What was once a rumor is now a rumor with teeth. The Denver Broncos are "expected to" shuffle their offensive line before Friday's match against the Oakland Raiders, ESPN reports.
With Cornick held out of practice both Thursday and Friday with a shoulder injury -- he's officially listed as questionable but not expected to play -- the Broncos have discussed several scenarios, including moving left guard Orlando Franklin back out to right tackle, where he started the previous three seasons before being moved inside in offseason workouts.
But by game time, it is expected it will be Louis Vasquez at right tackle, Manny Ramirez moved from center to right guard and Will Montgomery at center. Many inside the Broncos' Dove Valley complex believe the moves would have been made even if Cornick had not suffered his injury.
For what it's worth, John Fox denied any such plans were in place, saying, "I'm not going to get in to who's playing, how much, when and where-just purely from a competitive standpoint. We'll make those decisions an hour and half before kickoff." But more than one Denver outlet is reporting this move is happening.
Unless it's deliberately leaked misinformation - Fox and company have done that before - this looks to be real.
Let's analyze each of these moves one-by-one.
Will Montgomery at Center
The Broncos brought in Montgomery this offseason as a free agent signing from Washington. He has experience at both center and guard, and that's the best news - center experience. That's something not even Manny had before 2013.
While Montgomery's obviously not the Broncos' first option, he's a guy that should be able to do as well as Ramirez has this year. There's no denying that Ramirez has struggled at center in 2014. PFF gave him a grade of +19.4 in 2013; eight games into 2014, his grade is sitting at -7.1. That's not getting it done.
Meanwhile, Montgomery started in all 32 regular season games and one postseason game at center for the Redskins from 2012-2013. He graded +25.2 and +7.5 in those years respectively.
Montgomery didn't look great in the preseason, but this is a switch that, even if Montgomery struggles, could be seen as a lateral move.
Manny Ramirez at Right Guard
Ramirez was Denver's primary right guard in 2012, with Chris Kuper struggling to get on the field in what would be his last season in the NFL. He also has left guard experience with the Lions dating back to 2009, though that doesn't do a lot for us here.
Ramirez's 2012 season at right guard was interesting. Kuper would take his spot every now and then, but Ramirez seemed to put it together by the end of the year, even grading extremely high (above +4.0) in the season's last two weeks. Then the Broncos put Kuper in the lineup for the AFC Divisional game against Baltimore, and Kuper struggled immensely.
So the bright side of this move is its two-fold: it's Ramirez's most natural position, and he was playing pretty damn well there the last time he was Denver's right guard. The downside is what the move means for the right guard position as a whole...
Louis Vasquez at Right Tackle
Ugh. This is the most obviously-bad part of this shuffle, as the Broncos are pulling away an All Pro-caliber offensive lineman from his best spot. Is Vasquez an All Pro right tackle? Probably not.
But is he a serviceable one? Maybe. He played tackle in high school (three-star recruit out of Texas), but he was primarily a guard with both Texas Tech and the San Diego Chargers. He played right tackle for the Broncos in one game in 2013 against the Colts and graded well, +2.1. But that was his 8th best grade in a 2013 season that was truly remarkable at guard for Vasquez.
This is the one move where it's clear the Broncos could be losing something in Vasquez's production, and it's a move obviously borne of desperation. Neither Cornick nor Chris Clark have done very well at right tackle this year, and for whatever reason, third round pick Michael Schofield isn't ready (which is seriously too bad).
Will these moves work? As an independent study of persons in each position, there are reasons to believe that, yes, they will. But we all know the offensive line is all about chemistry. And the Broncos are poised to shake theirs up drastically.
My hope is that the Broncos improve enough at center and right tackle to offset the loss of Vasquez at guard.