A myriad of storylines came out after the Denver Broncos win last Thursday night. Surprisingly, one storyline that was not included was the improved play of the offensive line. One of the bigger questions marks coming into this season would be how the re-tooled unit looked, and how they would play against one of the better front sevens in the league, the Carolina Panthers.
After a difficult training camp that saw potential starters like Ty Sambrailo go down with injuries and other players like Michael Schofield playing out of position, it was a coup to have the big boys up front open holes for C.J. Anderson in the run game and keep Trevor Siemian upright during his first NFL start.
In talking to the media on Monday, Head Coach Gary Kubiak spoke at length about his overall reaction to the unit’s performance last week.
“That was a really good start for them the last time; it was a really good group we played against," Kubiak said. "We held our own, to run the ball for 150 yards against that group and to do it in a game we got in, got down 17-7, but we continue to feel good about running the ball. I think it was a good outing. I think Michael Schofield, being a guy that got pushed into service at guard, played really well. We have Ty [Sambrailo] coming back this week so I think the group should only get stronger as they play together more.”
Another Bronco who earned himself kudos from Kubiak was center Matt Paradis. As one of the highest-graded lineman on Pro Football Focus, he was instrumental as the offense hit its stride in the second half. Here is what Kubiak had to say about Paradis:
“He’s got total control of the group, calling fronts, getting everybody on the right guy, changing protections. To have Matt’s football knowledge to go with a young kid like Trevor Siemian, is really, really, big. If you’re young at center, young at quarterback, that’s pretty tough. Even though Matt’s a young player, he’s a very experienced player.”
Right tackle Donald Stephenson gave his take on the improved play from the men up front by pointing toward the continuity they have been building and how they overcame some adversity in a difficult first half.
“It has to be that way because when things aren’t going well, everybody looks up front," Stephenson said. "It always has to be a tight-knit group. Outside of the room, nothing else matters, but the five guys that have to line up with each other. It gets tough sometimes, we know it, we expect it and we take care of each other and that makes us clutch.”
Along with Paradis, another player who turned in a good night’s work on the line was much maligned tackle-turned-guard, Michael Schofield. The Michigan man pointed out that, while there is room for improvement, the line performed better as a whole.
“Last week, I think we had a pretty good week," Schofield said. "We had a lot of mistakes as an offensive line so I think that we still have a lot to work on and grow. We can be a special group this year if we keep on the right track.”
The difference between the offensive line of last year and this year (so far) has been night and day. While it was cause for concern that only two starters would be coming back from last year’s group, free agent acquisitions like left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Donald Stephenson were an instant upgrade over the miscast guard, Schofield, and the departed right tackle, Ryan Harris.
If you also take into account that Paradis has another year in the system (as does young guard Max Garcia), the improvement the line showed was remarkable. It was evident to most people outside of the team that Denver did not have the talent along its trenches to be successful or consistent in running or passing last year, something that has been fixed this year.
Barring injury and with key backups like Sambrailo and center James Ferentz coming back soon, the Denver Broncos offensive line should be one of the strengths of the team going into the rest of the season. Mixing youth and experience, as well as technique and power, the unit proved that it can be trusted to perform at a high level going forward.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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