ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—On the eve of day one of Denver Broncos training camp, front office executive John Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak shared some thoughts on a litany of subjects. One of the key points was regarding Peyton Manning and the Broncos young offensive line unit.
After John Fox was jettisoned, Manning took some time to personally evaluate whether he had enough left in the tank to return for his 18th season and fourth with the Broncos. Once Elway landed on hiring Gary Kubiak, the game-plan at Dove Valley began to take shape and ultimately, Manning decided to return to play out the 2015 season.
Of course, in so doing, he agreed to a $4 million pay-cut, but he’s back in the saddle. One of Kubiak’s first orders of business was to take the necessary steps toward welding the tenants of his zone blocking scheme—which leans heavily on the running game and play-action—with the ‘Manning offense’.
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One thing Elway made clear today is that the Broncos offense will indeed be a marriage between Kubiak and Manning’s offensive predilections. The team wants to take the best of both worlds and meld them into one heck of an offense.
“Peyton’s about winning,” Elway said. “He wants to win games and he wants to win a championship, so I believe he’s going to do everything he can to get that done within the system that we’re in now. Now, obviously, we’ve tried to combine both of what Gary’s used to doing and [Offensive Coordinator] Rick Dennison is used to doing, with what Peyton is comfortable with doing too. I think it’s a combination of both and to be able to come out of that with the best of both worlds I think is what the goal is and I think we can get there.”
In getting more specific, Elway also talked about what makes Kubiak’s scheme so formidable. Get used to hearing the word ‘balance’ out of Dove Valley.
“No. 1, we're going to have good balance on the offensive side,” Elway said. “What I can say late in my career—that was my best friend, the running game. I think that running game will be Peyton's best friend also. Obviously, it's going to be a little bit of an adjustment. But you've got two smart, bright offensive football minds that are competitive and want to win. There was never, ever a thought in my mind that this was not going to work. I think Peyton understands that his commitment to come here when he came here that we were going to do everything we can to try win a world championship, and we continue to do that, year in and year out.”
The Broncos are going to run the football and they’re fortunate to have a Pro Bowl bell-cow in C.J. Anderson to lead the way and find those extra yards after contact. Imagine Anderson wearing opposing defenses down, averaging five yards per carry, and when they start putting hands on hips, Manning burns them over the top to one of his weapons in the receiving arsenal. Puts a smile on your face, does it not?
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Kubiak has never had a quarterback with the precision accuracy of Peyton Manning, including Elway. In fact, Manning is an asset for Kubiak, the magnitude of which cannot yet be measured. The old coach is going take advantage of all of Manning’s attributes, including his ability to read a defensive set, and coverage, and call an audible at the line of scrimmage. But how much leeway will Manning have under center?
“A great deal,” Kubiak said. “First off, he’s been the best in the business and he has been doing it for many years. This off-season was about us coming together and getting on the same page as far as what we want to do offensively. There will still be a bunch of that involved—that won’t change. We will just add it to the playbook. Obviously, we’ve got him under center a little bit more than he’s been in the past. We’ll put it all together, and we’ll do what we do best.”
Working with Manning and offensive coordinator Rick “Rico” Dennison, Kubiak will still be involved in the snap-to-snap calling of the plays. As one of the NFL’s keenest offensive minds, Kubiak has been around the block a time or two.
“I wouldn’t say that all of the game I’m calling the game, but I have a lot of confidence [in] those guys,” Kubiak said. “Our preparation will always be together, but I’ll be very involved in calling the game.”
One of the prominent storylines heading into camp is the youth on the Broncos offensive line. Manning is 39 years old and a running back is only as good as the guys paving the way. As the tip of the spear, the youth movement up front will be key in the Broncos not only winning the division, but going deep into the playoffs. Elway spoke to that today.
“Youth is always a little bit scary,” Elway said. “You never know how fast they’re going to come along. I think the one thing that I feel good about the group is the fact the mentality that they have, they’re bright, they’re smart, they’re tough, they want to be good and they worked their tail off this offseason. You can never go into every training camp with every question answered 100 percent. But I would tell you this: it’s just a matter of how they come along because we’ve got the potential of having a real good group there.”
It is scary. Ty Sambrailo is a rookie replacing a Pro Bowler at left tackle. Ben Garland has yet to start a game in the NFL and whichever player the Broncos go with at center will come with plenty of question marks of their own. For now, fans will have to trust in Kubiak and Dennison’s track record of getting the most out of their O-line.
But the proof will be in the proverbial pudding. The Broncos had the opportunity to sign a four-time Pro Bowler in Jake Long, but let him walk. That says something about their faith in Sambrailo.
Training camp begins tomorrow at 10 a.m. and Mile High Huddle will be there to see how this young O-line coalesces. Keep it here with us.
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