Offensive linemen hold a special place in my heart because the majority of my time playing organized tackle football was spent as a member of this group. Offensive linemen have to be a special breed and have very thick skin because when things go well they get very little credit, and when things go bad they may be the first group that gets the finger pointed at them.
The o-line doing their job, or not doing their job, is very evident by the results of each play. A running back gains positive yards, a quarterback has enough time to find the open receiver for a completion – five guys did their job. On the flip side of this are the consequences of the offensive line not executing – a running back gets stuffed, a quarterback is harassed by the defense and cannot get into any rhythm – it all points back in one way or another to the guys who make their living in the trenches.
Due to the way the game has evolved, the two tackles, the two guards, and the center must move and execute as one unit. Numbers and names on jerseys of offensive linemen are only required for fans and coaches to find out who messed up and didn’t do their job. It is cliché, but in all seriousness, coaches, players and realistic fans know that any unit – offense, defense, or special teams – is only as strong as the weakest link. Below is a brief summary of the 2011 starting Denver Bronco offensive linemen courtesy of www.denverbroncos.com – be sure to check out www.denverbroncos.com for more information on each of these players. These five individuals will be the foundation for the Broncos offense as they prepare for the 2012 season and beyond.
- Ryan Clady: Since swapping the orange and blue of Boise State for the orange and blue of the Denver Broncos, Ryan Clady has started every game as a professional (total of 64 games). Only four other players from the 2008 draft class have that distinction. Clady earned the Ed Block Courage Award in 2010 after recovering from a knee injury in the offseason. During his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Clady earned All-Pro recognition from the Associated Press.
- Zane Beadles: Following a college career at the University of Utah, Zane Beadles was able to continue calling the Rocky Mountains home thanks to the Broncos drafting him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Beadles became the first rookie offensive linemen since 2002 to start at least six games at two of the three positions along the offensive line (center, guard, and tackle). During the 2010 season Beadles ranked second among rookie offensive linemen for penalties called (only two penalties for fifteen yards).
- J.D. Walton: Selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Walton started all sixteen games for the Broncos as a rookie, becoming only the fifth linemen (only center) in franchise history to achieve that mark. During his final season at Baylor in 2009, Walton was chosen as first-team All-American, becoming the first offensive or defensive player at Baylor to achieve this honor in eighteen years.
- Russ Hochstein: The most seasoned player on the Broncos offensive line with a total of eleven years of experience in the NFL. Prior to landing in Denver in 2009, Hochstein spent seven seasons in New England and two seasons in Tampa Bay. Hochstein replaced Chris Kuper in week seventeen due to ankle injury. Earned Super Bowl rings with the Patriots in 2003 and 2004 and was member of the 16-0 Patriots team that advanced to the Super Bowl following the 2007 regular season.
- Orlando Franklin: As a rookie, Franklin started all sixteen games at right tackle in 2011 and was expected to protect the blind side of Tim Tebow. During the month of November Franklin was called for only one holding penalty, gave up no sacks and helped the rushing game average 4.7 yards per rushing attempt on plays to the right side. Franklin was born in Jamaica and at the age of three moved to Canada. He returned to the United States in 2006 where he played college football at the University of Miami.
Assuming Chris Kuper recovers from his horrific, season-ending ankle injury, the Broncos will have fifteen years of experience on the offensive line in 2012. This experience, combined with an average age of 25 on the offensive line, will allow the Broncos to build on the 2011 season that saw the offense finish first in rushing yards and hopefully improve on the 42 quarterback sacks given up, while the team earned their first divisional championship in six years. Success of the Broncos offense in 2012 will begin with the five men up front!