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Denver Broncos: Five Players Who Have Tebow's Back

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 09:  Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos look turnover hand off the ball against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 09: Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos look turnover hand off the ball against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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     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.

     In 2009, the NFL started posting an interesting set of statistics on its website: Offensive Line stats. One of the categories they track is experience. Experience is defined as the "combined career starts for the two guards, two tackles and center on the team with the most starts in the current season."

     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.
Position Player Starts
LT Ryan Clady 53
LG Zane Beadles 19
C J. D. Walton 21
RG Chris Kuper 62
RT Orlando Franklin 5

     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

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

    6-6    315
    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
        in 2008
    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

    6-4    305
    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

    6-3    305
    3-year starter at Baylor University where he allowed only 3 sacks in his final
        two seasons
    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

    6-4    303
    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)

    6-7    330
    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.

Go Broncos!!