The 2015 Draft is in the books, and the Denver Broncos addressed their apparent needs on the offensive line by picking up Colorado State tackle Ty Sambrailo in the second round and Florida center Max Garcia in the fourth.
Both these moves have some of the Broncos faithful scratching their heads. On the outside looking in, both players would appear to need some development before they are pro-ready. If you have been paying attention, though, none of these moves is really all that surprising.
There were very few O-line players in this year's draft who were pro-ready. There may be a change in coaching philosophy at Dove Valley, but Elway and the front office have remained true to their mantra of drafting players who can be developed into All-Pros.
The Broncos were also active in signing some undrafted reinforcements for the trenches - Mississippi State center Dillon Day, Nevada tackle Kyle Roberts, Wyoming tackle Connor Rains and a late addition, University of Buffalo guard Andre Davis - to compete with the veteran players and draftees.
Veterans (and poor scheme fits) Manny Ramirez and Paul Cornick were traded away and waived respectively. In a move that might explain some of the silliness of the dreaded "2014 Shuffle," Cornick was promptly snatched up by the Chicago Bears when he became available. Apparently someone in the Bears organization believed Cornick could help the team?
Searching YouTube and other sources for any video and information on our new men in the trenches, I had varying degrees of success, so here is what I was able to dig up on each of the players:
Ty Sambrailo, Tackle, Colorado State
With Sambrailo, I get Zane Beadles flashbacks. They look almost identical, and their games are very similar. A lot of pundits believe Sambrailo translates better as an interior lineman in the NFL, and I have to agree with them, at least initially. I continually hear Sambrailo lauded for his footwork.
Notes from film: The interwebs may be conspiring against Sambrailo. The only cut-ups readily available for him on YouTube were his games against Nevada and Utah; both of which were not the tackle's best outings in 2014. Most of us have already seen the Nevada cut up in Joe Mahoney's earlier piece, and we talked a bit about what we saw there. I saw some good and bad technique in Sambrailo's Las Vegas Bowl cut-up.
CSU employs a lot of zone concepts in its run game, which will help Sambrailo transition to the Broncos' offense. Sambrailo shows very active footwork, but he does not show consistent technique. The former downhill ski racer will occasionally get caught playing high and off balance.
Against Utah, Sambrailo had difficulty keeping up with the Utes' speed rusher, Nate Orchard, at times, but also showed an ability to mirror well when he can keep his technique sound.
I did see what the draft gurus were referring to when they questioned Sambrailo's functional strength. He has trouble anchoring against bigger-bodied defensive linemen and has a tendency to play "Patty Cake" in the run game. I would like to see a little more nastiness than I got from this game.
Oftentimes when Sambrailo is blocking the back side, he'll get good lateral movement but fail to block anyone. This could be by design in CSU's attack, but it is something that should be watched in the preseason. Sambrailo's deficiencies in cut blocking showed up once again against the Utes. Most of the cut blocks he attempts seem a little half-hearted, like he's reluctant to use it.
For me, the jury is still out on Sambrailo. I will be watching him closely in preseason. I think the rookie could use some polish to his game, and I hope the Broncos are up to the task. There is potential there, but I would not count on Sambrailo making an immediate impact in 2015. Just like Schofield in 2014, I would give him a redshirt season.
Update: Now that Sambrailo is in the mix to start at left tackle, he may not get the opportunity to polish his game as I had hoped.
Max Garcia, Center, University of Florida
With Max, I see a center who was probably dealt an unfair hand by a lot of the scouting reports out there on him. Some of those reports paint Garcia as stiff and not very athletic, having trouble blocking at the second level. What I have noticed with Garcia is that he isn't flashy, but he routinely gets the job done and has shown success blocking in the second level. He has experience playing all three O-line positions and was a team leader at Florida.
Notes from film: Watching Garcia's game against Florida State, I started to see what the Broncos were seeing. One thing about Garcia's game that impressed me is that his feet are always moving. His head is always on a swivel, and he is looking for someone to block when he is uncovered.
Even though 2014 was his first year at center, Garcia looks like a natural at the position. He plays with a certain edge and some nastiness that will endear him to the fans when they get to see him play in Denver's version of Orange and Blue.
Dillon Day, Center, Mississippi State: Dillon Day has a bad reputation as a dirty player, stemming from a pair of stomping incidents in the LSU game. Day's scouting reports leading up to the draft are a mixed bag. The biggest knock I found on him in pre-draft scouting reports was that he was raw and relied more on physical toughness than playing with technique, some of the same knocks that were applied to Garcia. My goal in film study is to see if those knocks are evident.
