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Broncos' O-line must 'step up' to the challenge

Losing left tackle Ryan Clady to an ACL injury was not good news yesterday, but head coach Gary Kubiak tells Broncos players it is time for some young guys to step up.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

I know, I know. It hasn't been the stellar start of the official offseason prep work we were hoping for as OTAs opened this week in Dove Valley.

With news of one player being investigated over allegations of child abuse, the reality of our star wide receiver holding out of OTAs and yesterday's depressing confirmation that left tackle Ryan Clady tore his ACL and is likely out for the season, the orange and blue sky blanketing the Mile High City has been a little less bright this week.

Lucky for you, I am the queen of positive thinking, and I will not allow you - my favorite Broncos fans - to panic.

panic poll

I am here - along with 89 compatriots - to remind you of three things:

  1. Panicking helps no one.
  2. Necessity is not just the mother of invention but also the mother of improved rookie play on the offensive line ( hadn't heard that before? well, it's true.)
  3. The Broncos are still a team with talented players and smart coaches who can rise to a challenge (even if it's a big one!)

So let's rise with them, shall we?

Just like coach Gary Kubiak said yesterday, this just means "somebody else has to step up."

Prayers up to the big fella @ryanclady ... speedy recovery brother..

A photo posted by demaryiust (@demaryiust) on

But that doesn't mean the coach wasn't bummed big time over the news.

"I'm just devastated," Kubiak said Thursday. "[It was] a very tough day for me and even tougher day for Ryan. But this football team will stay positive and push [through it]."

"Pushing through it" is going to mean an accelerated education for four of the five guys who set up on that offensive line this season. O-line coach Clancy Barone and his assistant James Cregg certainly have their work cut out for them.

Besides Pro Bowl right guard Louis Vasquez and veteran right tackle Ryan Harris, a former Bronco who just signed with the team yesterday after news of Clady's injury, the offensive line is likely going to be pieced together via a lot of untested players at the pro level - such as rookie tackle Ty Sambrailo, second-year tackle Michael Schofield, rookie center Max Garcia and second-year guard Ben Garland.

Competing for spots with those guys are veterans who all played backup roles last season - Chris Clark, Gino Gradkowski and Shelley Smith.

It's a tough road, and it's one you've got to step up and meet the challenge on. It's our job as coaches to get that done.  -Gary Kubiak, head coach

Deciding if, when and where these newbies/backups-turned-starters fit in this season just became more imminent.

"Obviously up front we've got some young guys that are going to have to accelerate their process here," Kubiak said, adding that offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and his staff will do a great job with them. "It's a tough road, and it's one you've got to step up and meet the challenge on. And it's our job as coaches to get that done."

Kubiak said while several of the linemen could still move around, Sambrailo started at left tackle Thursday and Clark stayed at right.

"Ty is a very athletic young man, that's a lot to ask of a very young player. But we've got a good month here of work and I sat down with Rick and Clancy this morning and James and we felt like, "Let's start working him there today,'" Kubiak said, adding that Sambrailo, Schofield and Clark "are going to have to be interchangeable."

Part of the decision on Sambrailo was his experience playing both sides while at Colorado State.

"He's very bright, and I think I've said to you guys many times he's going to be a quick study from a football standpoint and a knowledge standpoint and that's been evident," Kubiak said. "He's not a rookie anymore. Today he's about a four-year player, so we've got to get him going."

Dennison, who said his "heart goes out to Ryan," also said he's not aiming to know his starting O-Line by the end of OTAs. The offensive coordinator doesn't even care if it's in flux the rest of the summer.

"Preseason, I could care less what we're thinking," Dennison said. "There could be a lot of question marks, but we're going to go into the first game knowing well what we're going to do."

The former Broncos linebacker also said he always hopes for competition along the O-line during training camp.

"We don't want to have anything etched in stone," Dennison said. "I think those guys need to really work and play in a game. Game situations are really key for us, especially with our system on how we work together.

"Like I said, we'll throw them out there, let them compete and let them play [and] pick the best five," he added. "The best five is who does the best job."

With a leader like Clady going down I put it upon myself to kind of carry the group and be their anchor. -Louis Vasquez, right guard

That means even Vasquez is competing for his job on the line, but as one of the few veterans and the only starter for the Broncos last year currently available for the 2015 O-Line, the right guard's leadership role just became more important. But Vasquez seems up to the task.

