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Horse Tracks: Oh, that O-Line

March Madness is just about over (Go Badgers!), and baseball is so far from interesting (what, Cubs lost??) that it's a good time to talk actual football. Well, time to start talking about it for real now.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

We are one month into free agency and about a month away from the draft ... but just a week away from when coaches and players are allowed to get together and talk football.

Sounds great to me. So let's start with the elephant in the room and just get it out there - the offensive line is still a disas...

Wait, no, I'm going glass half-full here and will remind myself - and all of you - it's still too early to get worried.

But that doesn't mean we can't be skeptical - at least a little.

An updated depth chart shows just how obviously fluid this Broncos' O-Line still is - which will obviously make Broncos fans nervous. And early comments out of Dove Valley indicated as much where positions and starters are concerned as Gary Kubiak named only Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez (and, yes, he also mentioned Manny Ramirez) as the only known starters.







78 Clady*

75 Clark


66 Ramirez

63 Garland



-- Gradkowski

61 Paradis


65 Vasquez

67 Halapio


69 Schofield

71 Cornick

*- indicates 2014 Pro Bowler

But with the additions of Shelley Smith and Gino Gradkowski, this line is definitely still a conundrum. And not just for me, but for people who actually know what they're talking about.

Gary Kubiak and John Elway have both mentioned more than once their excitement at giving Michael Schofield, Ben Garland and Matt Paradis the chance to compete for starting jobs on the line. Then they added Smith and Gradkowski to possibly start, to help the young guys with the scheme, to add depth...take your pick.

I have a chip on my shoulder now. I have a lot to prove and I can't wait to get started with that.   -Gino Gradkowski, center.

Just to keep it interesting, Broncos have mentioned Garland and Smith as possible factors at center too. And we haven't even gotten to the draft, where chances of Elway choosing an offensive lineman early have been highly speculated, especially as the team already met with LSU tackle La'el Collins at the Combine, brought in OT Jake Fisher and plan to meet with T.J. Clemmings this week.

The silver lining is that all of these guys are talking about competing for the right to be named the starter - and competition is never a bad thing.

Smith, who played for Kubiak at the Texans before going to Miami, sees his role as pushing the guys likely ahead of him on the depth chart.

"Basically push everybody and try to get better as a group and as a team. That's my goal - to come in and compete," Smith said after signing with the Broncos mid-March. "That's every guy's goal - to come in and compete and hopefully be a starter. That's definitely my goal."

For Gradkowski, the chance to play for the Broncos is also a chance to show he can return to his 2013 form after playing a backup role last year behind Ravens' center Jeremy Zuttah. Being the starter is exactly what Gradkowski intends to prove - and that kind of attitude is also never a bad thing.

"I have a chip on my shoulder now," Gradkowski said after the trade to the Broncos late last week. "I feel like I have a lot to prove and I can't wait to get started with that."

The question, of course, is whether the competition level is good - or good enough. But at this point, we can only defer to the wisdom of the coaches and hope they are right.

Kubiak said last week he is confident despite the obvious challenges.

"We know we've got some work to do," he told ESPN. "We'll get people in place and we'll feel good about ... I have complete confidence in guys we can sign and the young guys who will develop."

I think bringing in players Kubiak had before will bring in players that understand the offense and will help bring the other players along. That's a benefit.  -Gino Gradkowski, center

That "development" is possibly some of the rationale behind the acquisitions of Smith and Gradkowski. The two previously played under Kubiak and Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, and both believe their familiarity with the coaches' zone blocking system will be a help to the entire offense - whether they become starters or not.

"I think bringing in players that [Kubiak's] had before will help bring in players that understand the offense and will help bring the other players along with learning that offense,"Gradkowski said. "That's a benefit."

Although Gradkowski didn't see significant playing time last year at the Ravens under Kubiak, he did get the coach's playbook down, and that could be an invaluable asset.

"Being a center, you need to make sure everybody is on the same page. That's the most important thing when it comes to blocking, and I think that goes for any system," said Gradkowski.

Denver Post's Troy Renck so accurately called last year's line "a jumbled mess of caulking and crossed fingers" and noted that Kubiak's desire to be a teaching coach could earn him teacher of the year given his many challenges this season - including but not limited to, that offensive line.

Here's hoping there are a few "Teachers of the Year" on that staff and among these veteran acquisitions.

Speaking of the Draft...

I couldn't let help myself, and I did a mock draft using that nifty Fanspeak simulator... because, well, I couldn't let Scotty and BroncoMike have all the fun. And it turns out it's insanely fun to pretend you are the GM.

Unlike Scotty, I have not researched the players. And unlike BroncoMike, I didn't even Google them. I did, however, do about 15 mock drafts because it was like the lottery - except I wasn't losing any money.

Horse Tracks

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