Denver Broncos: Dan Koppen signed for veteran minimum

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Gotta love vet minimums!

According to Broncos blogger Jon Heath, (via Jeff Legwold) Dan Koppen's contract is a one year deal worth the veteran minimum:

Jon also puts the Broncos current cap space at about 10.5 million.

So what does this mean? Koppen has the inside track on the starting job, but by no means is he a lock. One year deals for the vet minimums usually mean there are guarantees and therefore no dead money. Simply put, Koppen could be released at anytime without any financial ramifications to the Broncos whatsoever.

Even in the unlikely event that Koppen is beaten out for the job, he still would be a valuable piece to the Broncos roster as a backup. Koppen by far has the most experience at the center position with nine years of experience as a starter in New England and 13 games last year with our Broncos. Koppen also has ties to Broncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu going back to their collegiate days at Boston College.

We know quite a bit about Koppen, but what about the other centers on our active roster?

Quentin Saulsberry 6'2" 304 lbs

Was a four year starter at center at Mississippi State from 2007-2011. He is the only MSU player to play and start every game of his college career (49). At 6'2" and 304 lbs, he went undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft and was signed to the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. He was released on the final cut for the Vikings 53-man roster and cleared waivers before being signed by the Broncos where he spent the season as our practice squad member. Here is a brief draft profile about him from NFL.com:

Strengths:

Saulsberry is fast off the ball and has good feet to work into the second level on linebackers. He has good footwork in the run game and keeps his legs moving, and is also fluid in his pass set.

Weaknesses:

Saulsberry can be overpowered and really can't uncoil his hips and drive his legs to create movement. He is a "stop" blocker who doesn't allow defenders to pass by him, but is far from overbearing when connecting. He is a fluid athlete but not a physical presence inside and could struggle against bigger, stronger players.

One thing that plays against Saulsberry is the fact that he was suspended by the league at the end of last year for the use of PED's. That suspension would carry over into the first two games of this season, so would still put the Broncos in a tough situation at the beginning if he were the starter.

C.J. Davis 6'2" 308 lbs

Davis was signed as an UDFA rookie by the Carolina Panthers in 2009, so he has some history with coach John Fox. He missed all of 2009 with an ankle injury and was released by the Panthers in 2011 with an injury settlement. The Broncos signed him in 2012 to be a part of their practice squad. According to NFL.com, he moved from Guard to Center half way through his senior season to take over the spot vacated by an injured teammate:

Strengths:

Stout wide-body inside. ... Versatile enough to handle all three interior spots. ... Nimble setting up for pass protection. ... Quick getting his hands up after the snap and can land his punch. ... Puts his man on the ground when run blocking. ... Calls blocking assignments, even before shifting to center. ... Can anchor and drive his man backward. ... Wins the leverage battle in short-yardage situations. ... Vocal leader on and off the field, coaches call him a hard worker at practice

Weaknesses:

His lack of height may make him a better center than guard. ... Not fleet-footed when getting ahead of screens. ... Ineffective cut blocker. ... Relies on his upper-body strength too much instead of moving his feet in pass protection. ... Does not always recognize late blitzers. ... Holds too long on assist blocks and can't recover to pick up defenders going to the quarterback. ... Must lock onto defenders in the open and sustain those blocks more consistently; linebackers can disengage from him too easily.

The biggest asset Davis might have could very well be the mental aspects of the game as he was used to calling line protections in college even before he moved to center.

Phillip Blake 6'3" 310 lbs

Blake was drafted 108th (4th round) of the 2012 NFL draft. By many accounts given in last year's training camp, including Kaptain Kirk who logged Broncos practices for MHR, Blake looked absolutely terrible. I suppose it should be emphasized that in OTA's and minicamp it was guard Manny Ramirez who was getting reps at starting C and not Blake who in reality was drafted to be groomed into this role specifically.

Strengths:

Blake is large and fits well on his blocks. Once there, he can sustain and will fight to stay involved. He is quick when pulling, and will stay in front and mirror defenders in his pass set. He was a stalwart contributor to Baylor's offense up front.

Weaknesses:

Blake is still a developing talent with average athletic ability and skills. He's had difficulty against more athletic opponents in the past and will need time to become an NFL-caliber starter.

Manny Ramirez 6'3" 320

The "Man Ram" is larger than any other potential replacement currently on the Broncos roster. In action last season, he struggled early on filling in for injured guard Chris Kuper, but ultimately found his mojo and finished off a very solid 2013 with very good performances the final two weeks of the season. In all honesty, Manny should have started over Kuper in that divisional game, Kuper played horribly and wasn't quite ready to come back. Going back to his time at Texas Tech, I can't find any evidence that he played Center.

Tom Nalen recently stated that Manny starting at center would be ill-advised, I don't necessarily agree. He already has more experience than any other reserve OL playing with Peyton Manning. He is already familiar with the offense and line calls, now he just has to put the mental side of it together to be ready to make line calls and adjustments.

Beadles or Kuper?

I've already explained the reasons behind why I think Beadles could do the job, but that is a moot point now. Koppen is not losing his job to either of these guys. Bottom line, expect some fierce battles all along the offensive line in training camp. We have a lot of bodies on the interior and only so many spots.

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