State of the 2016 Denver Broncos: Offensive Line

In State of the Broncos, we're breaking down the roster by position group. Today, Doc Bear evaluates the Dancing Bears—a unit that struggled immensely in 2015 and has undergone massive changes this year. What can we expect this year as the Broncos endeavor to defend their title?

It’s not saying that much to note that this year’s offensive line looks better going in than last year’s. A pair of issues—the injury to Ryan Clady and the lack of options at right tackle—set the stage for one of the strangest years I’ve ever had a field-side view of.

Part of it, to be honest, was bad planning. It’s not wise to put a rookie as your only backup to left tackle. The left tackles in both Peyton Manning’s and Gary Kubiak’s approach often played on ‘islands’ with no help. Ty Sambrailo learned humility quickly in his injury-shortened season. Street veteran Ryan Harris wasn’t stellar, but he beat every other option Denver had. Thank you, Ryan.

Right tackle was a combination of poor planning and some players just not working out. Chris Clark had the leverage to do a workmanlike job at LT the year before, and more power to him for that. He didn’t have the sand to play RT and Winston Justice was a terrible level of competition. Michael Schofield was who just was left, and he was a year away from ready.

The fact is that despite being roasted during the season, Schofield said that he and the coaches had found the weakness in his technique the Tuesday before the AFC Championship game. He then put in two excellent performances. But the fact that he has barely been mentioned so far this year also says a lot.

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Donald Stephenson is better at RT, but he can play LT in a pinch. Russell Okung is on a one-year show-me contract that was fine with him. He has to prove that he can stay healthy.  

The interior has still openings. Denver has announced that they hope to use Max Garcia at LG. It’s the position if you like to pull like he does, it’s the position to have. He’s only a second year player—he’s going to make mistakes, but he’s strong. Robert "Quadzilla" Myers may be backing him up. That’s yet to be determined.

Sambrailo remains a mystery to me. He’s put on weight and he’s is up to 316 pounds—second on the O-line. The question with him always seems to come down to functional strength. Can he bring his power to bear on the defender?

He’s likely to be tried at RG. It’s going to provide some very different experiences from his previous work at tackle. Rookie Connor McGovern will apparently miss most of training camp with his injury, otherwise I’d probably see him here. He should become a starter pretty quickly after returning. He reminds me of Orlando Franklin’s mentality.  Hurry back, Connor.

Projected Depth Chart

LT: Russell Okung

LG: Max Garcia

C: Matt Paradis

RG: Ty Sambrailo

RT: Donald Stevenson

For right tackle, if Okung stays healthy, Stevenson should beat out Schofield. Donald played this type of scheme with the Chiefs. If Okung goes down, Stevenson will probably flip to LT. That would bring out Schofield at RT. At least there are options. That’s an advantage of this line. They’ve added some age and experience, but chose quality players. I don’t see it as becoming one of the great lines in the league right now - too many maybes and ifs, going into camp.

They could change that in training camp, in part because there are few really good lines around the league. If they come through healthy with their new starters entrenched, if you’ll pardon in inadvertent pun, they could have a solid season.

They need Okung to stay healthy and Stevenson to just fit in well—he’s played this system well before. The interior is more fluid. Center Matt Paradis isn’t in any danger—he’s the line’s intellect and it’s leader.

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The guards need to step up. Max has borne the nickname ‘The Future’, and the future really is now. Left guard is an exposed position—the LT is often on an island, so Garcia will be an  essential player whether on run or passing downs. We’ll see his skill-set from the start.  

I admit to feeling less settled with Ty. I like the guy and he’s a great local story, coming out of Colorado State University. He played some left tackle when Clady was hurt; the move to guard showed that he wasn’t that effective in the role. He’ll have to master a new position in Denver’s stretch zone.

The worst potential situation Denver has is that that they currently have just four guards, plus Sam Brenner, a fourth-year guy who can flip from center to guard. One of those guards, Aaron Neary, is a rookie out of Eastern Washington. I hope he’s a diamond in the rough, but that’s just a hope. Robert ‘Quadzilla’ Myers is 335 pounds, but only a second-year player.

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The line looks thin at guard and far from elite depth. I hate hoping to luck that the team’s starters remain whole or that another guy will suddenly bloom. That’s the current situation at guard; it concerns me.

In fairness, this is a scheme that has produced some of the top O-lines in the league. It’s won Super Bowls. It has taken lesser players and made them great. If it fits a player's footwork and drive, it can make them better.

It doesn’t require big players, but if they have good feet and communicate well, they can play it just as easily.

What it does need is elite depth. This is one area of the team that doesn’t have it for now. Are they better than last year’s crop? Almost certainly. Going into camp, even with my issues at guard, it looks like it’s still a step up. 

If the guards work out. 

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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