In the previous editions of this series, I started at the top of how I see the depth chart playing out and worked down. However, the offensive line is going to be a little different. Since there are five positions in the unit, the five starters will come first before the backup, and of course, the starters will start at left tackle and end at right tackle.
If you have to pick on area of weakness for the Denver Broncos, it is the offensive line. No other area of the team is weaker than this group. Some may argue middle linebacker, or nose tackle, but Denver has players that can handle the starting job and quality depth behind them. The offensive line really has neither, outside of one or two spots.
A big part of the problem for the offensive line was Ryan Clady going down for the season. Many fans were counting on him returning to form, after a season removed from his last serious injury and a return to the zone blocking scheme. Alas, it was no guarantee that Clady would return to form, and the injury took out any chance he had this year. Now, who is going to replace Clady?
No. 1 LT: Ty Sambrailo
The starting left tackle is Ty Sambrailo. The Broncos just drafted the former Colorado State offensive linemen in the second round. He has the athleticism to be successful, but is lacking the technique and functional strength, which has been a problem during offseason activities so far.
There is still a lot of time left for those issues to get worked out, especially facing the likes of DeMarcus Ware in drills. The rookie has a lot of weight on his shoulders, as he is Peyton Manning’s blindside protector. He has a lot of work ahead of him and a lot of tests coming.
No. 1 LG: Ben Garland
A rookie at left tackle isn’t great, but it gets worse when next to him you have someone completely unproven—Ben Garland—a former undrafted free agent who is an ex-defensive linemen.
Now, Garland is looking at the starting position at left guard. He is competing with Shelley Smith for the spot and manages to beat him out. Just like Sambrailo, a lot will be riding on Garland.
No. 1 C: Matt Paradis
The center position isn’t any better. Denver has a veteran in Gino Gradkowski, who barely played in 2014 and was a bad starter in 2013, or a second-year player who spent his rookie season on the practice squad in Matt Paradis. Right now, I have Paradis winning the battle.
He fits the scheme well and is young. Gary Kubiak wants to get the young guys on the field and veterans are more of an insurance. That thinking comes into play at the center position.
No. 1 RG: Louis Vasquez
The only stable spot of the offensive line is Louis Vasquez at right guard. Ever since joining the Broncos, Vasquez has been the best offensive linemen on the squad—as long as he was at right guard.
Last season, Vasquez got pushed out to right tackle, where he struggled, but was still arguably the best linemen. He will be the veteran on the line and has his work cut out for him to get the young guys up to speed and ready for the season.
No. 1 RT: Michael Schofield
The final starter on the offensive line will be Michael Schofield. The former third round pick didn’t play last season, but gets a shot as a starter this year.
Right now, he is the backup swing tackle, but has struggled in looks at left tackle. He gets the starting right tackle job, and the veterans remain as the backup swing tackles. Kubiak goes all-in with the young guys on the offensive line.
Swing Tackle: Ryan Harris
The first backup is swing tackle Ryan Harris. Harris was signed when Ryan Clady got hurt. Harris has played both tackle positions in the scheme and has done so very well.
He manages to beat out offseason right tackle starter Chris Clark for the backup position. Salary and scheme experience comes into play when making the decision.
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No. 2 G: Max Garcia
The next backup is Max Garcia for the guard positions. He is entrenched behind Vasquez at right guard now, but likely will see looks at left guard to learn the position.
The Broncos also signed Shelley Smith to compete at left guard, but he gets beat out by the young guys. With Vasquez as the starter there isn’t much need for veteran depth. Not when you are putting a lot on the young guys. The draft pick beats out the veteran.
No. 2 C: Gino Gradkowski
The final offensive linemen is Gino Gradkowski. The veteran center is a valuable backup to Paradis. Gradkowski also can sub in at left guard if needed. The versatility along the offensive line is key.
Most of the players are capable of playing at another position if need be. Both centers fall into that category. Of course, one signing could change the whole outlook at the center position.
That sums up the offensive line and puts a wrap on the offense. Next up we get to the defensive side of the ball with the defensive line.
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