When it became known that J.D. Walton's off season surgery would make it difficult for him to return any time soon and his designation forcing him to return before November at the latest it wasn't necessarily a huge hurdle to the team's Super Bowl aspirations. Dan Koppen (2012's starting center) was immediately signed and the NFL was none the wiser.
Then in day four of training camp Koppen went down with a torn ACL and although it isn't time to panic, there is a bit to be troubled over.
Currently the Denver Broncos have several in-house options at center with as many as five players on their current roster and one player on the physically unable to perform list who can play center. There are several more outside options available, but they involve either talking someone out of retirement or taking further chances on players with limited starting experience at best.
Here is what we have come up with.
The Front Runners
#66 / Guard / Denver Broncos
Feb 19, 1983
Ramirez has been an iron man for the Broncos since joining the team in January 2011. He has stepped in at nearly every position thus for for Denver and will likely step up now as the starting center.
Ramirez is entering his third full season with the Broncos. The knock on the guy seems to be his pass blocking ability, where his run blocking is superb and it isn't unusual to see a pancake or two with Ramirez on the serving end.
Ramirez was originally drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2007 (4th round), the Lions traded two fifth round draft picks to the St. Louis Rams in order to jump into the fourth round and grab him. Ramirez joined Denver as a free agent after starting at guard for the Lions in 2010.
#54 / Guard/Center / Denver Broncos
Feb 02, 1987
Davis is himself injured, going down Saturday with an ankle injury. If it is an actual sprained ankle, the average recovery time for that is four to six weeks.
Davis came into camp listed as the backup center, behind Koppen. Like Ramirez, Davis is not listed solely as a center on the official Broncos roster.
A 2009 undrafted rookie free agent for the Carolina Panthers, head coach John Fox liked him enough to bring him to Denver after Davis was released with an injury settlement in 2011 by the Panthers. His acquisition in the Broncos off season seemed to signal the end of former center Russ Hochstein's tenure with the team.
At 6'2" Davis is short and stout for the team, but the team liked him enough to have him on the depth chart above second year center Philip Blake. Davis could possibly be available until just before the regular season starts at the earliest. Which if he does in fact have a sprained ankle, that means that Peyton Manning would have little time to prepare with him prior to the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
#64 / Center / Denver Broncos
Nov 27, 1985
Blake was drafted in 2012 in the 4th round via one of the picks that the Broncos received in the Tim Tebow trade with the New York Jets. Blake famously blocked for Robert Griffin III while at Baylor and replaced Denver's own J.D. Walton when Walton graduated Baylor.
Blake was a game day inactive as a rookie in 2012 for two game before being placed on injured reserve with a broken thumb.
In OTAs and through training camp up until today the second year player has seen mostly time at guard and the reps at center have been with Brock Osweiler. However, he remains the most likely to push Ramirez for the starting job. Keep an eye on where he is receiving reps in the upcoming days.
#60 / Center / Denver Broncos
Oct 14, 1988
Quentin Saulsberry was on the fast-track to the practice squad, but now finds himself with a legit shot at starting and five weeks to prove that he can handle the job.
Saulsberry was hit with a four game suspension for testing positive for PED's prior to Week 16 in 2012, but with Denver making the playoffs and receiving a first round bye his suspension has been served.
He has had one other off-field incident since serving his PED suspension, but with all non-PED violations, he gets a freebie.
#? / Center/Guard / Denver Broncos
Dec 28, 1983
The Broncos are the fifth team that Steve Vallos has been signed to since being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2007. Vallos has started nine games in his career (one last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a right guard).
He hasn't seen significant starts since 2008 and '09 with the Seahawks. With Davis possibly out the entire preseason Vallos and Ramirez are the only ones with game experience in this grouping.
Who's Out There?
Ryan Lilja who last played with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 played with Manning while Manning was with the Indianapolis Colts. Lilja was not his center (that was Jeff Saturday), but did start at guard for the Colts in both of their Super Bowl appearances under Manning.
Lilja became an immediate name traveling through fan and media circles, but as our friend Andrew Mason has stated, the Chiefs apparently talked to him in April and he has yet to return (at least to Kansas City).
One name that could come up soon is of course Russ Hochstein. Other available free agent centers are Kyle DeVan, Eugene Amano and John Estes. Though none are very likely to be called in.
Undoubtedly fans will wonder why Zane Beadles and Chris Kuper aren't options; neither has center experience at the pro level.