The best way to describe offensive linemen came from Bernie Lincicome in the early 1990s:
“The worse thing that can happen to any offensive lineman is to be noticed. Bright light is not good for the species. As one of the best of them once explained to me, ‘We're like mushrooms. They keep us in the dark and feed us manure.’"
Fans of the Denver Broncos need to ignore that advice and give some attention to this unit. Through the first three days of training camp, the focus has been on the quarterbacks.
To what degree depends on your personal flavor ... or annoyance level. Some can’t get enough. Some are done until this is over. One could argue it’s the biggest story in the NFL right now. “Who will become the Denver’s starting quarterback?” It isn’t just Broncos Country who wants to know, and until there is an answer, that’s where the focus of training camp will remain.
Don’t lose sight of the unit that’s just as important to the Broncos’ success — the offensive line. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is if the five guys in front of him don’t make his job easier. If the running game doesn’t improve over the 2016 season, Denver’s offense will remain nonexistent, and the quarterback’s job even tougher.
The first three days haven’t been padded practices, per se, but for communication, timing, technique, recall and cohesiveness, this time has been crucial.
“Guys are still getting their legs under them and the communication has got to get better,” right tackle Menelik Watson said after Saturday’s practice. “I think some of the leaks you see is just communication issues, but guys are here and guys want to work. We're not here to be bottom of the barrel. We're trying to be the best line in the league, period. If there's a line out there that's not trying to do the same thing they shouldn't be playing football. We're just trying to bring that nastiness and trying to just do our part to make sure this team is winning football games.”
The guys up front know they have to be great for the Broncos to get where they want to go. So each day they have to get better. But the only way to do that is to bust your ass on the field and off. What helps with that is knowing the guys you play with. The best offensive lines have a special camaraderie. The best example of that was Denver’s group in the back-to-back Super Bowl years. That was a cohesive unit on the field but also off.
In terms of current offensive lines, you see that with the Dallas Cowboys. That’s another reason the addition of guard Ronald Leary was so big for this unit, given he spent the last few seasons in Dallas.
“I just try to do everything as a group,” he said. “We were a real tight group in Dallas and that’s what we’re going to be here. The more we do off the field the better you play on the field together. We’re getting together a lot and doing a lot of stuff together, and just always talking ball and talking about life in general. I think all of that is going to transfer.”
Fans may not see the immediate results on the practice field, but come the first preseason game against the Chicago Bears on Aug. 10, they should. For the members of the Broncos line, they see improvement from organized team activities to now.
“Just a better understanding of the playbook,” Leary said. “It’s a playbook we all have to get used to. It’s new to all of us. Some of the mistakes we were making earlier in OTAs you don’t see them now or if you see them, it’s on one day and then it’s done with. Just knowing the playbook better and once we get the playbook down, we’re going to be able to play a lot faster. When you play faster, you’ll play better.”
What helps the offensive line get that daily growth is going against Denver’s defense. It’s been said before, but there is nothing better for an offense than to go against one of the best in the league. If the Broncos offensive line isn’t on top of their game, they’ll get exposed by this defense quicker than you can blink.
“Right now in camp, we're competing with one another but we're also trying to coach each other up,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “Me and Leary always talk after practice. We work on our techniques and always ask each other questions. That's what it's about. It's about getting each other ready because when we play on Sunday, we're not playing against the Broncos, we're playing against other teams. So we want to sharpen each other up and get each other better. It's been a great process.”
As it stands after three days of camp, the Broncos offensive line is in a good spot. The next big step is the first practice in pads on Sunday.
“The o-line right now, I’ve been impressed with,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s a physical group, even without pads. Their pad level is really low, but they’re fighting and pushing the pile. I’m impressed with those guys.”
The focus in Denver is and will remain locked on the quarterback “battle” until a starter is named. Don’t lose sight of the group that carries just as much weight on the success of the Broncos. In this instance, we shouldn’t heed the advice of Lincicome and give the species in Denver some bright light.