Quenton Nelson

Offensive lineman Quenton Nelson, center, is flanked by Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, left, and head coach Frank Reich prior to a news conference April 27 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Nelson was selected with the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

INDIANAPOLIS — If there's one thing Ryan Kelly tried to impart to Quenton Nelson this spring, it's that perfection is not attainable.

Kelly — a first-round pick in 2016 out of Alabama — understands the unique pressure facing Nelson better than anyone on the roster. He carried similar "can't miss" hype into his rookie season with the Colts, and he also was looked upon as a savior of sorts for an offensive line that has struggled for much of the past six seasons.

Nelson — taken sixth overall out of Notre Dame in April — is the highest drafted guard in more than 30 years. His college tape verges on super hero territory, and his legend has grown so much already he was recently named a starting guard for a team comprised of NFL players under the age of 25 despite still being nearly two months away from his first regular-season game.

It's a lot to live up to, and it won't offer any respite from the unavoidable learning curve as Nelson adjusts to the professional level.

Kelly — the 18th overall pick two years ago — believes he can serve as a sounding board.

He heard Nelson express moments of frustration in early practices, and it reminded him of his own first-year experience.

"He wouldn’t say anything to me, but I was like, ‘Hey, man, it’s gonna be fine,’" Kelly said. "I get it. It’s just the NFL. That’s how it is."

Kelly navigated the waters well enough to start all 16 games as a rookie, and his level of play was enough to create Pro Bowl expectations before injuries derailed his second season.

But he's open about the doubts and fears that crept into his early days.

If any of those hard-earned lessons can help Nelson and fellow rookie Braden Smith — a second-rounder out of Auburn — Kelly is more than willing to share.

"When I was a rookie and I would mess up a call or something, I was like, ‘dammit,’" Kelly said. "But at the end of the day, it’s just a new offense. It’s a new league. It’s a different speed of the game. (Nelson's) been great, though. Both of them have. Great players. And I think they’ll be fine."

The Colts are counting on it.

Nelson and Smith are the highest profile additions to a unit that will determine the success of Indianapolis' new up-tempo attack under head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Siriannni.

The early returns this spring were positive.

"Good kids. Working hard. They’re doing a good job," first-year offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said in May. "It’s still very, very early, but they’re very talented kids. You can see by their college tape that they’re exceptional players. Hopefully, knock on wood, we stay healthy and we’ll assimilate them into the group as soon as possible."

Nelson has an inside track to start at left guard alongside fellow first-round picks Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo.

The right side of the line is more in flux.

Free-agent addition Matt Slauson got the bulk of the first-team work at right guard, but Smith and Jack Mewhort — who is attempting to reclaim a starting role after injuries decimated his 2017 season — also are very much in the mix.

At right tackle, free-agent addition Austin Howard is doing battle with Denzelle Good for the starting role.

Joe Haeg — who added center to his growing repertoire this spring — figures into the equation as a utility man, and at least two players who started in 2017 — Jeremy Vujnovich and Le'Raven Clark — could be fighting for a roster spot.

As much as the personnel has changed, DeGuglielmo's focus has centered on the line's personality.

Owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard each have referenced a desire for a "nasty" disposition up front. It's a reputation Slauson has earned over eight seasons in the NFL and one that could permeate the unit this fall.

In Kelly's view, it's all about mindset.

"It’s just finishing," he said. "It’s just when the defensive line comes up and they see us walking to the line of scrimmage, they know, ‘OK, these guys are gonna pepper us every single time.’ If it’s that late shove at the end of the game, after the play or whatever it is, protect our players, protect our wide receivers, our running backs, all that kind of stuff.

"It just instills a mindset to the entire defense that we’re playing against that these are our guys. We’re gonna protect them, and y’all can’t touch them."

Nelson displayed that mindset consistently at Notre Dame.

His highlight reel is full of violent collisions with defensive linemen that left the other man demoralized.

It's part of what Ballard saw on tape that convinced him Nelson was worth such a valuable draft pick.

It's a trait that should translate well at the next level.

And it's just another element feeding those great expectations.

"He’s a pretty good player," DeGuglielmo said. "Trust me, I haven’t seen too many like that. I think he’ll do a good job transitioning. He’s already making the adjustment with the guys. I think we’ll get what we expected when we drafted him."

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