Denver Broncos: Will Montgomery

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Over 17 games, five months and more than a few bumps, injuries and dilemmas along the way, the Denver Broncos discovered some things about themselves and why they didn’t earn a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Today, is the third installment of a week-long look at those lessons, both good and bad, as they began with such high hopes in September only to be so cruelly disappointed in January.

For decisions that include positions Peyton Manning doesn’t play, the biggest item on the to-do list might be the guys in front of the quarterback next season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDespite a tough season that saw him battling injuries, left tackle Ryan Clady will likely be a building block for new coach Gary Kubiak as he reshapes Denver's offensive line.
Following their 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII last February, the offensive line was the one significant item left to be done in-house before the 2014 season. The Broncos splurged in free agency on the defense, and they used their first two picks of the draft on a cornerback (Bradley Roby) and a wide receiver (Cody Latimer).

They left the fate of the offensive line to players who had been on the roster the year before, save for center Will Montgomery, who was a late signing in free agency, to a one-year deal. This offseason changes are on the way, beyond the four moves the Broncos made during the season to try and get it right.

This is what executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said last week when asked if he believed the state of the offensive line would affect Manning’s decision to return for the 2015 season or retire:

"Having been a quarterback, he knows that I’m always going to try to take care of him and that offensive line. We always want to protect the quarterback. I think that a change of scenery for those guys might help them also, and we’ll do what we can do this offseason and try to help them also."

The key phrase there is "change of scenery," as in someplace else. The Broncos have two starters who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents -- guard Orlando Franklin and Montgomery.

New head coach Gary Kubiak’s arrival, with his playbook in hand, also means more zone blocking and a little more emphasis on movement skills up front. The starting point for rebuilding the unit is likely Louis Vasquez and Ryan Clady -- both have been Pro Bowl selections in the past two seasons.

Even Clady doesn't escape scrutiny as he simply wasn’t himself this season. He continued to work his way back from 2013 foot surgery early in the season, then closed the season trying to play through groin and thigh injuries. He ended up surrendering pressures and sacks to players who in the past wouldn’t have been within shouting distance of the quarterback.

Despite surrendering a league-low 20 sacks, opposing defensive coordinators believed they could consistently create pressure in the middle of the formation to disrupt Manning’s timing. The Broncos looked disjointed, out of synch, with players consistently unable to close down the gaps made by poor decisions, and on Oct. 12 against the New York Jets, the Broncos surrendered two sacks on three-man rushes in the same game.

The Broncos didn’t consistently win the point of attack in the run game either, particularly in some of their biggest games. The Broncos had 76 rushing attempts -- non-kneel-down plays by the quarterback -- that went for either no gain or negative yardage this past season, the playoff loss included.

That total, 16.4 percent of their rushing attempts overall, included 12 runs of negative yardage or no gain in two games against the Kansas City Chiefs combined, seven in the September loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and seven total in their two games against the Colts this season.

The Colts' totals should cause the Broncos to take notice after the Patriots rushed for 177 yards against the Colts in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Kubiak’s offenses have routinely featured high-end run games with disciplined, well-choreographed play from the offensive line. And as he begins his Broncos tenure, the team’s offensive line will be one of first things to get squared away.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos hire a new head coach in the coming weeks, he might or might not know if Peyton Manning plans on returning for the 2015 season.

On Tuesday, John Elway said he’s OK with that.

"There’s no question candidates are going to want to know where Peyton is," the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations and general manager said. "At that point in time, I’m going to say the same thing I’m telling you all right now: We don’t know exactly what he’s going to do. We just have to wait and see, you know, and go from there."

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsBroncos GM John Elway said that Peyton Manning is "still playing as well as he's ever played."
Elway outlined what he felt the timeline would be for Manning to decide whether he would return to the Broncos for a fourth season, his 18th NFL season overall. It was clear, however, that Elway believes Manning will be back and Elway wants Manning back behind center for the Broncos.

Asked if he felt Manning would play for the team in 2015 as part of the Broncos’ next step, Elway simply responded, "I do."

Elway then added he met with Manning on Monday, just hours after the Broncos had lost 24-13 to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s divisional round. In that sitdown, Elway said he told Manning to take his time with the decision -- as many as four to five weeks, which would put the Broncos on the doorstep of a new league year and the start of free agency March 10.

"We sat and talked about the game. I said, ‘The last thing we’re going to talk about at this point in time, having been through what you’re going through now, Peyton, we’re not going to talk about your future,’ because he needs to get away," Elway said. "I knew as a player, the last thing after that last game that you want to do is talk about your future. … I told him, ‘Let’s not even go into the future. Just know how much we want you back, but you need to take the time and get away from this.’ … But the bottom line is we want him back, and it’s going to come down to what Peyton wants to do."

Manning, who dealt with a right thigh injury over the last two-and-a-half regular-season games to go with Sunday’s loss, was 26-of-46 passing for 211 yards and one touchdown against the Colts. The Colts clogged the middle of the field, which essentially dared Manning to beat them deep up the sidelines with throws outside the numbers, and Manning struggled with his accuracy on those throws.

It was a strategy most of the Broncos’ past 10 opponents, from the Nov. 2 loss in New England to the Colts on Sunday, employed much of the time. In those 10 games Manning, threw 18 touchdown passes to go with 12 interceptions.

Also in those past 10 games, including Sunday, the Broncos were 1-4 in games Manning attempted at least 40 passes.

