As a whole the Offensive line is much better at pass blocking right now than run blocking, but that could definitely change once the preseason is over. The next game could actually be a good indicator of where the pass and run blocking is, not because the starters will be in their longer, but because they will be gameplanning for Green Bay like they would in a regular game.
Also, while Holland graded out the highest and most consistent of any of the olinemen, it should be noted that he was in against the Dallas 2nd team, so he may get the nod for the highest ranking this week, and we may see a shakeup in practice down the road, but for now I think we can expect to see him being evaluated, possibly rotating into the starting lineup against Green Bay.
11 total linemen came under the microscope against Dallas, and only Lichtensteiger received too few reps to get a good read on. Without further ado, here are your Broncos offensive linemen.
Notes: Holland looked like a man among boys lining up against Dallas' second team defense. My notes are filled repeatedly with the word "bulldozer" in regards to Holland's play, as he pushed DTs, DEs and of course LBs anywhere he wanted them on the field. He was effective on almost every play, with no major mistakes, and consistent upfield push. More than any lineman on the roster right now Holland has the power to drive defenders off the ball in the running game, but it may still be some time before we see him running with the starters as he still has conditioning to go through. As he gets into better shape he will be more adept at pulling, something he wasn't asked to do in this latest preseason game.
A few shortcomings stood out, all related to missed assignments, nothing that some more reps won't cure. For a player with every excuse to be out of rythm, lacking timing or guilty of foolish penalties, his game was surprisingly lacking on all these fronts. He looks ready to take some snaps with the starters, if someone leaves him an opening. This makes Kuper's report particularly interesting methinks.
He also turned in the most consistent game of any of the linemen, being equally effective as a pass blocker, but again, second string may not have been the greatest test. It is worth noting that from a technique standpoint he is doing excellent, making the right tackle look good. In fact, the coaches pulled him for five plays while Ramsey was still leading the second teamers in order to get a look at Lichtensteiger. I firmly believe that if Hollands issues were anything other than conditioning, that may have been the end of the game for him, but as it was he went back in to finish the game up with the third teamers. Oh well. Better than pushing a sled I suppose.
Notes: Clady was particularly impressive in this game, and going against Demarcus Ware for many of the plays can only raise your esteem of him. He graded high in both facets of the game, and turned in a spectacular performance from the edge. But he showed some weaknesses as well, especailly against double moves to the outside. Little mistakes strewn throughout his game, most of them technical in nature, led to a bit of the up and down, starting with a penalty on the first play from scrimmage. I laughed when I went back and watched it. First Clady went low to cut a player on the backside, but he mistimed the cut and came up well short of the player (this is a common mistake of young players, but Clady has no excuse, having come from a ZB system in Idaho). As a result, when the DE jumped over him to go chase the play, Clady just reached out and grabbed his foot, pulling him down. His score was heavily docked for the play, since it resulted in a penalty on the first play, but part of me appreciates what he did on that play, as a whiff by the LT usually leads to hits on the QB, and any left tackle worth his salt should think a penalty is the least he can do to protect his guy. This particular play was a weakside cutback run, so the rationale doesn't apply 100%, but I like the instinct.
Clady's other major flub was an outside speed move that he couldn't corral, in which Cutler did end up taking a hit after the release. We definitely don't want many of those. Clady will be susceptible to being set up by good edge rushers in his early development, so our running game will protect him some from those mistakes. As it was he made up for his mistakes with 3 plays that scored perfect, including two flat-out knockdowns (only one other player had a knockdown in this game, but I bet you can't guess who) and an impressive running play where Clady blocked two guys at once on a broken play, knocking one back and then the other like they were tackling dummies. Clady's athleticism has led to some forgetting about his strength, but against a heavy Dallas front four he held his own, including taking on DTs for several plays. If he keeps this up he will be a wall on Cutler's blind side, sooner than later.
Notes: A surprise entry into the top of the list, IMO, Harris was technically solid throughout the game. He faded noticeably as the half was winding down, and the majority of his errors occurred then. He was one of the more consistent players between run and pass blocking, and that kind of balance is key to his roster spot. He also was very quick to adjust to a defender's moves, and could hold his own for extended stretches. In run blocking he could too easily be knocked back, and this will probably be a problem for a while. He isn't getting good leverage off of the snap, and larger players will be able to walk him straight back into the pocket.
