While the Denver Broncos skill positions, running backs, receivers and quarterbacks, receive most of the notoriety, the real building blocks of a football team begins up front, with the offensive linemen. They have the thankless job of protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running backs. Often underpaid and underappreciated, any good offense begins with a solid line. The competition will be strong in 2014 as the big men vie for the privilege to protect their star quarterback, Peyton Manning.
Without a doubt, the most important offensive line position is the left tackle. He is the protector of the quarterback’s blind side, where one missed block could injure the quarterback and prematurely end the team’s season. For the Broncos, the left tackle is Ryan Clady, one of the very best in the NFL. He missed most of last season with an injury, but has returned and will solidify the entire line.
Orlando Franklin is the projected left guard, who can also play tackle. Pairing Clady and Franklin on the left side should give a big boost to the running game. His move to the inside was necessitated when Zane Beadles left during free agency.
Manny Ramirez mans the center position. Originally a guard, he moved to center last season amidst a rash of injuries. His bad snap in the Super Bowl aside, Manny did a commendable job and should remain as this year’s starter.
Right guard is the home of Louis Vasquez, who is coming off a stellar All-Pro performance. Last season he graded out as the third best guard in the entire league. Signed as a free agent last year, he promises to hold the position for many years to come.
When Ryan Clady left with an injury last season, Chris Clark was called in to fill the void. He played solidly for the Denver Broncos and he had some exceptional games. He is the favorite to win the right tackle competition. His play last season and his ability to play both sides should secure him an offensive line roster spot this season.
The offensive line is far from a closed competition in 2014. For the Denver Broncos, versatility is often the name of the game as players keep shuffling around to find the best possible combinations. With every play, offensive linemen block big, strong, and quick defensive athletes, and doing so in, close proximity often leads to injury. Fielding a deep and strong offensive line starts the process of building an exceptional offense.
Backups to the starters will receive ample playing time and their versatility to play multiple positions will determine whether they will make the final roster. Winston Justice, Michael Schofield, and Matthew Paradis are the leading candidates to fill backup roster spots. There are fourteen offensive linemen in camp and in all likelihood, nine will make the final roster.
All in all, the Denver Broncos have a lot of offensive line talent in camp. Positions will be at a premium and should increase the competition for roster spots in 2014. As coaches begin building their offense, only the very best will have the opportunity to block and keep Peyton Manning’s jersey clean.
Commentary by Hans Benes