ENGLEWOOD, Colo—The Denver Broncos selected Colorado State offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo in the second round of the NFL Draft this past May for one simple reason—to play. Little did they know that instead of competing for the starting right tackle position, with guys like Chris Clark and Michael Schofield, Sambrailo would instead be leaned on to replace an All-Pro at left tackle and protect 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning’s blindside—as a rookie.
“I had high expectations coming in for myself,” Sambrailo said today following practice. “I expected to compete for a spot and hopefully get on the field early. It’s unfortunate what happened to [T] Ryan [Clady]. As great of a player as he is, he’s an even greater person. It’s a bummer and we’ve come together in the offensive line room. Nothing has really changed. We still have to go out and earn a spot. Our hearts are hurting for him, but young guys have to step up. I think we’ll be alright.”
In case you’ve been living under a rock, starting left tackle Ryan Clady tore the ACL in his left knee on the first day of organized team activities last week and will miss the entire 2015 season. Even though the Broncos have an experienced left tackle on the roster in Clark, the team instead chose to immediately plug Sambrailo into the spot. He’s going through the refiner’s fire, as head coach Gary Kubiak opined today.
“He’s [Sambrailo] done a good job,” Kubiak said. “He’s smart, so that’s not a problem. He’s kind of going through a process right now. I sat [OLBs] Von [Miller] and DeMarcus [Ware] for a day—one day out of the three. I think he feels pretty good about himself that day, and all of a sudden here they come. Well, that’s the real deal. But that’s what I told him: ‘Not many guys get to work against two Pro Bowl players on a daily basis and you will.’”
“I think it’s being drafted and being on a team like this,” Sambrailo said. “There are expectations no matter what is going on. I think coming in and playing right or left—it didn’t really make a difference—I was expecting to come in and compete.”
But nothing raises all boats like necessity, and Kubiak’s right. Going against two Pro Bowlers on a daily basis will accelerate one’s learning curve—or destroy one’s confidence. Hopefully, Sambrailo has the mental constitution and fortitude to use it as fuel to get better.
“It was good,” Sambrailo said. “I saw a lot of DeMarcus. I don’t think I went against Von. [He’s] obviously a future Hall-of-Famer. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to be thrown into in terms of learning as a young player going against a guy like that. I’m going to have my growing pains, but I think that ultimately it will make me a better player.”
More Broncos Stories
It’s exactly that type of attitude Sambrailo must cultivate if the Broncos are going to weather this storm. At the end of the day, he believes that the Broncos drafted him to play, not to sit. And the Football Gods’ dice fell in such a way that the pressure is on early to perform.
“I think I was drafted to play,” he said. “I think the coaching staff didn’t really have a choice either. They kind of decided to throw me in there, give me a shot and see what I can do.”
One of the uphill battles Sambrailo faces is not only assimilating into life as a pro, but learning a new offensive system—one that is executed at the highest arenas of the sport—the NFL. However, as time marches on, the mental side of the game is getting easier, making his job out on the grass smoother.
”The things are getting a little bit smoother a little bit quicker—less thinking and more playing," he said. "I’m just kind of excited about growing as a player.”
For the Broncos, a lot hinges on whether Sambrailo can turn the corner in his development in time for the season opener, and not just the fate of their season. If Sambrailo can prove that he can hold down the fort at LT, the Broncos will have a major bargaining chip and leverage point to use against Clady and his $10M+ 2016 salary cap hit.
For fans, there should be solace found in knowing that if it proves too early to lean this heavily on Sambrailo, Chris Clark is waiting in the wings. Clark played at a very high level in lieu of Clady in 2013, protecting Manning’s blindside to the tune of a league-record 606 points. In fact, he is arguably better suited at LT than RT.