Asked Tuesday if, from a football perspective, he believed Manning still had at least one more season of top-end play left in him, Elway was clear there as well.

"I think he does. I think that we’ve seen what he did this year," Elway said. "Obviously, 10 games into the year, we had a little shift as far as what we did on offense, trying to create more balance. So therefore it was something new for him because he hadn’t had that balance before. So therefore, it was a bit of an adjustment for him, and I think he did a heck of a job adjusting. And so everyone’s trying to tie it to the numbers, but if you think about Peyton Manning and you think about the numbers that he’s put up for his whole career and the numbers he put up in the last six games -- I think we won four or five of them in that stretch -- they just weren’t quite the numbers, but Peyton was still making the right decisions and still playing as well as he’s ever played."

After a season of spotty play in the offensive line -- the Broncos made four lineup changes during the season, including taking an All-Pro selection at guard in Louis Vasquez and moving him to right tackle. The Broncos surrendered a league-low 17 sacks in the regular season, but every season Manning's team surrenders among the fewest sacks because of his ability to diagnose and get rid of the ball.

The Broncos allowed too much pressure up the middle, where Manning needs the most room to stride into the throw -- they surrendered two sacks on three-man rushes in one game early in the season -- and the position figures to get an overhaul in the offseason. Guard Orlando Franklin and center Will Montgomery are unrestricted free agents.

"Having been a quarterback, he knows I’m going to try to take care of him and that offensive line," Elway said. "I think, yeah, we always want to protect the quarterback. I think that change in scenery for those guys might help them also, and some of them, we’ll do what we can do this offseason and try to help them also."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Used to digging in and standing up to what’s in front of them, the Denver Broncos' beleaguered offensive line has now dug in to fend off a wave of critiques that has gotten bigger with each passing week.

While the group admits there’s work to be done, they aren’t necessarily putting a lot of stock in what’s being said outside the walls of the team’s complex.

“Definitely, it’s a work in progress," guard Manny Ramirez said. “I understand a lot of people are talking outside of here, but we can’t allow ourselves to worry about that type of stuff. We’ve just got to make sure we stick together and continue to put our heads down and continue to grind and be able to with whatever we’re given."

[+] EnlargeManning
Joe Amon/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning has been under pressure the last three weeks, and the flow of the Denver offense has been disrupted.
In their recent three-game stretch, the Broncos have gone 1-2 and quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown two interceptions in each of the last three games. And while Manning has been able to avoid sacks much of the time, the Patriots, Raiders and Rams were able to get pressure on Manning and affect his ability to step up in the pocket and into his throws.

The Broncos’ sack total is still the lowest in the league for quarterbacks who have started every game, but the increased pressure, especially in the middle of the formation, has resulted in batted passes, interceptions and some choppiness in the offense. The Broncos have also had 37 rushing attempts this season for either no gain or negative yardage.

“If we go, the team goes, we definitely need to improve," left tackle Ryan Clady said. “We had a bad week (against the Rams). I think we’ll get better and we’ll get it back on track."

The Broncos have made four changes in the offensive line in recent weeks, with Paul Cornick replacing Chris Clark at right tackle before being replaced two games ago. Louis Vasquez was then moved to right tackle, Ramirez to right guard, and Will Montgomery was put into the lineup at center.

Those three have played those spots for the last two games. Vasquez has also dealt with some back/neck issues while Clady has been slowed by a groin injury, impacting his ability to move in recent weeks. Clady said his surgically repaired foot -- he spent most of the 2013 season on injured reserve -- felt better this week than it has all season.

In search of a successful organization, the Broncos worked out Richie Incognito, a key figure in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal.

“We’ve just got to continue working hard at it," guard Orlando Franklin said. “Continue trying to create chemistry, because here’s the thing, you don’t just chemistry in two weeks in the offensive line. It’s not going to be like that ... we understand we do need to get better, we understand our team is relying on us, for us to get better and we will get better."

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Denver guard, blasted the Broncos' line play on a radio appearance in Denver this week, using words such as “horrendous" and “horrible" to describe what he had seen thus far.

Schlereth said “an F would be kind."

The Broncos linemen, who have seen Schlereth at the team’s complex from time to time, said they were trying to tune it all out.

“I care what my teammates think, each and every one of my teammates think," Franklin said. “...We’re going to care what our coaches think, what everybody in this organization thinks, but outside noise, we’re not going to be listening to that. If the Broncos were 16-0 there would still be issues, people are still going to critique our performance ... It’s the NFL, it’s the life that were living, it’s the business that we’re in."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' offensive linemen always try, of course, to keep the pass-rushing heat away from quarterback Peyton Manning.

This week, Manning has stepped in front of his beleaguered offensive line to try to deflect some of the heat the group is taking.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesThis week Peyton Manning defended his offensive line, which has been taking some criticism.
"Certainly, certainly," Manning said Wednesday when asked if the Broncos' offensive line was good enough for the team to keep winning. "It's not easy formulating chemistry in just two weeks in the middle of the season. What's that, a handful of practices they've had together? You'd like for an offensive line to have a minicamp and a training camp to go through together … but we've had to form that chemistry on the run. Those guys are working hard. There is a lot of communication that goes into playing offensive line in the NFL, especially in this offense."

The Broncos are 7-3 and the current No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs because of a head-to-head win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. Denver has the NFL's No. 5 scoring offense and the least-sacked starting quarterback Yet the Broncos have been unable to run the ball with any consistency, and Manning has been under increasing pressure over the last month, including the team's recent 1-2 stretch.

