It is no mystery that the Denver Broncos entered the 2015 offseason with a slew of concerns. Peyton Manning’s return, the high number of free agents and the eventual departure of the coaching staff made the early part of the year both exciting and worrisome. All of those issues were well founded but possibly the biggest one and most dire was and remains the question of the quiet big men that line the offensive front.
After months of free agency signings and the draft, the Broncos have a stable of able bodied men to protect Manning and try and create a run-heavy offense that Gary Kubiak desires. However, who will start at three positions along the line remains just as in question as it was the day after the Broncos ended their season to the Indianapolis Colts five months ago.
The good news is that the Broncos have two All-Pro linemen on the roster. The team is hoping left tackle Ryan Clady can return to 2012 form after an injury sidelined him in 2013 and continued to nag him in 2014. Louis Vasquez is ecstatic to be returning to his proper position at right guard where he dominated in 2013. After that the remaining three starting spots is setting up more as a game of musical chairs, than a solid roster of players.
Instead of strictly addressing specific positions, John Elway and Kubiak went out and got a lot of “versatile”, “tough” players who haven’t proven anything in the NFL to address what are now clearly their biggest issue on either side of the ball.
Chris Clark(T), Michael Schofield(T/G), Ty Sambrailo(T/G), Gino Gradkowski(C), Matt Paradis(C), Max Garcia (C/G), Ben Garland(G), Shelley Smith (G), all are in the running for a starting position and at this point no one has any edge in the competition. That, in itself is highly alarming and quite ridiculous five months after the Broncos last snap on a football field.
The word “versatility” has been used so often at Dove Valley they should make t-shirts and although it can help with depth on a team during a grueling season, it hinders your team when among three iatrical positions of your offense you have zero players with lasting experience at any one position.
Of the above eight mentioned players at center, left guard and right tackle, the Broncos have three veterans, three players with two seasons or less under their belt and two rookies. Among the group only Chris Clark has started over a season’s worth of games with 27 starts in seven seasons and all of Gradkowski’s 16 starts came in 2013 before being replaced last year in Baltimore. Of the remaining six candidates for starting jobs this season the Broncos have only 11 starts (All Smith’s in four seasons).
Now, it is fair to say that the offensive line roster contains some great talent and possibly some future starters but the uncertainty and bold assertion that a lot of bodies will equal a lot of success is unfounded and possibly reckless come September.
Instead of creating a top-to-bottom stable of mediocrity and inexperience the Broncos should have addressed their biggest issue with veteran leadership and success at least one of the remaining three positions along the line. The fact that they let Orlando Franklin walk with reportedly zero consideration or negotiations with the proven starter shows just how crazy the Broncos strategy has been. Instead the team will be fiddling and tweaking the rotation of offensive lineman more than the dismal coaching staff of the Colorado Rockies.
The Denver Broncos knew their weaknesses the second after Andrew Luck jogged off of Sports Authority Field in January. To their credit they addressed every one of those weaknesses, just not appropriately when it comes to the offensive line. The game of musical chairs among Manning’s protectors has begun in mini camp and will likely continue into and throughout the 2015 regular season. Two things are certain in musical chairs; grown men shouldn’t play and luck, not skill determines winners. My guess is when the music stops this winter Elway and Kubiak will find that they all lost way back in May.