When the Denver Broncos selected Ty Sambrailo in the second round of the NFL Draft this past May, their intention was to play him immediately—at right tackle. They drafted him with the expectation that he would compete to start at RT from day one.
But when four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady went down with a torn ACL just a few weeks after the draft, in a surprise move, Gary Kubiak and the Broncos offensive coaching staff decided to plug Sambrailo in at LT, rather than the proven veteran Chris Clark.
Count me among those who were slightly taken aback by the move. Not because I don't like Sambrailo. I do. I got a really close look at him at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. in January and came away mostly impressed.
I was scratching my head because Clark proved in 2013 that he can hold down the fort in protecting Peyton Manning's blindside, and Sambrailo is absolutely unproven. Listen, I know Clark isn't the best LT in the NFL. Yes, he struggled badly in Super Bowl XLVIII. But so did the entire Broncos O-line, who were completely outmatched as a unit against the Seattle Seahawks front-seven.
Clark is a proven commodity at LT. Sambrailo isn't. Be that as it may, the Broncos rolled the dice early on the rookie and the results thus far have been uninspiring. Last week vs. Seattle, Sambrailo was completely in over his head.
He saw 40 snaps. And although he only gave up a single QB hurry, he looked lost on the field and seemed to be pressing. Mile High Huddle's very own Erick Trickel, who closely evaluates the game film each week to hand out individual player grades, was less than impressed with Sambrailo as well.
"The rookie left tackle had a horrendous game to start, and it didn’t get any better. He had only a handful of good plays. The worst of Sambrailo were the plays he did nothing. One play in particular he just stood there as a rusher ran off his right to put pressure on the quarterback.
Later, he wasn’t blocking anyone and the left guard released the block to Sambrailo who failed to pick it up. The coaching staff wants Sambrailo to be the starter, but if he continues to fail, the plug will be pulled.
I would expect the next game to be the deciding factor. If he struggles, he switches with the backup left tackle. If he does well, he stays the starter for yet another week."
Trickel and I are in agreement. But one of his points in particular stood out to me. If Sambrailo continues to struggle, at what point do the Broncos pull the plug and insert the veteran Clark?
I concur with Trickel that this week's test vs. the Houston Texans could very well decide the rookie's fate. With the 39-year-old Manning slated to play for most of (if not all) the first half, the Broncos won't have the luxury of allowing Sambrailo to fail.
Manning is critical to the Broncos 2015 fortunes. If Sambrailo can't protect him, the team will have no choice but to give the responsibility to someone else. For now, that someone else would be Chris Clark.
Clark might not be the ideal option. But he just might be the best one right now. With Clark, we at least know what to expect, and so does Manning. The Broncos have a finite amount of time to figure out the LT position, before the regular season starts and the games count.
If Clark gets the nod and fails to execute in the next preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos could look at options outside the current roster. They already worked out Jake Long, but didn't sign him.
It's conceivable that they could even look at orchestrating a trade with a tackle-rich club. Right now, these are down-the-line hypotheticals, but it all starts with Sambrailo in Houston. If Denver did demote Sambrailo, it's obviously not the end. He has a long career ahead of him either way. Time is his friend, but not the Broncos'.
Yesterday, Manning was asked about his confidence in the Broncos O-line. His response was not exactly complimentary. Reading between the lines, I take more from what Manning didn't say, than what he did.
“It doesn’t affect me," Manning said. "Those guys have worked hard. Obviously, they’re going to gain experience throughout the course of the season. They’ll continue to improve throughout the season. They’ve improved just during this training camp with the guys they’ve been working against every day in practice. It’s a hard-working bunch. That’s all you can ask of the guy playing next to you."
The performance of the O-line in training camp might not affect him, when the defense isn't allowed to hit him. But even in a preseason game, it's open season. The clock is ticking on Ty Sambrailo. Hopefully, the progress DeMarcus Ware has seen in him will translate to the field on gameday.
“From OTAs all the way to minicamp, you can see how much he's matured," Ware said yesterday. "He's that athletic tackle that you need, but you have to get that technical work, that small crafty things that you do with your hands and little things that you know when the lines going to slide your way so you can over-set me, knowing that you're going to have help inside. He's seeing all of those things. From the first time when he came out here until now, he's a totally different guy."
Tomorrow night in Houston, the onus is on the young rookie. Will he step up? Only time will tell.
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