.

That goes for Kemoko Turay as well. The third-year defensive end remains on the physically unable to perform list, but returned to practice Wednesday. Turay suffered a dislocated right ankle in week 5 last season at Kansas City.

Reich initially said it might take Turay a couple of weeks on the practice field before he would be ready for a game, but that could change.

“The reps he got today, he flashed a couple of times,’’ Reich said. “That was encouraging. He basically got two days of work in Wednesday and Friday with a rest day on Thursday.

“Just got to continue to see how he progresses.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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