Never count your chickens. Pete Cavendar goes down with a torn Achilles. Then Ryan Keating breaks a leg. Uh oh. So much for that comfort zone. It's time for musical chairs.
So, is the 2006 Bronco offensive line something to worry about or not?
We were concerned after the first scrimmage. The defensive line ate up the offensive guys and were in the backfield all night harassing whoever had the ball. Not good, but not too unexpected when you're all getting used to one another in the first scrimmage of the summer. But I can still say I was concerned.
The left side of the line is intact. Tad Miller and Ryan Clady are an all-league pair of linemen and our quarterback's blindside is safe.
But from center to right tackle, we have 3 guys that didn't play much at all last season in the positions they're targeted for in 2006.
Maybe more so than any other unit on the team, the offensive line has to function as one. Everyone has a role and set of responsibilities and they all have to trust that their line partner will do take care of all that. If one mental mistake is made, or if one guy misses a step, then bad things happen.
We saw significant improvement in the second scrimmage as the guys settle in. And the news out of camp is all positive with this group. Again, big things are expected, so let's break the unit down.
The 2 Deep:
It's going to fun calling Ryan Clady's name for three more seasons. The guy is a mountain of a man and his athleticism is a shock in a frame that size (6'6", 320). Named to multiple post-season Freshman All-American teams at the end of last year, Ryan is already tabbed with the title ‘most likely to be drafted into the NFL' . There's more than one story about NFL scouts coming in to look at Darryn Colledge and asking about big number 79. When told he was a freshman, they all took notes and no doubt will be back. This kid is special.
Fifth-year senior Tony Volponi backs up Clady. He's a very versatile lineman who got some reps in at tight end last year in addition to some tackle play. There's little drop off when Tony comes in so Ryan will get ample rest.
Local product Tad Miller (6'4", 304) returns for his junior season. A fixture at guard, Tad has started the last 24 straight games at left guard for the Broncos. Named to the preseason All-WAC team by The Sporting News, it looks like the left side of the line is in good shape and not just this season! Miller is a beast on the offensive line, and has that nasty attitude that we love to see in the trenches. He looks for people to hit until the whistle blows.
Junior Jeff Biedermann (6'3', 303) backs up Miller. Biedermann's been bounced back and forth between offensive and defensive fronts over the past couple seasons but is making his name known at guard. He started out in 2003 as a true freshman defensive tackle and played in five games before ending his season with a leg injury. He was moved to center the following season and redshirted, and then was a backup guard last season with brief playing time. The guy's a trooper and has the attitude and work effort that the linemen need.
Senior Jadon Dailey was all-everything as a center in junior college but hasn't gotten much time in with the Cavendar boys on the line. He saw some significant time in the LaTech game last year and was part of that memorable second half where the Broncos controlled the line of scrimmage and ran basically every down. He's the perfect center; cerebral, fast, strong as an ox and possessing a low center of gravity (5'11", 285) and is meshing perfectly with the unit. He's one guy that the league doesn't know about but they will before the season is over.
Backing up Dailey is spring transfer Nate Wimber (6'1", 310). Still somewhat of an unknown, Nate will need to be ready when called upon. But I expect Jadon to get 90% of the snaps.
Here Jeff Cavendar slides over a position from the center position he played all last season. No worries here, both Cavendars are fundamentally sound and fit right into the unit. No waiting for Cavender to learn his position or to ‘come around'. He's already there.
Oddly, Ryan Keating is listed as the backup to Cavendar but he won't be ready for the opener so we could see John Gott (sophomore, 6'3", 295) back there.
One guy we started hearing about last year from players and coaches alike was Andrew Woodruff. Woody is one big dude (6'3". 331) but is the fastest offensive lineman on the team. I like the nickname of "Road Grader", because that's what he does. He plows through a defense, building freeways for the offense. Just a sophomore, Woody started three games at right guard last season and shined every time he got in there. The shift to right tackle came because his footwork is so good and he's going to physically overpower most any defender match up with him out there.
Right now, local product Mitch Rudder is tabbed as #2. Mitch is from Nampa and is a ‘true' freshman although he's a return missionary and is very mature for a freshman, both physically and mentally. He's' been one of the bigger surprises out of camp.
We'll see a unit that looks very good out of the gate, but that will flat out dominate by season's end. The bookend tackles will be as good as anyone's on the west coast, no exaggeration.
But the key will be how they protect Z and allow him to create. Last season we saw a lot of blitzing and we're likely to again this season. It's up to this unit to see that coming before it's too late and to make the adjustment when the ball is snapped. And I can't say enough about Coach Kugler and the effect he's had on the unit. His NFL offensive line coaching experience adds instant credibility to what he's teaching. The line is looking at a coach that's been there and done that and that means a lot to linemen. Look for an improvement overall in the discipline of the line too. There's been a focus on eliminating stupid penalties and players out of position and that was evident in scrimmage #2.
You can't win championships without stellar line play and these guys will enable the rest of the offense to shine and take us there again in 2006.