Jeff Saturday on Ryan Kelly: ‘I hope the kid is better than I was’

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Jeff Saturday (left) and Ryan Kelly (right)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Ryan Kelly was in control Friday afternoon as he walked into the media room at the Indianapolis Colts’ Indiana Farm Bureau complex.

The team’s first-round draft pick was nattily attired, at ease as he fielded questions and confident as he discussed his projected role as anchor of an offensive line that’s lacked one.

Yet there was a noticeable shadow.

Ryan Kelly is expected to be to Andrew Luck what Jeff Saturday was to Peyton Manning. Eventually, he and Luck are expected to work in tandem. They’ve expected to make the necessary pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage, think alike, perhaps even finish each other’s sentences.

“Those guys worked hand in hand,’’ Kelly said of Saturday and Manning. “They made each other better. They made the entire offense better.’’

From 1999-2010, Saturday and Manning were inseparable. They shared an NFL-record 170 regular-season starts. They were instrumental in the Colts fielding a lethal offense, one that delivered the franchise to two Super Bowls and produced one world championship.

Since Saturday’s final season in 2011 and Luck’s arrival the following season, the Colts scrambled for stability at the position. Luck has taken snaps from five different starting centers. Injuries and ineffective play necessitated the revolving door.

Now, the goal is for Kelly and Luck to develop a synergy that approaches the Saturday-Manning level.

“They’re trying to get that relationship with Luck that Peyton and I had,’’ Saturday said. “And I hope the kid is better than I was.

“I love the kid. I’m pulling for him. I hope he comes in and just balls out, man. I hope he and Andrew can form that relationship Peyton and I had, and have it for many, many years.’’

The Colts bucked history when they used the 18th overall pick in the draft on Kelly. He’s just the sixth offensive lineman they’ve taken in the first round since 1970, and only the second center they’ve selected in the first round in franchise history. The other, Jackie Burkett in 1959, wound up being a linebacker.

“I was excited when I saw the pick,’’ Saturday said. “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t excited for him and the team.

“Those two guys should play together for a long, long time.’’

The Colts’ decision to use their first-round pick on a center “just goes to show you how much emphasis this staff puts on having a great quarterback-center relationship,’’ Kelly said. “The coaching staff has put a lot of trust in me.’’

Kelly had yet to meet or talk with Luck mid-day Friday. That will soon change.

As for following in Saturday’s footsteps, Kelly appeared eager to embrace the challenge. He met Saturday in January when Kelly was recognized as the Rimington Award winner as the nation’s top center and Saturday was the event’s featured speaker.

The two didn’t spend too much time talking shop.

“We (didn’t) talk about football a lot,’’ Kelly said. “He gave me some words of advice about how to be professional. That was right after the national championship so I was transitioning into being a young professional.

“He doesn’t have a to say a lot to take a lot away from him. Just the way he acts around people, he way he cares about people. You can feel it.’’

Saturday was similarly impressed with Kelly.

“My first impression was ‘That kid is put together, man,’’’ he said. “When you take a guy like that in the first round you know he’s talented, but I just liked the way he carried himself.

“I was impressed. He is a very put-together young man.’’

While the Colts envision Ryan Kelly being their next Jeff Saturday, the two are hardly comparable on the surface.

Saturday entered the NFL in 1998 with Baltimore as an undrafted rookie. When the Ravens cut him, he returned to Raleigh, N.C. and began working with an electrical supply store.

His decorated Colts career commenced in January 1999 when the team gave him a roster spot that he maximized. Saturday was named to five Pro Bowls and had his name added to the Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium last year.

By contrast, Kelly is the 12th center taken in the first round over the past 25 years. He’s also an imposing 6-4, 311 pounds.

“I try to take a piece of a lot of people’s games,’’ Kelly said. “You’re always going to try to watch guys above you. When I was in college, I was watching guys in the NFL.

“I’ve watched Jeff Saturday’s tape. I’m not Jeff Saturday and he’s not me. Jeff Saturday is one of the best centers ever to go down, but ultimately I have to do my job.

“I can’t compare myself to anybody else but who I am.’’

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