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Broncos' Ty Sambrailo embraces team's need for a quick study on O-line

Being thrown into the fire as a starter during OTAs hasn't been easy for the rookie offensive tackle, but the Broncos' second-round pick isn't looking for easy. In fact, this situation is the best, he says, for helping him learn fast.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Clady went down last week with a season-ending injury, the already highly questioned Denver Broncos offensive line became even more questionable as one of its two veteran starters was no longer going to be available.

And that put rookie Ty Sambrailo front and center for possibly the season.

Or, front and left to be exact.

And while expectations had already been high for the second-round draft pick, they increased exponentially when Sambrailo was inserted as the starting left tackle to take Clady's place during OTAs.

"I expected to compete for a spot and hopefully get on the field early," Sambrailo said Monday after the first day of the second week of OTAs, adding that it was very unfortunate what happened to Clady. "As great of a player as he is, he's an even greater person. It's a bummer, and we've come together in the offensive line room. Nothing has really changed. We still have to go out and earn a spot. Our hearts are hurting for him, but young guys have to step up. I think we'll be alright."

Stepping up is a slight understatement given that the left tackle is Peyton Manning's blindside protection.

It's also a very young and/or inexperienced line no matter how you break it down. Right guard Louis Vasquez is possibly the only known commodity at this point.

The first day we were kind of stepping on each other a little bit. Now you kind of get in a groove as you take more reps.  -Ty Sambrailo, offensive tackle

Luckily, it's the very beginning of these offseason camps, and there is some time for guys to gel.

"The first day we were kind of stepping on each other a little bit, and we didn't really know each other's steps on certain blocks and plays," Sambrailo acknowledged, adding that the learning curve is coming along. "Now you kind of get in a groove as you take more reps."

Head coach Gary Kubiak - who followed through with his promise to give veterans some rest and let young guys get the reps - didn't have a choice with his offensive line. And the new head coach feels good about how well Sambrailo has already owned this huge challenge so early in his Broncos existence.

"He's smart, so that's not a problem. He's kind of going through a process right now," Kubiak said, noting that the day he sat veteran linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, Sambrailo had a much easier time. But when Miller and Ware came back, that was "the real deal."

But Sambrailo and Kubiak both agree that's what it's going to take to be a solid starter and protect a 39-year-old, 14-time Pro Bowl quarterback - playing against the best of the best on defense every day.

"[Sambrailo's] had no problem mentally," Kubiak said Monday after practice. "Physically, it's just going to be a continuous deal. He's a worker. I think the players respect how he's going about his business. Like I said, he's got to do it really fast."

Kubiak is also following through with his claims to want his O-Line figured out by the time training camp begins the end of July. So the coach disagrees that there's not some urgency for the offensive line to figure things out as a unit as soon as possible.

You throw everything at them and see where the strengths are. When they're in an overload mentally, how do they practice? - Head coach Gary Kubiak

"I think you throw everything at them and you see what's sticking and where the strengths are," Kubiak said. "It's our jobs as coaches by the time we get to the fall to do what they do best. I think right now we need to see how much they can handle. When they're in an overload mentally, how do they practice? We're trying to find out a lot about them as people."

And the only way to do that, Kubiak says, is to see a lot of reps - from everyone, not just previous starters.

"They're getting reps that they never knew they were going to get," Kubiak said.  "The decisions are all going to be made because of the work in practice not just because they are a draft choice or if they've been here. It's going to be made off of reps. That's what I like about it."

And so does Sambrailo.

"I think I was drafted to play," said the former Colorado State Ram who played both left and right tackle. "I think the coaching staff didn't really have a choice either. They kind of decided to throw me in there, give me a shot and see what I can do."

I think I was drafted to play. I couldn't have asked for a better situation to be thrown into in terms of learning as a young player.  -Ty Sambrailo, left tackle

Though it was tough facing Miller and Ware so soon,  Sambrailo doesn't see a downside.

"It was good. I couldn't have asked for a better situation to be thrown into in terms of learning as a young player going against a guy like that," Sambrailo said of facing Ware most of the day. "I'm going to have my growing pains, but I think that ultimately it will make me a better player."

The new left tackle believes improvement is already happening.

"Things are getting a little bit smoother, a little bit quicker - less thinking and more playing," he said. "I'm just kind of excited about growing as a player."