This is the NFL offseason, the time between OTAs and training camp, when players flee to exotic landscapes for one last vacation before the hard work continues, and when fans hope and pray they don’t see their favorite player’s name and “arrested” in the same sentence.

We often say that the NFL season never stops, and that’s mostly true, but if it ever did, it would be during these few weeks in June and July.

Fortunately, that gives us some time to regroup, take stock of the Broncos’ draft and free agent class, and look forward to training camp. In the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing positional previews three times a week in preparation for the franchise’s run towards a fourth championship.

Offensive linemen make or break a season. You can have a gem at quarterback, but if they don’t have the right protection, they are reduced to a scrambling sack of potential.

Very few quarterbacks have been able to perform at an elite level without an elite set of blockers, and with the uncertainty at quarterback this season, Denver’s offensive linemen must bear the burden of forming a successful offense.

Head coach Gary Kubiak has repeatedly said depth charts and starters won’t be decided until training camp next month — and even then, the chart is fluid — but projecting is fun, so here we go.

Projected depth chart:


Russell Okung 6-5; 310  (LT)

Donald Stephenson 6-6, 312 (RT)

Second String:

Michael Schofield 6-6, 301

Darrion Weems 6-5, 310

Third String:

Kyle Roberts 6-6, 305

Lars Hanson 6-8, 308

Bigggest Question: Can Michael Schofield be any worse than he was last year?

Need I say more? I think we can all agree that watching Schofield miss assignments week in and week out was one of the most frustrating aspects of the 2015 season. In his 13 starts, he allowed 10 sacks, including a truly abysmal performance against Oakland in Week 15 where he allowed Khalil Mack a franchise-tying record five sacks.

In January, former Broncos offensive guard Mark Schlereth candidly shared what he thought of keeping Schofield as a starter.

“You’re saying Schofield might start? Lord, have mercy,” Schlereth said. “You have got to be kidding me. He doesn’t belong in the NFL. He’s not a backup in the NFL at this point in time.”

His status on the depth chart is without a doubt the biggest question mark for the offensive tackles.

Luckily, John Elway signed free agent Donald Stephenson from Kansas City over the offseason and he is expected to compete for the starting right tackle position. Schofield will likely be the swing tackle, and hopefully won’t see much playing time barring an injury.

Most important player: Russell Okung

The Broncos success this season rides heavily on Okung’s ability to perform, so it’s a good thing his own personal livelihood is riding on that performance as well.

Okung signed a five-year, $54 million contract with the Broncos, but he did it without an agent, so it’s more like a one-year, $1 million deal.

Should he perform this season, the Broncos can exercise an option that would allow him to earn upwards of $48 million over the next four years.

Okung is the projected starter at left tackle,and has the magnanimous job of protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Although it shouldn’t matter whom he is blocking for in theory, the sooner the starting quarterback is crowned, the better.

Though he has shown up to Denver’s OTAs this season, he has yet to fully recover from the dislocated shoulder he suffered at the end of the 2015 season with Seattle and has been limited to walk-throughs.

He should be at full health for the start of training camp, and his ability to lead what is essentially a brand new offensive line will speak volumes for what the upcoming season will look like.

Surprise player: Lars Hanson

The undrafted rookie out of Sacramento State might just be the diamond in the rough the Broncos have been looking for to bolster the offensive tackle position.

Hanson isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster, but sometimes players with the most to lose play at the highest level, and at 6-foot-8, 308 pounds, he’s got plenty of body to back his drive.

Of all the units heading into training camp, opportunity is highest at the offensive tackle position, and most especially on the right side.

As Schlereth pointed out, Schofield’s recurring starting role “goes to show what they think about anybody else on their roster.”

Hanson has the potential to steal the swing tackle role from Schofield this year — if it is even Schofield’s to steal. OTA’s are one thing, but once training camp and preseason games begin, Hanson should make the practice squad at the very least.

Even if the rookie has a lot of work ahead of him, the youth of this year’s team will be on his side. It is much easier to train a young guy straight out of college than to try and re-shape a veteran guy like Schofield who might not have what it takes.

Overall grade: B

Honestly, it’s hard for the debacle at offensive tackle to be worse than last year. On a Super Bowl winning team, they were the weakest link. The addition of Okung and Stephenson and the departure of Ryan Clady are a vast improvement over last year.

Clady was an elite player when healthy, but his inability to stay that way made him a leach on the salary cap, and trading him away was the smartest decision.

Okung and Stephenson, combined with Hanson, give Denver a fresh blend of experience and youth to play with at tackle.

The good news: Without Manning under center, Denver will rely less on the pass and more on the run. This transition should allow the pressure to fall more evenly across the entire offensive line, rather than forming an intense point of pressure on Okung at left tackle.

The bad news: Though the new additions have shown up for every OTA thus far, it takes time for an offensive line to gain chemistry and perform as a cohesive unit. The first couple of weeks may be rocky for the running backs, and certainly the brand new quarterback. Only time will tell.