If you listen very closely you might hear, at a distance, a faint, almost imperceptible sound.
In the wake of resigning C Casey Wiegmann to a two-year, five-and-a-half million-dollar contract, one could be forgiven for suspecting that this sound is the dismay and despair of defensive lines throughout the league who must now contest with what is arguably one of the strongest, most coherent and most productive offensive line units in the NFL. Within that unit, no group works together more closely, or relies on each other as much as the guards and centers.
Casey's return, combined with the returns of LG Ben Hamilton and RG Chris Kuper, would do well to inspire a certain level of despondency in Denver's 2009 opponents, as it was an interior unit which ranked 1st overall in ALY (Adjusted Line Yardage), and 5th overall in ALY solely in the cramped spaces between the right and left guards. When one factors in the added emphasis on pulling guards that is a hallmark of the McDaniels offense (ranked 2nd overall ahead of Denver for guard-to-guard ALY in 2008), and the addition of multiple blue-chip RBs to the stable, the Denver rushing attack should indeed be fearsome.
But the sound that can be heard on the edges of training camps around the league are not the wails and moans of teams who fear having to do battle with such a proven unit. This is the NFL. What the sound portends is the approaching storm. A league full of defensive lines who desire nothing less than to tear apart this line's reputation and cast it down to the perceived depths of incompetence that the rest of the team is rumored to have reached. They will believe, fully, that annihilating Denver at the point of attack will reduce the Broncos to an afterthought that can be easily tossed aside. These defenses have made up their minds to do battle, and they will be focused, louder, more terrible, less relenting. Like Northerlies they will blow in every week, where they must be rebuffed by Denver's varied, complex schemes, swift, repeated blows and confusing attacks which resemble withdrawals.
But even early success against such hordes won't be enviable. The opponents will bristle with hostility at every loss, as if upset by human intelligence, and the attack will be renewed again.
This will be a season of such storms, and the guards and centers are the prow of the ship that Denver must steer steadfastly into them...
#50 / Guard / Denver Broncos
Aug 18, 1977
2009: $3.34m $4.39 against the cap, 2010: Free Agent
Draft #4a (113th overall), 2001
One year removed from a season-long absence due to post-concussion syndrome, Ben Hamilton saw his reputation take a bit of a hit in 2008. Of course, he was still elite, but perhaps the expectation was that, as the longest-tenured member of the Broncos line, he should also be its best member. As it stood, he gave up the most sacks and was flagged for the most penalties, and in a way seemed to be the weak link. Yet, as noted above, the line still managed to clock in as one the finest units in the league, in every measurable statistic.
Maybe he really wasn't that bad?
He certainly has to be looking forward to his contract year, especially in conjunction with his run of good health and the line talent that has been amassed around him. He has been nothing less than a pro's pro, beginning with his first season starting for Denver, where he played both center and guard, covering for an injury to Tom Nalen. He also has been exceptionally durable, and except for the 2007 season (a case where toughness is trumped only by long-term concern and care taken for the unknowns involved in post-concussion symptoms) has yet to miss a start in any game the Broncos have played since he was promoted to the active roster after a stint in NFL Europe.
Of interest is that since the final game of the 2003 regular season, Hamilton has yet to log any more snaps at center. With the accrued depth at center over the last two seasons, there is a developing chance that Hamilton may not be the first name called upon if Wiegmann were to go down with an injury (though it is likely he would be the second name called up.)
Hamilton's leadership on the line, too, should not be overlooked; with a contingent of new, young guards behind him, it is imperative to hang onto the veteran player in order to smooth their transition into the Bronco's complex scheme. Next year, Hamilton's story should be quite interesting in the offseason; but for now, it's steady as she goes.
#62 / Center / Denver Broncos
Jul 20, 1975
2009: $2.5m, 2010: $2.2, 2011: Free Agent
Unrestriced Free Agent (Kansas City), 2008
#73 / Guard / Denver Broncos
Dec 19, 1982
2009: $1.01m, 2010: Free Agent
Draft #5 (161th overall), 2006
#67 / Center / Denver Broncos
Mar 22, 1985
Escalators are available in the final year if he plays 35% of the offensive snaps in two of his first three seasons. 2009: $385,000, 2010: $470,000, 2011: $555,000, 2012: Free Agent
Draft #4a (108th overall), 2008
#60 / Guard / Denver Broncos
Nov 06, 1981
Free Agent, 2009 (Miami)
#61 / Guard / Denver Broncos
May 14, 1985
South Dakota State
Rookie Free Agent, 2008
#72 / Guard / Denver Broncos
Oct 31, 1984
2009: $385,000, 2010: Restricted Free Agent
Practice Squad Signee (Seattle), 2008
#70 / Guard / Denver Broncos
Dec 17, 1985
Draft #4b (132nd overall), 2009
#63 / Center / Denver Broncos
Apr 22, 1986
Draft #7 (225th overall), 2009
|40 yard dash||4.79|
|20 yard dash||2.77|
|10 yard dash||1.64|
|225lb bench reps||28|
|20 yard shuttle||4.28|
|3 cone drill||7.42|