How Colts new head coach helped Kelce turn into an all-time great


Just over a decade ago, Jason Kelce was fresh off of his rookie season and clearly had a promising future in the NFL, but there were some areas that needed improvement.

And Jeff Saturday was just the guy to help.

Saturday spent years as the stalwart center in the middle of the Colts’ offensive line and played under the legendary Howard Mudd, who became the Eagles’ offensive line coach in 2011 and pounded the table for Kelce during that draft.

The late Mudd saw a lot of Saturday in Kelce and in 2012 connected the two players. In the offseason before Kelce’s second NFL season, Saturday invited Kelce to his house in Indianapolis and the two went over some important details that helped Kelce jump start a career that might one day end in Canton.

“There were technique things that he was more than willing to assist me in and things that I struggled with within the offense and didn’t know necessarily how to do,” Kelce said this week. “Howard and the coaches have one frame of reference. And Howard also played, but largely their frame of reference is a little bit different. So when you ask a player, they’re going to have a different nuance or different idea from their frame of reference.

“He helped me in a few things that I think I was struggling in. He was able to frame it differently, which overall helped my game.”

Saturday and Kelce will meet again in Indianapolis this weekend. Kelce is still in the league over a decade later and has become a folk hero in Philadelphia. And Saturday, after a run at ESPN as an analyst, was named the Colts’ interim head coach a couple weeks ago after they fired Frank Reich.

Way back in the early portion of Kelce’s career, Saturday was the obvious comparison. They were both undersized, playing for Mudd. And both ended up having tremendous careers. Kelce more than lived up to the comparison and he still appreciates how much Saturday meant to his career.

Saturday: 14 seasons, 6 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pros (211 games, 202 starts) Super Bowl XLI winner

Kelce: 12 seasons, 5 Pro bowls, 4 All-Pros (168 games, 168 starts) Super Bowl LII winner

"I thought that Saturday would really be able to help Jason with his outlook and doing it from a players' perspective," the late Mudd said in a 2012 interview. "Players actually tend to keep the system going and they teach each other better than I can teach them. Their perspective is that way, and I would trust whatever Jeff said."

Saturday this week remembered how Mudd once raved to him about Kelce, saying he was going to be a “lifer” in the NFL. Credit one to Mudd, Saturday said.

Early in Kelce’s career, Saturday served as the perfect model of the player he could be.

“The first two years of my career, I spent a lot of time watching Jeff Saturday tape,” Kelce said. “Howard Mudd had coached him his whole tenure in Indianapolis pretty much. He was the guy that for me being an undersized player and running the same system and a lot of the same plays that I tried to emulate my game after. Howard had me reach out to him and said he was available if I wanted to go meet up with him and I was able to meet Jeff I think it was right after my rookie year. He’s been nothing but open to helping me in my career the entire time.”

Over the years, Saturday and Kelce have kept in touch. In fact, a few weeks ago — before he was an interim head coach in the NFL — Saturday texted Kelce to tell him how much he was enjoying the New Heights podcast Jason does with his brother Travis Kelce.

Because of their connection and because of his job at ESPN, Saturday followed Kelce’s career closely over the last decade.

“Love him,” Saturday said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. “What an incredible ballplayer, man. And I love his heart and his attitude and the way that he carries himself as a center. I’ve always appreciated, even way back when Howard Mudd was telling me about him, and comes by and I meet him. Just an absolute gem of a human being.”

During his years at ESPN, Saturday said they would always rank the top players at every position and Kelce’s name was near or at the top of the list of the best centers year after year.

Saturday praised Kelce for his play and his durability. Kelce will extend his consecutive games streak to 132 on Sunday in Indianapolis as Saturday watches on.

“He checks all those boxes,” Saturday said.

And he helped Kelce get there.

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