Colts give Luck some help by taking center in 1st round

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck got the protection he needed.

More help could soon be on the way, too.

After spending months talking about an improved offensive line, the Indianapolis Colts finally made the investment by selecting Alabama center Ryan Kelly with the 18th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night. They were so convinced Kelly was the right guy that general manager Ryan Grigson couldn't get the pick in fast enough.

''He was really our targeted player for months now and he was the only guy you and I both went to for his pro day,'' Grigson said as he looked at coach Chuck Pagano. ''We've been looking to fill that spot for a long time. We've had musical chairs there for a long time.''

Grigson, a former offensive lineman, has been looking for help ever since team owner Jim Irsay acknowledged in a note that protecting Luck had to be the team's top priority more than three years ago.

So far, he's had trouble finding a fix.

Luck took more hits (210) than any quarterback in the league in 2013 and 2014 and last missed nine games because of injuries, the first games he missed in his four-year career. The result: Indy used five different starting quarterbacks, finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in the Luck era after starting the season as a trendy Super Bowl pick.

They expect the 6-foot-4, 311-pound Kelly, the top-rated center in this year's draft class, will provide stability at their weakest spot on the line.

Luck has played behind five different starting centers and Indy actually signed another potential starter in 2014, who later retired before ever suiting up.

What they're getting in Kelly is a three-year starter who played on last season's national championship team, the reigning winner of the Rimington Award that goes to the nation's best center and a player who is eager to get started.

''I think they needed a center to work with Andrew and they wanted somebody who can develop a relationship with him,'' Kelly said in a conference call.

The selection ended the Colts' decades-long drought of taking centers in the first round. The last one they took was Jackie Burkett of Auburn in 1959, but the two-way player never played center. He wound up at linebacker.

Kelly is no ordinary center.

Last season, the native of West Chester, Ohio, missed only eight assignments in 1,012 snaps, drew only one penalty and never was called for holding as he became a second-team All-American. And now after being part of two national championships in four seasons at Alabama, Kelly will return to his Midwestern roots and try to recreate the kind of relationship Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday had with the Colts - something that's been missing now for years.

''He's one of those guys, he's going to be there,'' Grigson said. ''That goes a long way in the NFL and for us. It's not like he's just some overachiever in there. He's a talented player. You're talking about a guy that's close to 320 pounds and is over 6-4, it's almost tackle size.''

Indy has five more picks this weekend, with one in each of Friday's two rounds.

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