The Broncos are 27th in the league in rushing yards (899), tied for 25th in yards per carry (3.7) and tied for 26th in rushing attempts per game (24.3). They had 10 carries in Sunday's loss to the St. Louis Rams, and one of those carries was a kneel-down by Manning before halftime. The Broncos also have had issues in pass protection as defenses repeatedly attack the middle of the formation, and have surrendered three sacks this season to three-man rushes.

Former Broncos guard and current ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth issued a scathing assessment of the Broncos' offensive line on an ESPN Denver radio show Wednesday. Schlereth offered:

  • "They're horrible from an athletic standpoint in getting to the second level."
  • "It's bad -- it's worse than bad, it's horrendous. It's as bad as I've ever seen."
  • "It's bad technique-wise, athleticism-wise, toughness-wise, scheme-wise -- you name it, across the board, I can't even explain how bad it is. It's horrible."
  • "Giving an F would be kind."

After Wednesday's practice, Broncos coach John Fox was asked to comment on Schlereth's evaluation. Fox didn't specifically address the comments but made it clear he didn't agree.

"I always liken a lot of people on the outside, as everybody's got an opinion and I understand that, but they're like a body part and everybody's got one," Fox said. "We'll just leave it at that."

The Broncos have made four changes on the offensive line in recent weeks. Paul Cornick replaced Chris Clark at right tackle before Cornick also was replaced two games ago. Louis Vasquez was then moved to right tackle, Manny Ramirez was moved to right guard, and Will Montgomery was put into the lineup at center.

Those three have played at those spots for the last two games. Vasquez has dealt with some back/neck issues this season, while left tackle Ryan Clady has been slowed by a groin injury that has impacted his ability to move in recent weeks.

In reality, help isn't on the way to fix things, but the Broncos have worked out Richie Incognito and have not closed the door on signing Incognito, who was suspended last season as a key figure in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal.

"Everybody else has to play a little better to help those guys," Manning said. "That is how I feel and it starts with me."

"Those guys work hard every day," running back C.J. Anderson said, "and everything's not going to be perfect every time. They are pushing themselves to the limit, and it takes me to hit the right spots and hit the right holes and make them look a lot better than what people are saying about it. Our O-line is really good, so when we go out there this weekend, and if we decide to run the ball a lot or if we decide to pass block, whatever we do -- if it's protecting Peyton or running the ball, whatever is called -- if we execute the right way, we know we'll get the results we want."

W2W4: Broncos vs. Rams

November, 15, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos wheeled into Week 11 of the regular season, they sit at 7-2, atop the AFC West. They are currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC’s playoff picture, having lost to the New England Patriots, but clearly still one of the title front-runners.


Yet, here they are tinkering with things, trying to find solutions at one of the foundation position groups on the depth chart -- the offensive line. Why? Because they know they can pile on the points, know they can throw the ball on any defense at any time, but they want a little more as November turns to December, December to January and beyond.

“It still feels like we have an eternity left as far as games go in the NFL season,’’ said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “In baseball this is like 80 games in. We still have a long ways to go … The big thing for us going to be get the run game going. I keep saying it, but that is an important thing for us. You see the weather right now and when we start playing some more home games, if the weather’s bad, you better be able to run.’’

With that, some things to keep an eye on:
  • Stay away from negative thoughts, negative plays. The Broncos have made four changes in the offensive line already, three for last Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. They liked how things worked with Louis Vasquez at right tackle, Manny Ramirez at right guard and Will Montgomery at center so they figure to work that combination for a bit. But the Broncos have had 36 rushing attempts for no gain or negative yardage combined this season. The Rams have forced 46 negative run plays this season and are tied for third in the league in total negative plays forced by a defense --- combined runs for negative yardage, receptions for negative yardage and sacks. The Rams know their own troubles in the secondary. They will aggressively pound the middle of Denver's offensive formation to see if the Broncos can keep them out of the gaps.
  • Block Aaron Donald. The Rams’ rookie defensive tackle is quick off the ball, knows how to use in hands to keep the blockers off of him and is the most disruptive player in the Rams' defense. The Rams' coaching staff opened the season with Donald at nose tackle lined up over the center, but they have moved him over to the other defensive tackle spot. And since that move, Donald has been dominant. Defensive linemen have attacked the interior gaps in the run game against the Broncos. When the Broncos linemen pull in run blocking, they often have a small step backward before they move forward with the play, and defensive tackles are immediately jamming themselves into the gap after those steps. Donald has better quickness than most so if the Broncos leave those gaps against him, he will be in the backfield.
  • The big-play opportunities will come with patience. This will be the 20th time Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has faced Peyton Manning in his time as Titans/Rams head coach. There are several members of Fisher’s current staff, including assistant head coach Dave McGinnis and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who were on Fisher’s staff in Tennessee as well. They know Manning, they know what the quarterback likes and doesn’t like. They also have chosen coverage over pressure through the years, rushing four and dropping seven into coverage. The Rams will change up the four rushers and try to create some openings with some stunts, loops and other movement up front, but overall they’ll try to get as many players into the passing lanes as possible. That said, the Rams have had injuries in the secondary so will sport three safeties in some of their coverage packages, and that is not a look that has had much success against Manning since he signed with the Broncos.
  • Enjoy the ride. Sometimes, because of the expectations the Broncos have created, endorsed and carry with them along the way, some "remember when" items get camouflaged in the swirl. And wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has had six consecutive 100-yard games receiving games, already the longest such streak in team history and just two behind Calvin Johnson’s NFL record of eight. Thomas has been targeted 74 times by Manning in those six games, so not only has he been the top priority for opposing defenses, but for Manning as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos coach John Fox said the team took a look at Richie Incognito earlier this week to see if the free-agent guard would be an improvement to the roster.

