No. 1 question: Who starts at center?

A.Q. Shipley started learning a new system early Monday morning. Khaled Holmes hasn't played or practiced since Aug. 7. Which one will snap the ball to Andrew Luck Sunday night?

So who’s playing center Sunday night for the Colts at Denver?

Will it be A.Q. Shipley, claimed off waivers Sunday from Baltimore so he could return to where he played 14 games in 2012?

Or will it be second-year pro Khaled Holmes, who began training camp as the starter but went down with a high ankle sprain in the team’s Aug. 7 preseason opener?

If Monday was any indication, it will be Shipley. It was the first question asked of Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who didn’t name a starter but said Shipley took every snap with the first team and “he was pretty much flawless.”

Holmes has never started an NFL game and has but a dozen reserve snaps to show for his rookie year. Now he’s trying to come back from an injury with little practice time to prepare for what would be his first pro start, and it’s in the Mile High City altitude.

“Yeah, for anybody it’s going to be tough,” Pagano said of Holmes trying to make it back. “I don’t care what position you play considering those circumstances. Anybody that’s missed a considerable amount of time coming back, knocking the rust off, being in shape, all those type of things, it would be difficult for anybody, but we’ll just see how that plays out.”

The offensive line has been the foremost concern for the Colts. In addition to the uncertainty at center, rookie second-round pick Jack Mewhort has stepped in for the injured Donald Thomas at left guard and second-year pro Hugh Thornton is at right guard. The Broncos are sure to test that middle with blitzes and crowing the box to get pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck.

Should something happen to either offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo or offensive right tackle Gosder Cherilus, Pagano said Mewhort would be the third tackle. That would require more shuffling inside at guard, presumably inserting Lance Louis. If two tackles went down, Pagano suggested Thornton has experience playing tackle in college. That shows just how thin the Colts are on the O-line.

Backup tackles Joe Reitz (high ankle sprain) and Xavier Nixon (arthroscopic knee surgery) aren’t expected to be ready, Pagano confirmed.

Shipley has played in 30 NFL games, 14 of them starts. He can also play offensive guard, although the Colts claimed him to play center, his natural position. The team’s other center, undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison, missed the last preseason game with a thumb injury.

“It felt good to get back out there with Andrew (Luck),” Shipley said. “It’s just getting down the calls now. I mean, terminology is terminology, and I’ll get that down in the next day or two. Football is football.”

Shipley arrived at the Colts complex at 6:30 a.m. Monday, ready to study and learn on the fly.

“(I) crammed as much as I could in the offense (Monday), went out there, put it on the field and then (Tuesday is) going to be great because it’s an off day. I’ll be able to spend the whole day studying. These two days are going to be big for me.”

Holmes considers Wednesday the big day for him to show he’s ready.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s huge for me individually. … It will be a good test to see where I’m at.”

Asked if he would be full go in the workout, Holmes said, “The goal is to practice Wednesday. Whatever the trainers deem appropriate, we’ll do.”

He said his sore left ankle “is getting better.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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