Another area that needs work is his concentration. While not guilty of a penalty, he had two non-calls on holds that would have really hurt the team if the refs had seen them. One was horribly blatant and amounted to a tackle. Of all the players, including fellow rookies and the players who graded out the lowest he had the largest % of bad or blown plays. He has the physical tools and the technical know how to compete, but he is suffering from inexperience, and is a reminder of just how special Ryan Clady has been so far. On the plus side he is above average at run-blocking, which will be a huge asset moving forward, especially if he ends up playing next to Holland. Not so much with Kuper though, more on that in a moment.
Notes: After looking a bit lost against Houston, Wiegmann really turned his play around and was leading the charge for the Broncos against Dallas. Playing consistently well, he dropped off only a few times, usually when he was moving to the second level or part of a pulling tandem. He looked to be losing concentration or focus, and with his experience that boils down to needing more reps. Even if Nalen returns and takes his starting spot back, Wiegmann is getting in some good time with the likely starters, and starting to gain the cohesion you look for. In particular you want to see him meshing with the guards, as the three are often responsible for pulling together or choosing double teams. He made several errors when choosing his blocks to early, and may possibly have called some missed assignments in the pass blocking.
One area where he shined however was in driving DTs off the ball in the passing and running games. He has one of the most physical attitudes on the line. He shows technical mastery of his position, a huge asset if he is asked to come off the bench, and has no difficulty getting low or maintaining blocks. When those blocks are moving, so much the better. Lastly, he is one of only two Denver Linemen that really seem to have a grasp of how to get a defender redirected, essential for sealing off lanes in the running game. Hamilton is the other, and that is something we really want to see from our guards and centers on the roster. If Nalen is a no-go, and wiegmann goes down, our G/C depth will be severely run-impaired...
Notes: In a way, Hamilton is our best lineman, in that he is the most consistent one. Across the board he has long stretches of adequate, effective play, broken up by the occasional bright spot. Not too bright, of course, just like it is never too dark. And of all the linemen, he spent the least amount of time playing below par.
One worry will always be whether Hamilton can be pushed around. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but it is an issue because his technique is sound, as a rule. As one of the few players who can redirect once he gets his man moving, it isfrustrating to see him losing ground at the line of scrimmage. Even being slightly off shouldn't hurt you too bad when you are as consistent as he is. Yet on occassion, he will be blown off the ball. I saw the symptoms of this in the Dallas game, and have resigned myself to it being a part of Hamilton's game, but it nags at me when I think about our need for increased redzone productivity. I would like to see Hamilton develop some of Wiegmann and Clady's mean streak and embrace that role as the season develops. He has done it before.
On the plus side Hamilton is a huge asset for protecting Cutler, and is a huge help to Clady when they are dealing with stunts. They had an impressive play on a stunt where normally they would switch off and take each others players, but Clady got locked up with his defender, a sure recipe for getting peeled off when the defenders cross each others paths. Instead of the sure pressure, however, Hamilton adjusted perfectly and fell back into the pocket, forcing his guy to run wide where Hamilton redirected him effortlessly down the field. Meanwhile Clady powered his guy along the line of scrimmage, wearing him down with each step. The pocket flexed a little, but it didn't give, and that is the kind of thing that gives the QB the confidence he needs to step into his throws.
Notes: In a vanilla preseason, our rookie linemen were the sprinkles. Clady has already established he is a star, and Harris, in effectively his rookie campaign has shown some fast and comprehensive strides. What if we got that lucky with all of our depth? Well, Polumbus is on the right track. While he doesn't have the "star" strength and agility that makes Clady such an impact, he has the right blend of awareness and intensity to make a difference in a play.
He started out a little rough but quickly fell into a rhythm at Tackle. While his technical execution was generally sound, he did struggle with cutblocks, coming up short on a couple, as well as being unable to effectively twist a defender around to seal off the end. He did adjust well to speed rushers on the outside, being beat once only to follow it up with a flawless kickstep that prevented it from happening twice. He also showed good adjustments against the bull rush, being shoved back easily, but recovering his dignity on the next play by getting low and driving the defender off the line. He showed some technical flaws when trying to counter moves off the edge, completely whiffing once and generally getting off balance in pursuit. In the running game he was a surprisingly strong drive blocker, doing a halfway decent job on outside runs, though his inability to turn a defender made him only adequate when defending the inside gap.
As a final surprise, Polumbus was the only other player in the game besides Clady to score a knockdown, and he got it on a DE. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but he made someone eat turf and that is always a work of art.