Incognito, who was suspended by the NFL in 2013 and the final eight games last season as a key figure in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal, visited with Broncos officials Monday and worked out for the team. The Broncos did not elect to sign Incognito, but team officials saw enough that they would consider signing him later in the season if the team suffers an injury or two in the position group or if they believe Incognito, 31, would be an upgrade on the depth chart as the season progresses.

Fox
Fox
“It was productive,’’ Fox said following Wednesday’s practice. “ … We’re always looking for avenues to improve the team, it was a productive visit.’’

Asked if the visit was productive enough to consider signing Incognito in the future, Fox said;

“I don’t want to get into speculation,’’ Fox said. “I can just tell you he visited … we did a lot of research, it was productive … We’re always trying to create competition, we do it every offseason, whether it’s through the draft or free agency,’’ Fox said. “That’s the nature of the beast, we all understand that. We’re always going to pursue any avenue we think improves the football team.’’

The Broncos tinkered plenty with the offensive line this season. First they moved Chris Clark out of the lineup for the Oct. 19 game against the San Francisco 49ers and put Paul Cornick in at right tackle. They then moved Cornick out of the lineup this past Sunday against the Oakland Raiders -- Cornick had a shoulder injury in practice last week, but the Broncos were poised to make the change anyway -- and move three players to do it.

Louis Vasquez went to right tackle where he made his first career NFL start at the position from right guard, where he was an All-Pro in 2013, Manny Ramirez went from center to right guard, and Will Montgomery went from being Ramirez’s backup in the middle of the offensive line to start at center.

The Broncos have had 36 rushing plays of either no gain or negative yardage, and they have allowed three sacks off three-man rushes.

Incognito’s past is something the Broncos have researched plenty. An NFL investigation determined Incognito and two other Dolphins offensive linemen (John Jerry and Mike Pouncey) engaged in persistent harassment of Jonathan Martin, who left the Dolphins in October 2013. Incognito was suspended and missed the final eight games of the ’13 season. He has been a free agent since his contract with the Dolphins expired.

Martin was later traded to the San Francisco 49ers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers worked out Incognito in August but did not sign him. Incognito has started 102 games at guard in his career.

The Film Don't Lie: Broncos

November, 11, 2014
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A weekly look at what the Denver Broncos must fix:

The Broncos unveiled a new-look offensive line against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday and saw enough from the new grouping that head coach John Fox said he expected to start the same lineup again this week against the St. Louis Rams.

While the Raiders do feature Khalil Mack, who has forced his share of holding penalties and has pressured opposing quarterbacks with some regularity, the Raiders are currently last in the league in sacks with eight. And the Rams’ defensive front, at least the defensive front the Rams have showed the past four games -- 16 sacks combined, including eight against the San Francisco 49ers -- figures to be a notch above.

With Louis Vasquez at right tackle (his first career start at the position), Manny Ramirez at right guard (where Vasquez was an All-Pro last season) and Will Montgomery getting his first start at center, quarterback Peyton Manning wasn’t sacked and the Broncos rushed for 118 yards.

But the Raiders were able to affect Manning and disrupt the Broncos for most of the first half Sunday when the Broncos were in three-WR sets. They got enough push to deflect four of Manning’s passes at the line of scrimmage, forced Manning into an intentional grounding penalty and forced two interceptions, one coming when defensive end Justin Tuck deflected the ball and dove to make the interception -- all in the first half.

Including their time with the Titans, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams may have faced Manning more than any coaches in the league. They figure to pound away at the Broncos’ new look, especially to the right side of the offense into Manning's face as he sets to throw, to see if the group is up to a more significant challenge.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

November, 9, 2014
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 41-17 win over the Oakland Raiders in O.co Coliseum.

What it means: For almost two quarters, the Broncos looked as if the hangover from the loss to the New England Patriots was still in the offensive huddle. Peyton Manning threw two early interceptions and had at least four passes batted at the line of scrimmage to go with an intentional grounding penalty. The Broncos hung in with defense and finally kick-started things with a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown from running back C.J. Anderson. Denver closed the first half with two touchdowns in the last 2:44 before halftime and won going away, pulling several starters when the fourth quarter started, to keep a grip on first place in the AFC West.

Stock watch: The Broncos, in search of more consistency in the run game, have changed things up on the offensive line and tried a variety of players running the ball. On Sunday, Anderson tossed his hat in the proverbial ring with a touchdown that was his career-long play to go with 90 yards rushing. Anderson showed the kind of physicality and explosiveness the Broncos had been looking for.

Jury is still out: The Broncos made three changes to the offensive line for Sunday’s game when they moved Louis Vasquez from right guard to right tackle, shifted Manny Ramirez from center to right guard and put Will Montgomery in at center. A Raiders defense that was fairly gassed by midway through the third quarter may not be the best gauge, but the trial run with the new look came with mixed results. Oakland's pass-rushers got pressure on Manning early on. Manning had four passes batted down and two interceptions. The starting linemen were flagged four times, including three false starts, before the fourth quarter was two minutes old.

