On the starting offensive line it almost seems like we couldn't be further from 2010, even though the personnel is 80% the same.
Ryan Clady is back to his old form, Kuper is playing well, J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles are a year wiser, and Orlando Franklin looks to have rookie impact written all over him, with Orton pointing out that when Orlando knows his assignment and can just do work, he is as dominating as any RT Orton has seen. This starting 5 have pretty much the whole season riding on their good health, however, as the depth problems of 2010 look to be lurking right behind them. The good news is Denver only needs to come up with 3 backups, and barring catastrophe, they should only be expected to curate one solid guy.
Projected offensive line slots up for grabs: 3
- Chris Clark: Clark stands out in one on one matchups, and except for losing track of broken pockets, he looks to be a quality backup who could step in for Clady in a pinch. He had two pancakes on Thursday night that I counted, and only one whiff on the night. He is adequate vs. speed, keeps his legs bent and his weight low vs. the bull rush. He struggles in coordination, missing assignments when playing inside the TE or handing off a block to the LG. But what Denver is looking for here is someone who can hold their ground one on one and the 6-5 305lb Clark looks to be able to do that. Projection: Has nailed down the backup LT and swing slot.
- Adam Grant: Grant rotated in for a handful of plays at LT, but struggled to hold his ground. On run blocking he was adequate, however he had 3 blown pass protections in a row at one point. Projection: Waived on cutdown day.
- Stanley Daniels: Believe it or not Daniels has come a long ways from last season, where he was consistently the one guy running left when everyone else was running right, when he was in at LG in relief of Beadles (via Harris). The 320 lber can still get pushed back, but he has learned how to be where he needs to now more than last year and is in position to make his blocks. He also moves pretty well for a big guy, which is an important trait, but he still isn't making good contact on 2nd level cuts and blocks. Projection: If he could snap the ball he would be a keeper. If Denver was keeping 9 OL I could see him being a keeper (but it would likely cost a LB). As it is, waived on cutdown day.
- Herb Taylor: The 3 year vet has been manning the RT slot solidly, and is the second best backup OL we have right now behind Clark. The difficulty is getting enough versatility out of the backup slots, and carrying two swing tackles isn't the best way to do that. However, beggars can't be choosers. Projection: Takes one of final 3 roster spots as a swing tackle. Waivers may be a better way to clear up this mess, but I won't hold my breath.
- Eric Olsen: After getting one start last year, and opening training camp strong, Olsen has fallen off the map. I didn't see him get any reps on Thursday night, and while his play has been adequate, without flashes or significant demerits, the lack of playing time could indicate that his roster spot lost. This would be disappointing since he plays RG, C and LG. Projection: Waived on cutdown day.
- Jeff Byers: Byers got a lot of reps Thursday night, and it didn't work out well for him. If he wasn't getting off bad snaps he was getting plowed in pass pro, and to top it all off he earned the team a false start in the redzone (attributed to Clark, but any lineman could have been called since Byers snapped the ball late). Projection: Waived on cutdown day.
- Manny Ramirez: Ramirez has been getting long extended looks all preseason, and for good reason, since the swing G/C likely comes down to either him a 4 year vet or Hochstein, a 35 year old vet. Ramirez is primarily a G, but has been getting a lot of reps at center, where he seems to have the job down. He had the distinction of calling line assignments in college, though the centers aren't required to do that now in Denver (they can make calls if they want, but the QBs job is to make all the calls anyways, so it is redundant.) Ramirez is a rollercoaster player, pancaking a guy on one down and then getting pushed back on rollerskates on the next down. His functional strength is incredible, but you wouldn't guess it to look at his play most of the time. Projection: The swing G/C battle is too close to call, but I think I will give the edge to Ramirez. This is another case where keeping 9 OL would be nice, but difficult.
- Russ Hochstein: The McDaniels decision that just won't disappear still lingers, and could linger longer still. Since he can play center, is a veteran and is versatile, Russ is an ideal candidate for the swing G/C role. Unfortunately, his list of demerits from Thursday night's game is as long as Byers. Projection: The veteran card is hard to overlook, since stepping into a cohesive line when someone gets hurt takes some experience, but I give the edge in this battle to the younger Ramirez. Released on cutdown day.
No 53 man roster is simple to assemble, and the decision to carry 8 OL into the season is one of those grit-your-teeth decision that could look brilliant or moronic on a single play. Overall our starting 5 are locks, and the talent behind them is unfortunately concentrated on the outside, so the backups are lopsided a little. It isn't a perfect assembly, and waivers could help a little, but don't get your hopes up. Given where the talent resides on this roster, this seems like a reasonable tack to take on the OL. Practice squad will be very important.
But these are just my projections...yada, yada, yada. Now tell me about all the great pickups you want to get off of waivers. ;)