Day was a four-year starter at center for the Bulldogs, which speaks to his toughness.
"Not always pretty, but gets guys blocked."- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com.
Zierlein obviously wasn't referring to Day's hair when he mentioned this, but I feel for the guy if he makes it far enough to go through the annual rookie haircuts!
Notes from film: Day does have a tendency to play high, but he does have some solid technique, and he shows good footwork for a center. Day was the obvious leader of the Bulldog line; he is regularly seen calling out protections pre-snap.
From what I observed in the Alabama game, Mississippi State runs a zone scheme, and Day works well within the scheme in spite of the knock on his athleticism by scouts. Zierlein's statement is very apt - Day often gets just enough of his man in the run game to make a crease for the back and has some tools that can be developed.
Kyle Roberts, Tackle, Nevada: There isn't information out there on Roberts. I did some digging and learned he was a two-year starter at Nevada and played on the right side in his senior season. At 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Roberts has good size for a ZBS tackle, but how does his technique measure out?
Notes from film: For Roberts, I ended up looking at a cut-up for his QB, Cody Fajardo, because it was more efficient than looking at a full game. Nevada runs a zone scheme, which seems to be a prerequisite for the UDFA linemen the Broncos have targeted so far.
One thing that caught my attention with Roberts is that he tends to duck his head a bit before making contact when blocking, which is a sign of poor technique. Roberts also has a tendency to play a little high. His footwork is adequate but could use some work. Roberts shows good hand placement in pass protection and can mirror well in spite of occasional sloppy footwork. Roberts did have some issues with speed on the edge in the film I watched.
Connor Rains, Tackle, Wyoming: Finding tape on Rains was a chore. I did find a six-minute "highlight" clip and not much else. It's hard to get a good feel for a player when all you get to look at is positive plays culled from several game tapes. The good thing about the reel is that it is all from the coach's film perspective, and you can see a lot more of what is going on along the offensive line.
From this clip, I observed that Wyoming runs more of a power scheme. Rains fits really well in the scheme the Cowboys are employing but may not be a prototypical fit for what the Broncos want to do. I have seen Rains listed anywhere between 294 pounds up to 328. Judging by his tape, he's probably somewhere in the lower range of those listings.
At 6-foot-6, he has good height for a tackle prospect. His scouting reports say he is stiff and does not move well, which is not apparent in the available tape. From what I saw in the reel, Rains moves pretty well and has a nasty streak, which also seems to be a prerequisite for Broncos UDFA linemen.
Andre Davis, Guard, University of Buffalo: All I could find on Davis is a three-minute highlight reel. Andre Davis spent time at both LT and LG for the Bulls during his time in Buffalo. Davis is a mauler, and he looks like a man among boys in this highlight reel. Davis is No. 50, playing at left guard.
John McWhinnie over at Bull Run did a nice write-up on Davis. A three-minute highlight reel just isn't enough to draw any solid conclusions on this player.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 314 pounds, Davis is at the high end of the prototype size range for a ZBS Guard. Buffalo looks to run a scheme that employs both man and zone concepts, but the highlight reel shows and awful lot of pass protection. Once again, Davis has a nasty streak.
How to replace Ryan Clady?
I have seen the utter panic Broncos fans are in due to Ryan Clady's ACL injury. A lot of that panic stems from the false narrative floating around since the benching of Chris Clark and the shuffling of the O-Line in 2014.
If you have been following along with me since all that went down, you know my take on all that. My advice to Broncos Country is that it's too early to panic! I firmly believe the best upgrade the Broncos could have made for the offensive line in 2015 happened the moment Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison were hired to replace Fox and Gase, respectively.
I watched a lot of tape in 2014, and I saw a lot of scheme issues that were either not addressed by Gase or poorly addressed by trying to fix something that wasn't really broken. I have enough experience watching Kubiak and Dennison to know they will do better for the Broncos in that area than their predecessors.
At this point, it is anyone's guess who will replace Clady in the lineup, but I have faith the team will find the best option. It is exciting for me to see all this young talent being put into a position where they can compete for a spot on the team.
"Iron sharpening iron" is a very apt mantra for this group of big uglies. Hopefully they can sharpen each other enough that we can all quit worrying about the O-Line and enjoy the upcoming season.