Game ball: Manning had the ninth five-touchdown game of his career -- and he did it in three quarters. Demaryius Thomas had his sixth consecutive 100-yard receiving game and Julius Thomas had a two-touchdown game, but it was Anderson who made the right-place, right-time play to shake the game loose for the Broncos as they turned what had the look of a road stumble in the first half into a rout.

What’s next: The Broncos (7-2) will make their third consecutive road trip as they head to St. Louis to face the Rams in an early game next Sunday. It’s a rare 1 p.m. ET kickoff for the Broncos (just their second this year), and they haven’t always looked their best in recent seasons in the early time slot. The Rams, having seen what the Raiders did against the Broncos' offensive front, figure to aggressively rush Manning.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – If the No. 3 scoring offense in the league(30.6 points per game) and one tied for first in yards per play (6.2) can have some angst in tow then the Denver Broncos are that team.

In a week when the Super Bowl hopeful has had plenty of consternation about how they run the ball and how they protect quarterback Peyton Manning, the Broncos are expected to kick the tires on some changes in the offensive line against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. And though Sunday is just their ninth game of the season, it will already be the second time they have tweaked the starting lineup up front. Three games ago they moved Paul Cornick into the right tackle spot, taking Chris Clark out of the lineup.

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
AP Photo/Jack DempseyOrlando Franklin could be on the move if the Broncos shuffle their offensive line.
Now, in the wake of Sunday's 22-point loss to the New England Patriots, the Broncos are poised to make some additional moves. With Cornick held out of practice both Thursday and Friday with a shoulder injury -- he’s officially listed as questionable but not expected to play -- the Broncos have discussed several scenarios, including moving left guard Orlando Franklin back out to right tackle, where he started the previous three seasons before being moved inside in offseason workouts.

But by game time, it is expected it will be Louis Vasquez at right tackle, Manny Ramirez moved from center to right guard and Will Montgomery at center. Many inside the Broncos’ Dove Valley complex believe the moves would have been made even if Cornick had not suffered his injury.

For his part, Broncos coach John Fox tried to deflect the changes Friday with, “I’m not going to get into who’s playing, how much, when, where, purely from a competitive standpoint.’’

When Montgomery was signed to a one-year, $1.325 million deal this past offseason, there was some feeling among the Broncos’ decision-makers he would compete for the starting job at center. Ramirez was not displaced, however, and worked with the starters all through training camp, the preseason and in the first eight games.

Montgomery has worked as a backup at guard -- he worked with the starters at right guard earlier this season when Vasquez was held out of practice -- but center is likely his strongest position in the Broncos’ offense. It all stems from the growing frustration that the Broncos are a Super Bowl contender, but have had so much difficulty up front on offense.

In a first-person story he wrote for Yahoo! Sports Canada that was posted Friday, Franklin wrote: “As an offensive line we know we have to get better. We have to get better at running the ball and we will. Last week was not a great performance by us as a team, but we will definitely get better.’’

The Broncos are 27th in the league in rushing (753 yards), 25th in yards per carry (3.7 yards per carry) and 25th in rushing attempts (25.8 per game). And while they have allowed just nine sacks, three of those sacks have come when the defense had just three-man rushes. In the loss against the Patriots, the Broncos rushed for just 16 yards and surrendered their only sack to a three-man rush on a key fourth-down attempt.

Overall the Broncos have had, excluding kneeldowns by Manning, 18 runs for no gain and 15 for negative yardage. That is 16 percent of the team's carries.

Thursday, offensive coordinator Adam Gase addressed his frustration.

“The good thing is they’re going to allow us to play eight more games, so we’re allowed to get better," he said. "That’s what we’ll do. We’ll keep coming out here and figure out a way to win the next one … I was really frustrated with the fact that we did not run the ball better. We do need to find a way to do it better. It’s something we have to keep working on. We have to find a way to get these guys covered up, get our backs back to the line of the scrimmage and see what they can do.

"It’s hard to make any ground when you’re getting hit behind the line of scrimmage. That’s where it starts. It starts with those front five guys making sure we’ve got guys covered up. Then it’s the backs’ job to find the hole and hit it. Once we start doing that on a consistent basis [we’ll be fine], but until then, that’s what it’s going to look like. We’ve got to man up and start blocking better.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos right tackle Paul Cornick, who was moved into the starting lineup Oct. 19 against the San Francisco 49ers, did not participate in Thursday’s practice because of a shoulder injury

 Cornick had taken part in Wednesday’s practice on a limited basis. Asked if keeping Cornick out of Thursday’s practice was an indication of how the injury responded to the work on Wednesday, Broncos head coach John Fox said:

“It can indicate whatever you want it to.’’

Cornick had been moved into the lineup three games ago, displacing Chris Clark, who had started the team’s first five games at right tackle. Clark would be a candidate to step in for Cornick if Cornick was deemed unable to play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

But the Broncos could also use Orlando Franklin at right tackle if they wished -- Franklin started at right tackle for his first four seasons with the team before being moved to left guard this year -- and play Will Montgomery at the guard spot. Montgomery has worked with the starters at guard when right guard Louis Vasquez has missed some practice time this season.

