Zane Beadles surges forward, hits the defensive tackle low in the chest with both palms and drives him backwards away from the line of scrimmage. A small hole opens in the "A Gap" between Beadles and center J. D. Walton. Moreno bursts through the hole. Long gain. First down. As the offense reforms the huddle, Beadles listens to the crowd cheering in adulation, and chanting, "Mo-ray-no! Mo-ray-no!" Next play -- another run through the A Gap. Sensing that a linebacker is going to blitz through that gap giving Beadles two men to block, the rookie guard explodes forward a fraction of a second before the ball moves. Whistles blow, yellow flags fly. "False start. Number sixty-eight on the offense." As the offense walks backward an additional five yards, Beadles hears the crowd boo. Such is the life of an offensive lineman: rarely acknowledged when he does his job right, often booed when he does not.
I wrote those words quite awhile ago when looking at the place of offensive linemen in the scheme of things. Now that the Tim Tebow era has officially started, it might be worth our while to take another look at the five Broncos who are tasked with guarding Tebow's back. Let's take a jump and look at them.
Why is this interesting? Denver's front five -- LT Ryan Clady, LG Zane Beadles, C J. D. Walton, RG Chris Kuper and RT Orlando Franklin -- are listed as having a combined experience of 160 starts. This places them as 28th out of the 32 NFL teams in 2011. While this may seem to give us an image of an offensive line that is relatively young and inexperienced, that figure of 160 starts is a very deceptive figure.
Why is it deceptive? It conceals the fact that 115 of those starts were amassed by just two of the five. In other words, 72% of the Broncos' offensive line experience is held by 2/5 of the offensive line. The remainder of is composed of two players with one season + a few games experience and one player with just five NFL starts.
|C||J. D. Walton||21|
It should also be pointed out that these five have exactly five games worth of experience as a unit. Clady, Beadles, Walton and Kuper have an additional thirteen games worth of experience working as a unit, it is important to remember that Beadles played RT in five of those thirteen games. Lastly, it should be noted that in 2010 under Josh McDaniels, the offensive line featured a run-blocking scheme that was predominately man-blocking and that the line has been working back towards a predominately zone-blocking scheme in 2011.
Lacking a full offseason's worth of work outs, camps and training along with a shift in the run-blocking scheme, we should expect some growing pains as this group of men learns to function as a cohesive unit in order to provide running lanes for McGahee and Moreno, and in order to keep Tebow on his feet during passing plays.
Despite their relative youth and lack of time playing as a unit, these five players have accomplished some good things thus far in 2011. While they have contributed to a rushing attack that is only ranked 25th in terms of yards, they have also contributed to an average per rush that is ranked 14th in the league.
This young line is currently ranked 4th (tie) in fewest rushes that resulted in negative yardage when running to the left (3 times) and 5th (tie) when running to the right (3 times). They are also tied for 2nd in fewest sacks surrendered (9) and lead the league in fewest quarterback hits allowed (17). (These statistics have been drawn from the Offensive Line Stats page on NFL.com)
So, who are these five who will be guarding Tebow's back (Player/Year drafted/Round/Overall selection/College)?
LT Ryan Clady 2008 1st 12th Boise State
2x First Team All-Western Athletic Conference honors, First Team
All-American honors as a 13-game starter in 2007
4th season as a Bronco
First offensive lineman to be awarded the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Week in
Allowed the fewest sacks (0.5) in the NFL among 16-game starting tackles
Only drew three penalty flags in his rookie season
Earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2008
Did not allow a full sack in his first twenty starts, the longest such streak by
a tackle to begin his career since 1994
Is the 11th tackle to be voted to the Pro Bowl by his second season
Was named All-Pro by the AP in each of his first two seasons
Has started all 48 games of his career
LG Zane Beadles 2010 2nd 45th Utah
3x All Mt West Conference selection, All American honors as a senior
2nd season as a Bronco
1st player since 2002 to start 6 or more games at 2/3 OL positions (C/G/T)
Has started at both guard and tackle
Only drew two penalty flags in his rookie season (2nd among rookies who
played in all 16 games with a min of 11 starts
Along with J D Walton was only the 6th & 7th o-linemen to start in a Broncos
season opener in franchise history
First rookie in Broncos history to start at RT in a season opener
C J D Walton 2010 3rd 80th Baylor
3-year starter at Baylor University where he allowed only 3 sacks in his final
First-team All-American honors as a senior -- first Baylor player to win that
honor in 18 years
2nd season as a Bronco
Allowed only 3 sacks as a rookie - and missed only 1 snap that year
Is the first Broncos center and only the 5th Broncos offensive lineman to start
all 16 games as a rookie
RG Chris Kuper 2006 5th 161st North Dakota
3-year starter at the University of North Dakota
2x AP All-American honors awardee
Nominated for the Gene Upshaw Award for best offensive/defensive lineman
in Divison II as a senior
6th season as a Bronco
Has allowed only 10.5 sacks in 57 career starts
Was the only NFL guard to not allow a sack in 2008
Helped the Broncos average 4.8 yards per rush - despite having 7 RBs
placed on IR - which was 3rd in the NFL in 2008
RT Orlando Franklin 2011 2nd 14th Miami (FL)
2x All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection
Voted the Miami Sports Hall of Fame Unsung Hero in his senior season
Led the Miami Hurricanes with 61 pancake blocks as a senior
Named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week in 2009
Lived in Jamaica until the age of 3 before moving to Canada
1st season as a Bronco
So as we cheer on the Broncos under their new quarterback, let's not forget to encourage, celebrate and be patient with the five players who have been given the charge of watching Tim's back.