To say that 2013 was a wild year for the Denver Broncos’ offensive line would be a gross understatement.
After ultimately settling on Manny Ramirez as the team’s starting center, the Broncos also had a new face at right guard (Louis Vasquez) and then obviously the devastating foot injury that Ryan Clady suffered in garbage time against the New York Giants occurred.
With so many changes up front, it’s amazing the Broncos’ line was able to hold up as well as it did throughout the course of the season, but they were exposed in the Super Bowl and the need for improvements was obvious.
Starting at offensive tackle, the huge piece of news is that Ryan Clady — an All-Pro and arguably the best left tackle in the game — has returned to the practice field. The Broncos gave Clady a big-time contract extension last July, and he’s slated to make $8 million in base salary this season, which seems like a bargain compared to some of the contracts that are being given out to cornerbacks these days.
But the loss of Clady didn’t mean Peyton Manning’s blind side wasn’t well covered. The Broncos have what they consider to be the best swing tackle in the game in Chris Clark, who proved his value in that regard last season starting 14 games and three more in the playoffs.
In fact, Clark played so well in 2013 that the Broncos have decided to make him their starting right tackle in lieu of the departure of Zane Beadles, the team’s left guard. Orlando Franklin, who was a plug-and-play starter at right tackle as a rookie in 2011, has been moved to left guard.
The Broncos also used their third round pick this year on Michigan right tackle Michael Schofield, the player who was overshadowed the last couple of years by left tackle Taylor Lewan, a first round pick of the Tennessee Titans.
Schofield is a big, physical offensive lineman who also played left tackle at Michigan when needed and has the ability to also play guard, which helped prompt the Broncos to draft him.
Those three tackles are the main focus of the Broncos’ roster, but there’s some intrigue down the line as well, starting with 2013 6th round pick Vinston Painter, who was a pre-draft workout warrior and a guy that was pursued at the end of last season by the 49ers, who tried poaching him off the Broncos’ practice squad.
Here’s how the Broncos’ current situation at the offensive tackle position currently looks, and what each guy can bring to the table.
78 – Ryan Clady (6th season, Age 27)
Clady is a true superstar NFL left tackle, and it feels like he’s been around forever. Prior to missing most of the 2013 season with a foot injury, Clady hadn’t missed a start since 2008.
Reliable, still heading into his prime years (only 27), and fresh off a contract extension, Clady is primed to return in 2014 better and badder than ever.
I think Clady steps back into his role as Peyton Manning’s blind side protector and doesn’t miss a beat. He is a technician and arguably the best in the game at what he does.
75 – Chris Clark (6th season, Age 28)
Clark, formerly the Broncos’ “6th man” on the offensive line, stepped into the starting role at left tackle for Ryan Clady last season and performed very, very well.
The Broncos were confident enough in Clark last season that they signed him to a contract extension shortly after Clady went down with an injury that will make him a Bronco through the 2015 season.
With Zane Beadles’ departure, Clark will slide over to the right tackle position and Orlando Franklin will play left guard. Some Broncos fans are hesitant to place a lot of confidence in Clark, but their actions this offseason indicate they feel very good about what they have at the right tackle position.
77 – Winston Justice (8th season, Age 29)
With Chris Clark moved to the starting lineup with Ryan Clady, Justice will take over as the backup swing tackle and with eight years of NFL experience, he is the elder veteran among Broncos offensive tackles.
Justice has bounced around the league a bit, but was one of very few Broncos players who were re-signed this past offseason and was given a one-year deal with per-game bonuses, so he will undoubtedly be under close watch as training camp progresses with other players behind him on the depth chart showing promise.
70 – Vinston Painter (2nd season, Age 24)
The Broncos had a private workout with Painter before the 2013 NFL Draft, and used a sixth round pick to snatch him up. He had just 13 starts at Virginia Tech at offensive tackle but displayed excellent athletic ability and raw skills that the Broncos felt like they could develop him, and he obviously made some strides.
Toward the end of last year, the San Francisco 49ers tried to make a move to get Painter, but the Broncos opted to move him to the active roster and keep him around. If he wasn’t showing them something in practices, they would’ve simply let him go.
This is a key young player to monitor.
79 – Michael Schofield (Rookie, Age 23)
Schofield was the Broncos’ third round pick in 2014 out of Michigan, overshadowed in his years there by Taylor Lewan. Scouts believed that had there been different circumstances, Schofield could have excelled in the same left tackle role as did Lewan, a first round pick of the Titans.
Schofield projects to the NFL as a right tackle with good arm extension and feet, and the versatility to swing inside to guard if need be.
Here’s our scouting profile on Schofield.
71 – Paul Cornick (2nd season, Age 25)
Cornick was the other tackle who spent the entire 2013 season on the Broncos’ practice squad. He was undrafted in 2012 and signed by the New York Jets, and has been with the Broncos’ organization since signing a futures deal in 2013.
He has excellent size for the tackle position, and a lot of time spent digging into Denver’s playbook.
67 – Aslam Sterling (Rookie, Age 21)
Former community college transfer to Kansas who played both guard and tackle in college, starting a total of 24 games with the Jayhawks after starting every game he played at community college.
This was one UDFA I haven’t scouted much, but the reports on him indicate he is a guy who can play both OT and OG, and would do well to be stashed on the practice squad if possible.
The Broncos have done well with Kansas UDFAs in the past, see: Chris Harris, Steven Johnson.