Also Thursday, running back Montee Ball (groin) again took part on a limited basis, as did tight end Virgil Green (calf) and safety Quinton Carter (hamstring). It was Ball’s second practice since he suffered his injury Oct. 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Wide receiver Wes Welker (back) and linebacker Steven Johnson (ankle) took part fully Thursday. Johnson is expected to be in the lineup in the base defense, as the Broncos adjust to middle linebacker Nate Irving (knee) being out for several weeks.

Irving, who is not practicing this week, suffered a sprained right MCL in the loss to the New England Patriots.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With yet another stingy defense on the docket, the Denver Broncos tried to address the penalties that plagued their win over the New York Jets on Sunday.

The team drew 11 flags for the second time this season and it cost them more than 100 yards against the Jets. The offense felt the biggest sting as the unit was penalized seven times (two were declined) overall. Four of the Broncos' starting five offensive linemen were assessed fouls in the game. Couple that with the fact the line surrendered two sacks in the game on plays when the Jets rushed just three and you have a position group under the microscope -- with the San Francisco 49ers coming on Sunday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"This group is pretty tough on themselves ... you don't even have to say anything they're going to tell you," said offensive coordinator Adam Gase Thursday. " ... This group really takes command of its own room."

The Jets surprised the Broncos, at least initially, with how they deployed their linebackers. The Jets dropped eight players into pass coverage much of the time, including players who would have usually been used in the pass rush. The Broncos adjusted and went on to run for a season-best 138 yards while quarterback Peyton Manning had his fourth three-touchdown game of the season.

But the Broncos have struggled at times to carve out some room in the run game overall and the penalties have piled up. At the conclusion of the Week 6 games, only 10 teams had been penalized more than the Broncos, with 51 flags overall (11 have been declined).

And of the six Broncos players who have been flagged at least three times overall, four are offensive linemen. While that is to be expected in some ways as they battle in tight spaces for hard-earned ground, the total is an attention-grabber.

"This game is about what to do and how to do it and doing it under pressure," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "Depending on the game, crowd noise could affect it, different kinds of [pass] pressure these have to do deal with and do it at a high level. ... [But] we're concerned about all of it and we do our best to eliminate them."

Right tackle Chris Clark is the team's most penalized player with five penalties, including one that was declined. Chris Harris Jr. and Julius Thomas have each been flagged four times. In five games so far this season, the Broncos have started the same five players on the offensive line. During training camp and the preseason the closest position battles were at Clark's right tackle spot and at center -- where Manny Ramirez kept the job over free agent signee Will Montgomery.

Clark's backup to this point, Paul Cornick, has worked as a second tight end in the past two games, when the Broncos want to add some additional bulk, and he has done well. It was just the kind of cameo Clark had, as an extra tight end, before he became a regular in the offensive line, first in 2013 as a replacement for the injured Ryan Clady at left tackle and then with the move to right tackle during offseason workouts.

Cornick has played 10 snaps on offense in the win over the Arizona Cardinals and followed with 21 snaps on offense in the win over the Jets.

"Any time we've put him in there, he's been ready to go," Gase said. "He's a smart guy ... I feel confident about Cornick. [Playing as a tight end] was a good first step for Chris as well. We felt he really grew from that and just getting him into a game, that feel, that live action, then we when he was called upon he did a great job for us. I expect the same from Cornick if we get in a situation where he's in the game I'm very confident with him."

The Broncos, who have often used their practice squad to launch players into roles as regulars, including linebacker Brandon Marshall, have had Cornick on their practice squad for the last few weeks of the 2012 season to go with all of 2013. He went undrafted after his senior season at North Dakota State. He likely would have been a draft pick had he not injured his back -- an injury that not only eventually required surgery, but also kept him out of the workouts at the scouting combine.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos grind their way through their offseason work as a team in the oh-so-early Super Bowl conversations, they have unfinished business.

There is the depth chart at running back, some uncertainty at middle linebacker and making sure the players they signed in their free-agency binge enter the fold smoothly. Oh, there is also a little one-in-a-million shot they need to come through.

Not the Wes Welker make-it-rain-at-the-Kentucky Derby one-in-a-million shot, but an important choice about what might be the most important number when it comes to what the Broncos’ offense does for an encore after its record-setting, 606-point season in 2013. Their magic number is five, as in the five starting offensive linemen charged with protecting quarterback Peyton Manning: the five guys charged with protecting the franchise’s fortunes.

"We feel good about our options," Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "We feel like we have the guys on the roster to do what we need to do."

Broncos coach John Fox wants to address lineup options about as much as he wants to talk about injuries. So on more than one occasion, Fox, in his eternal quest to move on to the next question, has said the Broncos will try "a million" combinations on the offensive line through OTAs, this week’s minicamp and training camp.

So far they are a little short of a million, but they have tried some things here and there. And it really boils down to two, perhaps three, combinations.

Orlando Franklin's move from right tackle to left guard was made to maximize Franklin’s abilities; many scouts in the league believed that Franklin would be a better guard than tackle when the Broncos selected him in the 2011 draft. The move also helps Denver adjust to life without guard Zane Beadles, who signed with Jacksonville after the Broncos didn't offer him a chance to stay.

Franklin also gives the Broncos more bulk on the interior, more power, more options in dispersing the inside rush that any defense will believe is key to getting to Manning. So far in team workouts, that move looks to be one that will stick.