"I'm not really feeling it from the coaches, but I put it upon myself," Vasquez said of pressure to be a leader of the offensive line. "I'm kind of the old man left standing that's been on this line the last three years. With a leader like Clady going down, I put it upon myself to kind of carry the group and be their anchor."

And the Pro Bowler definitely sees some good things out of the young players:

On Max Garcia - "He's still a young guy. He's still developing and working. I'm working with the young guys as much as I can to get them ready to roll into training camp and start developing as a player and leave college behind."

On Ben Garland - "He's smart. This early in OTAs, everybody including myself, we all have things that we need to work on. But Ben's been a [heck] of a player so far and he's real smart and has picked up the offense pretty well."

On Ty Sambrailo - "He's got to grow quick. Just from being in the huddle today and a little bit of yesterday, he held his composure pretty well."

On Gino Gradkowski - "He's quick, he's smart and he's obviously been in the scheme. I like his style of play. So far, we've meshed well. It's easy to play alongside a guy like that when it just comes naturally."

But Vasquez also understands he can only do so much, and most of the responsibility to get up to speed is on the players - experienced or not.

"They've got to produce," said the Pro Bowler. "I'm going to help them as much as I can whenever I can to get them ready to play. But it's up to them to pick up the slack that's there and to not have that drop off in production."

That's no small order especially given that last year - despite all the O-line woes - the Broncos had the fewest sacks on their quarterback of any NFL team at 17.

As Vasquez noted, protecting Peyton Manning is job No. 1.

"We don't look to get any slack," Vasquez said. "It's our time to protect Peyton. If we're not obviously doing our job, he can't do his. There is no room for error up front."

And the right guard is definitely looking forward to working in a zone-blocking scheme.

"For a lineman, we love it. It gives us a chance to beat up on people up front and move them around," he said.

Did I mention the last thing that should keep you from panicking?

4. Louis Vasquez.

MHR Hall of Fame - Class of 2014...WooHoo!!!

What? Really? The MHR Hall of Fame - Class of 2014 is actually happening?

Yes, really. We did not forget. We just, well ... OK, we forgot. And then we remembered. And then we got our asses in gear and decided to make this happen!

Staff members have completed the final voting on your initial selections, and the winners will be announced next week (ironically, just in time for us to get started on the Class of 2015 voting, which we will aim to complete this time before the following season actually finishes...hey, goals are good!)

Horse Tracks - Broncos/NFL

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Vasquez knows that losing Clady this season would be a huge blow to the offensive line but he's making no excuses for their production upfront.

Chris Clark's leadership needed now more than ever
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Ryan Clady's injury makes Denver Broncos' O-line a work in progress - Denver Broncos Blog - ESPN
In an unexpected turn of events, the Broncos' search for three new starters on the offensive line suddenly has become a search for four new starters.

Denver Broncos' Ryan Clady reportedly out for 2015 season - Stats & Info - ESPN
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Broncos players react to Ryan Clady's injury, wish him well
When news broke of Ryan Clady's torn ACL, his Broncos teammates took to Twitter to wish him a speedy recovery.

Brandon Marshall on the road back
He's not running -- yet. But he is lifting and will be a daily presence on the sideline at OTAs taking mental repetitions.

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Horse Tracks - Positive stuff

In case you need a pick-me-up, read these stories brought to you by Purpose 2 Play, a news outlet dedicated to the positive stories in sports and run by former Broncos blogger Kim Constantinesco (who is also the mastermind behind the high school journalism program with kids from the T.J. Ward Foundation). Also, one of the stories is by me!

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If you looked at your whole life up to this single present moment, and considered all you had worked for and all you stood for to be on the line over the next six minutes, you’d likely have a mental breakdown. But maybe you’d win an Olympic gold medal. U.S. speed skater Chad Hedrick did both.

At 71, Runner Completes L.A. Marathon Four Months After Open-Heart Surgery - Purpose 2 Play
No, his heart is not literally made of steel, but his will to persevere might be stronger than any fortified metal.

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You’d be hard-pressed to find one person in the city of Dallas who hasn’t been to—or at least heard of—the AT&T Byron Nelson.

VIDEO: Colts' Andrew Luck, Wayland's Warriors Team To Make Dent In DIPG - Purpose 2 Play
We traveled to Indianapolis to capture the great efforts of Wayland's Warriors and Indianapolis Colts' QB Andrew Luck as they raised money for DIPG research.

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