Louis Vasquez is the ultimate team-first player. He demonstrated this last season when he was asked to move from guard to tackle in order for the Broncos to assemble the best starting unit possible. That coaching decision by John Fox ultimately backfired — with the offensive line unit struggling immensely, especially towards the end of the year when it mattered most. Luckily for Broncos fans, Vasquez is moving back to his natural position of right guard, where he earned All-Pro and Pro-Bowl honors in 2013. On Wednesday, he spoke at Dove Valley about last year, his excitement for this year and gave quality insight into what to expect from the offensive line in 2015.
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Right off the bat, Vasquez was asked about the prior season and if there were any complications from the position switch to which he responded "Anytime you get a shift like that—from guard to tackle for me personally—I had to put my work in because it wasn’t easy. It strained us as a unit up front. Having the stability and everybody in the same places, it helps with our gelling together and just becoming a unit as one."
Undoubtedly, the Broncos offensive line never seemed to gel or have the consistency that is necessary to facilitate quality play as a unit. One has to believe that if the team could go back in time, they would have kept Orlando Franklin at right tackle and Vasquez at right guard which would have improved the line's overall efficacy a great deal. Time travel isn't possible, but the Broncos are doing the next best thing by moving Vasquez back inside, where he feels more comfortable and optimistic about what he and the team can achieve this forthcoming season.
"My mentality is that I’m a guard. I would love to stay inside the trenches. That’s how my mentality is. I’m a big strong guy. I like to get physical," said Vasquez. "Being on the outside, it’s more finesse. The guys want to rush the passer and things of that nature. That’s not my forte."
Vasquez espoused about the importance of chemistry and how it subsequently impacts the whole offensive unit by stating, "That just helps everybody else’s chemistry. We start up front. We get everything started. Everybody feeds off of our energy and our chemistry, and it just gets to a point later in the season to where we don’t even have to talk. We just know what each other are going to do and what each other are thinking."
With the shuffleboard of offensive line moves last year, it is clear that the Broncos linemen were thinking too much, which severely impacted their ability to get the job done on the field. Despite being seasoned veterans, it isn't easy to ask players to go out of their comfort zone and expect them to perform at high caliber levels, particularly when the moves are asked halfway through the season.
Over the next few months prior to OTA's and training camp, Vasquez and the rest of his teammates will have time to learn and absorb the system. Hopefully, such time will be sufficient in order to have demonstrable improvement over the units' 2014 campaign which left many fans underwhelmed. Though uncertainty looms over that, there is no question that Vasquez and his teammates are excited about what is in store for 2015.
"We get a sense of excitement more so than anything else—more as a fresh start for us. We still have some learning to do, obviously. I think everybody is pretty excited and pumped to get this thing going," professed Vasquez when asked about the new coaching staff.
He went on to further such excitement by praising new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and offensive line coach Clancy Barone, who have been working hard to ensure the players understand their assignments and specifically, the importance of tight end assignments and how their play correlates with what the offensive line is doing. By all accounts, the offensive line unit is well on its way to performing at a much higher level than what was shown in 2014, but there are still many questions about the unit as a whole.
Bottom line: Vasquez and left tackle Ryan Clady are the only cornerstones of this offensive line unit. Even though Clady has been hampered with injuries the past several seasons, he was drafted as a prototypical zone-blocking lineman out of Boise State when Mike Shanahan was coach, so fans should be excited about what he can do with a scheme best suited for him being employed in Denver again.
They should also be concerned, but intrigued by the competition that will be had at center, left guard and right tackle. The team added Shelly Smith and Gino Gradkoswki this off-season, but their horrendous play over the course of their career doesn't inspire much confidence as long-term solutions, only an understandable stop-gap based on Kubiak's familiarity with both players.
Additionally, the team has youngsters like Matthew Paradis and Michael Schofield who will have the opportunity to earn starting positions in camp. When asked about Schofield, Vasquez offered nothing but praise for the former Michigan Wolverine.
"He’s really smart. He picked up the system fairly quick last year. He’s a guy where we don’t have to worry if he knows what he’s supposed to do," stated Vasquez. "It’s more of a development deal for him, but he does show some promise. His work ethic is tremendous. We’re excited up front to see what he can do this year."
Such sentiments echo what VP of Football Operations John Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak have stated in regards to their younger players — high expectations and the ability to make a splash this season and beyond. I am also confident that the Broncos will be diligent and select at least two offensive lineman in this draft to help the team out now and ensure longevity and flexibility for the new era of Broncos that will be forged over the next several seasons.
That being said, it isn't out of line for us who are a part of the MHR community to set the bar high as well. When the offensive line is playing at their best, the rest of the team can fire on all cylinders as well. Here is to hoping that the 2015 season is one paved with great success starting up front with the big men in the trenches.