The Broncos, even in non-contact work, have flashed some power looks on the interior and will potentially have a better inside run game at their disposal. Although running the ball more efficiently has a spot fairly high on the team’s offseason agenda, the bottom line up front in a Manning-centered offense will always be keeping the man with four neck surgeries in his medical history out of harm’s way.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe return of starting left tackle Ryan Clady should improve Denver's pass protection.
And the Broncos prefer to do that by blocking five-on-whatever much of the time. Last season the team played out of the three-wide-receiver set at just over 70 percent of its snaps in the regular season, and that total hovered closer to 90 percent in its three playoff games.

Much of that time was spent with a catch-first tight end in Julius Thomas in the formation as well. So their own Five Guys franchise has to get it done.

Franklin’s move inside, with All-Pro Louis Vasquez already working on the right side, gives the Broncos one of the bigger, perhaps biggest, guard tandems in the league. The Broncos would be comfortable with either Manny Ramirez, who started at center last season, or free-agent addition Will Montgomery in the middle of things. Ryan Clady, as he returns from last season’s foot injury, appears ready to reclaim his spot as one of the league’s best at left tackle.

So that leaves right tackle, a position that defenses repeatedly attacked with the pass rush last season, especially down the stretch into the playoffs. Chris Clark, who's more proficient as a pass-blocker than he is in the run game, has spent most of the time with the starters in the offseason workouts.

Clark filled in for Clady after Week 2 last season and got the job done for the most part. Rookie Michael Schofield, a third-round pick, should get a look as well, but given that Franklin is the last rookie this coaching staff has started up front on offense, Schofield would need to not just be as good as Clark but win the job handily in camp.

Veteran Winston Justice has taken a spin or two on the right side as well, but at the moment it looks like Clark or Schofield. Either way, defensive coordinators see what the Broncos have done in free agency and the draft, adding receivers, adding speed, and they saw what the Seattle Seahawks did to the Broncos' offensive line in the Super Bowl.

Plenty of those defensive coaches say although it’s scary to aggressively come after Manning with the rush, they might do it more in an effort to disrupt Denver's timing.

"We’re going to look at a lot of things," Fox said. "We’ve got some time, and that’s what the offseason is for. We’re going to use the time we have and make the decisions we think are best."

Manning is Manning, which is to say he won’t get sacked much no matter who is in front of him. He has been sacked fewer than 20 times in nine of his seasons as a starter, and last season he was sacked 18 times in 659 pass attempts -- or just once for every 27.3 attempts.

But for the Broncos and Manning the question isn’t sacks -- it’s damage and getting him through one week into the next. The Broncos have to limit the hits on their 38-year-old quarterback, who has had a spinal fusion. Two low hits in particular in a four-sack game by Robert Mathis last season almost derailed the Broncos' plans and put Manning in an ankle brace for the rest of the season.

So as folks crunch all the numbers to sum up the Broncos’ potential in the coming season, one still stands out as they prepare to adjourn until training camp.

It’s five. As in the right five.
The Denver Broncos will bring their draft class into their Dove Valley complex this weekend for a three-day, welcome-to-the-show rookie minicamp.

All of the first-year players will get their indoctrination into the Broncos’ way on all things football starting Friday. So, at step one in their quest to earn a roster spot to go with some playing time in the regular season, it’s a good time to look at the prospects for each of those players in the six-player draft class.

Today: Sixth-round pick Matt Paradis

[+] EnlargeMatt Paradis
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCenter Matt Paradis captured the Broncos' attention with his smarts during a pre-draft meeting.
What does he bring to the table: Paradis, at 6-foot-2 5/8, 306 pounds, is for many scouts the kind of guy who plays better than his measurable. His speed – 5.28 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine – wasn’t all that great and his measured strength of 23 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press didn’t put him among the top performers in Indy.

But he is a roll-up-the-sleeves center who has earned every inch he has gained in his playing career. Paradis is a small-town guy who played eight-man football in high school in Idaho as he played on a state champion, was the state’s player of the year and won a state title in the discus.

Prospects for playing time: It would likely be a slower go for Paradis to earn significant playing time. Manny Ramirez was the starting center last season in an offense that scored a single-season record 606 points as quarterback Peyton Manning was the least-sacked passer in the league.

The Broncos then dove in during free agency and signed Will Montgomery with the intention he could be the team’s starting center. But Ramirez is set to enter his eighth NFL season while Montgomery is set to enter his 10th, so there is room for a 20-something at the position.

A former defensive tackle when he arrived at Boise State, Paradis has consistently shown the ability to move defenders in the run game and is effective with the initial strike with his hands. He understands where the rushers are coming from out of various defensive fronts and plays with quality balance as well as toughness. The Broncos coaches were impressed with his knowledge of the position during a pre-draft visit.

That all makes him a quality developmental prospect who figures to do what needs to be done to prepare himself to play because of top-tier work ethic. This is a guy who completed a double major in business economics and finance and started his career as a walk-on.

“Once I converted and bought into the tradition and bought into becoming an offensive player which is kind of a different mindset -- it’s been working great for me and I enjoy it tremendously now,’’ Paradis said. “It’s pretty surreal. I came from a really small town as a walk-on and it’s just kind of a situation you never think can happen and it happened. It’s pretty amazing.’’

Biggest hurdle to playing time: He tore an ACL in 2007 when he was still in high school and some scouts believe he’s had a hip injury in the past, so some teams had some durability concerns over the long haul.

But Paradis started 25 games over his last two seasons combined in Boise. His real challenge will be to add strength to handle the bigger, more physical defensive tackles. The Broncos had some concern he wasn’t over 300 pounds during the pre-draft process, so his frame likely already has the weight it can handle.