Notes: Erickson got in some solid, if flawed reps against Dallas. At first blush he appears to be one of the stronger players in our depth, and could drive very well, but he definitely needs some technical experience if he is going to keep up with defenses and keep his QB clean. He had a few too many flat out misses as defenders could edge by him with ( a rather pitiful) rip move, anything fast and to the outside, and particularly inside-out moves where the defender uses his agility to redirect the tackle. Erickson's blocks rolled off of several players like water off a ducks back, but when he managed to get his hands inside and lock on, he could do what he wanted.
I was unable to see his hand technique, but I would guess that he has a long way to go in that area due to the large number of defenders sliding past him. Like most of our young guys, and a few of our vets, he wasn't very effective getting off the ball in the run game, though in his defense, the line was collapsing regularly on the backside, so that may have been messing with him. Slightly more believable is that he is a raw rookie with a long ways to go.
Notes: Finally! I was wondering how long it would take to before we got to see this guys score. I'll first preface this breakdown with the fact that he is playing with a broken hand and it is wrapped up like a ham filled maracca. Maybe it is an excuse, maybe it isn't. On with the analysis.
The good news is that he did manage to get into the positive digits, and his pass blocking is certainly effective enough to buy him some time, but critical mistakes, some called on him and some missed by the refs, as well as a startling drop off towards the end of the half make me wonder what is wrong with Kuper.
He started strong, had some issues on running plays, but nothing serious, and then he started getting pushed into the backfield. It started with a good bull rush from a DT on a passing down, but Kuper held long enough for the pass to get off. But Dallas must have seen something because they just started to dominate Kuper. Over the span of about 10 plays before the end of the half he graded out at a -20! One of the problems he had last year was getting in a rut, and it appears that we might see some more of the same from him this go-round. One thing is for sure, Kuper needs to work on finishing guys off. Kuper is powerful, and moves very well, the rare combination that Denver needs to pull off its ZB scheme, but he definitely needs to get his head around what is happening to him out there.
Going forward I would like to see him recovering quickly from bad plays, and I would especially like to see no penalties. He was called for one hold, and I saw at least one other that should have been called. That gives unearned momentum to the defense and stalls out an offense. i don't know how much his hand is bothering him, and it could certainly be affecting his ability to lock onto a defender in the running game, but with Holland having the game he did, Kuper's days may be getting smaller, just like the numbers on Holland's scale.
Notes: I don't plan on spending a whole lot of time on these next two guys. Gandy doesn't seem to have a whole lot going for him after the Dallas game. He moves well and can cut block, but that is about it. He routinely gets pushed back off the ball and was the number two reason why Michael Pittman is hoping that the coaches don't blame him for the rushing effort from the second teamers. At the second level he spent a little too much time looking around for someone to block instead of blocking them, and absolutely failed at doing anything that could even remotely be called "opening a running lane". There will be no running behind him if he is forced into action, though I'm not too worried about him making the roster. He may be a veteran, and he may have some experience, but I like our rookies a lot better at this point.
So did you hear the one about the termite who walked into a bar and asked "where's the bartender?" Well, this one is even funnier than that. In it, you get to rewind a play over and over and watch a player get flat out embarrassed getting blown off the ball.
I don't plan on beating PJ up about this. He isn't a center right now, and playing him there isn't helping the matter. He just happens to be the only backup that has been around long enough to play that position. I don't envy him the chore, and I don't envy the ribbing he is probably taking for his performance. But at a certain point, doesn't a professional's pride come into the equation? I mean, he had 11 plays where he was either completely blown off the ball or swallowed up like a helpless gnat. He didn't move laterally at all, which is a technical flaw that will follow him to any position he takes. In short, he didn't do himself any favors against Dallas, and he can only hope that the coaches don't hold the nuances of a difficult position against him. But when they get a look at some pretty unsound technique on his part, they may just be thinking about how nice an extra roster spot would look.
*Not enough reps for an accurate sample
Note: Looks pretty good huh? There isn't a lot to say for He Who Licks Ten Tigers (cmon guys, lets think of a good nickname, ASAP!!!), except that he looks just as strong in the NFL as he did in college, and that he seems to grasp the system and what is being asked of him.
He relieved Holland for five plays while Ramsey was still in, and though it was a small sample, he didn't look lost and he was the only backup guard who looked comfortable out on the second level. If somebody forced me to choose right now between him and Gandy I wouldn't hesitate to take Ten Tigers.
And they could have PJ as well, kind of like a bonus. Sort of.