Tempe, AZ.—New head coach of the Denver Broncos, Gary Kubiak, had some interesting things to say at the NFL Owners Meetings in Tempe, AZ. Since last he really met with the media publicly, a lot has transpired at Dove Valley and the proverbial door has been spinning.
Peyton Manning has officially returned to the Broncos, after taking a $4M pay-cut. Free agency has shaken up the roster, with some great talent signing elsewhere. The Broncos have also brought in some potential difference makers, like Darian Stewart, Vance Walker and Owen Daniels.
Kubiak was buffeted by many questions regarding the latest happenings at Dove Valley and his ruminations were quite illuminating. One of the biggest concerns on the minds of Broncos Country is the apparent dearth on the offensive line. Kubiak spoke to that issue.
“Obviously our left tackle (Ryan Clady), [G] Manny Ramirez and [G Louis] Vasquez—those guys have been pretty much staples of what’s going on,” Kubiak said. “Obviously [C] Will [Montgomery] is still [a free agent]. That’s something that we continue to work on. I would say those three guys have been anchors in what they’ve been doing and then from there we’re going to have to have a very competitive situation. Obviously Vasquez, we expect him to come back inside. Right tackle, we’ve got some issues, at guard we’ve got an issue and then obviously [we have] these young players at the center position. We like the [T Michael] Schofield kid too, so we’ll see. We think he’s got some flexibility. Those three older guys will continue to go but after that it will just be very competitive.”
”Those three older guys will continue to go”. Translation: Clady, Vasquez and Ramirez are going to start on the offensive line. With Clady and Vasquez, the notion is a no-brainer. With Ramirez, however, Kubiak’s outlook on him is news to us.
But before we get too deep down the Ramirez rabbit hole, it’s important to hear Kubiak’s final thoughts on the O-line. The Broncos recently signed guard Shelley Smith and have Ben Garland waiting in the wings to compete for the left guard slot.
“The one thing we have to find out about Ben,” Kubiak said, “is there are some people—[Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] and [Offensive Coordinator] Rick [Dennison]—[that think] there may be some center [potential] there. We don’t know. We’re going to kind of take it a step at a time and see how much progress we can make this offseason—make sure we settle down before we go to [training] camp. I know Shelley has played there for me. That’s something he’s done. I would like him to calm down and just play guard—because I think he can be very competitive from a starter’s standpoint at the guard position—but how the center position pans out probably has a lot to do with that. We have multiple players that we think are swing players.”
The staff potentially likes Garland at center? That’s interesting because the coaches are also high on last year’s sixth round pick, Matt Paradis. Kubiak mentioned him specifically in Tempe.
“We have to get better up front. There has been some shuffling going on. We lost a player (G Orlando Franklin). Obviously we’re still out there in free agency right now. We think a lot of the young guys, we really do. My history with [Offensive Coordinator] Rick Dennison—Rick and [Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] have worked together. I feel good about our ability to develop these young guys. That’s our job as coaches. We have a lot of confidence these guys have done this before. I talked to [T] Chris Clark. I said, ‘Chris, we’re going to let last year go and we’re going to start over.’ He’s done some good things. I think it’s a fresh start for everybody. There is still free agency and there is still the draft going on. The key is going to be the young guys we have. [C Matt] Paradis, [G Ben] Garland, we’ve got to get these guys playing at a bigger level as they move to years two and three and those type of things.”
There’s no doubt that the Broncos have to do a better job of developing young talent across the board, including the O-line. But based on Kubiak’s musings, we could see Smith and Garland competing for left guard and a combination of Garland, Paradis and a future free agent, competing for center.
Where does that leave Manny Ramirez? Reading between the lines, I think Kubiak plans for Ramirez to be the first team center heading into OTAs and training camp, with the caveat of intense competition behind him. Ramirez back at center makes sense. He has extensive experience with Peyton Manning, first and foremost.
And he’s played the position at a high level. In 2013, when the Broncos ran a lot of zone schemes, Ramirez finished as the No. 5 center according to Pro Football Focus. When the team shuffled the O-line last season mid-stream, it forced Ramirez out to right guard, so that Vasquez could be moved to right tackle. They had an experienced center on-roster in Will Montgomery, so to the previous coaching administration, the move likely made perfect sense.
Retrospectively, it was a mistake. The O-line never did form chemistry and the ultimate result was a neutered running game (until C.J. Anderson broke out) and a beat up quarterback, which ultimately cost the Broncos in the playoffs.
At right tackle, it sure sounds like the Broncos are going to give Chris Clark the opportunity to win the job, with competition from Michael Schofield, and possibly a draft pick. Kubiak is right. Clark has done some good things in the NFL and he offers the team, as it is constituted presently, the best option at right tackle.
Kubiak and the Broncos are well aware of the situation on the offensive line. But they also believe that they have the solutions already on the roster. If not, Kubiak gets the ultimate blessing of going into his first season as a new head coach with 10 draft picks. That will give the Broncos plenty of capital to build the roster in Kubiak’s image, which directly corresponds to the team visage of the back-to-back Super Bowl champion rosters of the late ‘90s.
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