The bottom line: This is a guy who plays with balance, leverage and smarts who also has a quality work ethic. That gives him a chance if he pays attention and can add some strength to deal with some of the bigger interior linemen he will now face.

“I’m just coming in there and I’m going to compete and do everything I can to help the team,’’ Paradis said. “Whatever role they decide for me, that’s what I’m going to do.’’
videoENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The pick: Michael Schofield, OT, Michigan

My take: The Broncos, having already told Orlando Franklin he will move from right tackle to left guard, were on the hunt for a right tackle prospect in the draft’s first two days. The Broncos saw the prospect they wanted in Michigan’s Michael Schofield. He has the potential to play both guard and tackle, which is the kind of flexibility the Broncos hoped to find. Schofield started 10 games at left guard in 2011 to go with 26 starts at right tackle in 2012 and 2013 combined. He’s a gritty player who showed himself to already be proficient in the run game. Schofield is a good enough athlete to have run the 110 hurdles for his high school’s track team in suburban Chicago. He should get the chance to compete for the right tackle spot right away.

Spin the wheel: This pick adds another player to the mix as the Broncos work through the combinations in the offensive front. Coach John Fox said earlier this offseason the team would try “a million" groupings in the offensive line during offseason workouts. With Franklin’s move to guard, the Broncos probably will work Schofield and Chris Clark at right tackle. Newly-signed center Will Montgomery was signed in free agency with the idea he could be a starting center, where he will battle Manny Ramirez.

What’s next: The Broncos have picked as expected thus far with a cornerback, wide receiver and offensive lineman in their first three picks. That leaves them in a position to look at linebackers down the board, especially one who could compete for the middle linebacker job.
With just 14 words fired off over Twitter on the first day of the Denver Broncos' offseason program, Orlando Franklin confirmed a move in the offensive line the team's decision-makers have considered for quite some time.

Franklin, whose Twitter profile begins simply with; "Right Tackle for the Denver Broncos," confirmed his move to left guard Monday, the opening day of the Broncos' team workouts in 2014. Following the team's first full gathering with the team's strength and conditioning coaches since the 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Franklin sent:

 

Though Franklin learned of the decision Monday, this is something Broncos officials had considered last spring and were considering once again shortly after the season ended, when they had made the decision to let guard Zane Beadles test the free-agent market. Beadles signed a five-year deal worth $30 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars shortly after free agency opened last month, a deal worth far more than the Broncos would have been willing to spend.

The Broncos made no offer to Beadles' representatives, though Beadles had played in every game and started every game but two in his four years with the team. That departure left a hole in the team's plan up front.

The Broncos, searching for more power in the middle of the offensive line for much of the past two season, had considered moving Franklin to guard during the 2012 offseason. They worked him there at times during training camp, and head coach John Fox has said Franklin took some reps inside during last year's regular season as well.

The Broncos then jumped out a year ago to sign Louis Vasquez to a four-year deal -- the longest free-agent deal the Broncos signed last March -- and in return Vasquez gave the Broncos an All-Pro season at right guard. But the defenses that gave the Broncos the most difficulty, most notably the Seahawks in the title game, often did so with pressure in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsOrlando Franklin will give the Broncos more pop in the run game at left guard. With his long reach he will be difficult for inside defenders to handle in the pass game as well.
As a result the Broncos are trying to answer lineup questions at left guard and will take a look at center as well.

Franklin has started 47 games at right tackle since he was the second of the Broncos' second-round picks in the 2011 draft (the 46th pick overall). At the league meetings last month, Fox said Franklin "was prepared to play guard last year."

It won't be an unfamiliar position for Franklin, who started 25 games at left guard in his career at the University of Miami before starting at left tackle in his senior season. And there were many scouts who believed when Franklin entered the '11 draft he would be a better guard in the NFL over the long haul.

Franklin is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2014 season. He will give the Broncos more pop at the point of attack in the run game. His reach -- he is 6-foot-7-inches tall -- will make him tough to handle for opposing defensive tackles on the inside in pass protection. His chief hurdle will be to block on the move in the run game when the Broncos go to more of a zone look, but the Broncos have been of the mind it will help them overall to move him inside.

With Ryan Clady's return at left tackle, Chris Clark will get the first look at right tackle and Will Montgomery, who signed as a free agent, will battle Manny Ramirez in early offseason work for the starting center spot. When the Broncos signed Montgomery in the second week of free agency, they did so with the feeling he would push, and could win, the starting center job.

But make no mistake, the Broncos will still give a long look to potential swing tackles in the draft as well as swing players inside who can play both center and guard. In the latter scenario, the Broncos won't have to look far for a player who could fit the bill in Colorado State's Weston Richburg.

Richburg started 50 consecutive games for the Rams and never missed a game -- a streak that included him snapping with his left hand at times during the 2011 season after he had fractured his right hand. Richburg is athletic, savvy and only added to his quality résumé on the field by performing well at his pro day in Fort Collins, Colo., last month.

The Broncos also believe Vinston Painter, a 2013 draft pick who spent much of last season on the team's practice squad, is a potential fit at right tackle down the road as well.

In the end, Fox has said they will use only one criteria to pick Peyton Manning's personal protectors. Fox said they are "trying to get our best five on the field and there will be a lot of different formulas for that ... we'll work a million combinations."

And on the first day of offseason work Franklin's shift to the left was the opening move.

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