Who Will Start At Center, Ramirez or Montgomery?


Cecil Lammey has some interesting observations regarding OTAs thus far. One of the more interesting questions he raises is:

Who will win the starting center spot for the Denver Broncos? 

The Broncos feature a roster that is very talented and very deep. Not many starting positions are in reality up for grabs. Center could very well be one of them though.

In 2013, following a rash of injuries to J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen, the often beleaguered Manny Ramirez was plugged in. At the time, there was a considerable amount of apprehension in Broncos Country, because everyone watched him get thrown around like at rag doll, more often than not, in 2012. However, in 2012, the playing time that Ramirez saw was at right guard. To be blunt, he was terrible. Per PFF, he graded out at a +3.0 overall in 852 snaps. Seems okay, but when you see his overall grade in run blocking, which was -3.9 and -2.1 in penalties, the metrics begin to backup the eye test.

But he absolutely roared back in 2013. At center, he played a total of 1,223 snaps and earned an overall grade of +14.9, which ranked him as the 5th best center in the NFL. There are some who would disagree with me, but he is a much more natural fit at center, than at guard. I think the fruit of his labors, laid out in the metrics above, would support my argument, as would the level of accomplishment the Broncos’ offense reached in 2013, with Ramirez at center.

Some Broncos fans have a bad taste in their mouths with the ManRam, ever since he sent the first snap of the Super Bowl sailing over Peyton Manning’s head. Although Ramirez attempted to take the fall for the snafu, his quarterback went on record and took responsibility for it. In reality, they both probably share the responsibility.

In his piece, Lammey does make a good point regarding Ramirez. Against the elite level, quick twitch, explosive players on the defensive line that he has faced, he struggles to contain them. He is very strong, but not the most athletic center in the NFL. And despite the Super Bowl, Ramirez does have excellent rapport and communication with the Sheriff and we all know how important familiarity and comfort are to him.

As we start adding up Ramirez’s history, production, and relationship with Manning, it becomes clear that as the incumbent, he’ll be very hard to knock out of the starting lineup and yet we cannot ignore the fact that the coaching staff decided to bring in Will Montgomery to compete with him. I’m sure they want to push Ramirez, but in this humble writer’s opinion, the primary motivation for bringing in Montgomery was for depth. As we’ve seen over the last few years, you can never have too many centers who have starting experience in the NFL.

Montgomery’s track record in the league is a mixed bag. In the Washington Redskins’ Division-winning campaign of 2012, he played lights out. With a +21.3 grade from PFF, he ironically was the 5th rated center that year. But with the Redskins’ turbulent 2013 season, like most of his fellow teammates, Montgomery had a sub-par performance as his overall grade dropped to +4.7, with a -1.5 in pass blocking. Still very respectable though.

Montgomery is very much the antithesis of Ramirez. Where Ramirez shines, in the pass game, Montgomery can struggle. And in the run game, where Montgomery shines, Ramirez can fall short. That might be painting in broad strokes, but boiled down,  it’s true.

At the end of the day, were it not for Ramirez’s history with Peyton Manning, I would not be surprised to see Montgomery win the job in an open competition. But in all likelihood, Montgomery will serve as an excellent backup, or if the Orlando Franklin-at-left-guard experiment should fail, he can be plugged in there, and Franklin can return to his natural position at right tackle.

These are good problems to have, Broncos Country. It is a symptom of a masterfully crafted roster. Thank you, John Elway!