Broncos' spring plans now in play up front

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
12:35
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is a white board hanging in Dave Magazu's office inside the Denver Broncos complex. Sometimes, the long-time offensive line coach will write the future on it.

He will write a plan for a rainy day, some just-in-case ideas for the inevitable sprains, breaks and strains that come his group's way.

[+] EnlargeMagazu
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiBroncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu has already had to dip into his rainy-day lineup plans on more than one instance.
"In the summer, before OTAs, I might have 15 different lineups written on my board," Magazu said. "You try to make the parts interchangeable."

Good thing. The Broncos, with the highest-scoring offense in the history of the league over a season's first six weeks and with a 37-year-old future Hall of Famer at quarterback, are fairly deep into Magazu's magic marker musings already. ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is a white board hanging in Dave Magazu's office inside the Denver Broncos complex. Sometimes, the long-time offensive line coach will write the future on it.

He will write a plan for a rainy day, some just-in-case ideas for the inevitable sprains, breaks and strains that come his group's way.

"In the summer, before OTAs, I might have 15 different lineups written on my board," Magazu said. "You try to make the parts interchangeable."

Good thing. The Broncos, with the highest-scoring offense in the history of the league over a season's first six weeks and with a 37-year-old future Hall of Famer at quarterback, are fairly deep into Magazu's magic marker musings already. And many of the mix-and-match combinations they ran in their offseason practices and training camp have come to fruition.

"It's not something you do at the drop of a hat, but it's best to be ready for things," Magazu said. "You have to start doing some planning in the spring."

Manny Ramirez, who had never started a game in his NFL career at center, was moved there during offseason workouts and has been the Broncos' starter since. Left tackle Ryan Clady, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who had not missed a game in his career until this season, suffered a season-ending foot injury in September, so that put backup Chris Clark at left tackle.

Then right tackle Orlando Franklin suffered left knee and ankle injuries -- the team has said the ankle injury is more serious at this point -- on a third-quarter touchdown run by Knowshon Moreno last Sunday. The Broncos were forced to dip into those plans again. They moved right guard Louis Vasquez, who had started to practice at tackle just weeks after he signed with the Broncos in free agency, into Franklin's spot.

And Chris Kuper, who has spent almost two years battling back from a dislocated ankle he suffered in the 2011 regular-season finale and an infection that followed this offseason, was moved into the right guard spot where he had been a starter previously in his career.

"I'm not even sure [Vasquez] has even played tackle before," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said following a 35-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I don't think it's too much technique as much as it all looks different," Broncos coach John Fox said of the cross-training up front. "It's like moving safety to corner or inside linebacker to outside linebacker, it's just the plays come at you from different angles and stuff looks different. So, guys go down during the season -- we've had our share -- but knock on wood, those guys step in."

Ramirez said he's prepared to do whatever the team requests.

"My thinking has always been I'll play wherever they want me to," Ramirez said. "The more places you can play, the better your chances of playing. The more you can do."

Beyond the threat of injuries, Magazu said part of the issue is the Broncos routinely keep just seven offensive linemen available on their 46-player gameday roster. That means the two backups have to be ready to play at more than one spot.

So, the Broncos will kick the tires in the offseason, try tackles at guard, guards at center, centers at guard, just to see who can, or can't have a little more added to their job description.

"It's a long process, and it doesn't always work," Magazu said. "Sometimes, you take a guy and you try some things and you watch and it's pretty clear it's not going to be something that works out. And it goes the other way sometimes, too. You take a guy you don't think is going to be able to do something and you give him a couple reps, and it's there. It makes them more valuable. But seven guys on game day is a nightmare. I've been with John [Fox] forever and if I could promise him nobody would get hurt, he'd keep five up. He wants 20 DBs, 14 [defensive] linemen."

So far, however, it has worked much of the time. Manning is still the least sacked starter in the league, in part because the veteran quarterback has done his part well and adjusted having been the quickest quarterback in the league to get rid of the ball much of the time. Overall, the Broncos have surrendered just five sacks in six games combined and three of those came in the season opener against the Ravens.

The Giants, Cowboys and Jaguars did not sack Manning. The Colts, however, will likely be the most aggressive defense the Broncos have faced in a season when opponents have rushed four players or fewer at Manning on 70 percent of his dropbacks. Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.5.

The Broncos also have two games remaining this season with the NFL's sack leader -- the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We're playing in one of the loudest places to play, if not the loudest, against a great pass-rush team," Manning said. "We've got a great challenge from that standpoint."n.

"It's not something you do at the drop of a hat, but it's best to be ready for things," Magazu said. "You have to start doing some planning in the spring."

Manny Ramirez, who had never started a game in his NFL career at center, was moved there during offseason workouts and has been the Broncos' starter since. Left tackle Ryan Clady, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who had not missed a game in his career until this season, suffered a season-ending foot injury in September, so that put backup Chris Clark at left tackle.

Then right tackle Orlando Franklin suffered left knee and ankle injuries -- the team has said the ankle injury is more serious at this point -- on a third-quarter touchdown run by Knowshon Moreno last Sunday. The Broncos were forced to dip into those plans again. They moved right guard Louis Vasquez, who had started to practice at tackle just weeks after he signed with the Broncos in free agency, into Franklin's spot.

And Chris Kuper, who has spent almost two years battling back from a dislocated ankle he suffered in the 2011 regular-season finale and an infection that followed this offseason, was moved into the right guard spot where he had been a starter previously in his career.

"I'm not even sure [Vasquez] has even played tackle before," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said following a 35-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I don't think it's too much technique as much as it all looks different," Broncos coach John Fox said of the cross-training up front. "It's like moving safety to corner or inside linebacker to outside linebacker, it's just the plays come at you from different angles and stuff looks different. So, guys go down during the season -- we've had our share -- but knock on wood, those guys step in."

Ramirez said he's prepared to do whatever the team requests.

"My thinking has always been I'll play wherever they want me to," Ramirez said. "The more places you can play, the better your chances of playing. The more you can do."

Beyond the threat of injuries, Magazu said part of the issue is the Broncos routinely keep just seven offensive linemen available on their 46-player gameday roster. That means the two backups have to be ready to play at more than one spot.

So, the Broncos will kick the tires in the offseason, try tackles at guard, guards at center, centers at guard, just to see who can, or can't have a little more added to their job description.

"It's a long process, and it doesn't always work," Magazu said. "Sometimes, you take a guy and you try some things and you watch and it's pretty clear it's not going to be something that works out. And it goes the other way sometimes, too. You take a guy you don't think is going to be able to do something and you give him a couple reps, and it's there. It makes them more valuable. But seven guys on game day is a nightmare. I've been with John [Fox] forever and if I could promise him nobody would get hurt, he'd keep five up. He wants 20 DBs, 14 [defensive] linemen."

So far, however, it has worked much of the time. Manning is still the least sacked starter in the league, in part because the veteran quarterback has done his part well and adjusted having been the quickest quarterback in the league to get rid of the ball much of the time. Overall, the Broncos have surrendered just five sacks in six games combined and three of those came in the season opener against the Ravens.

The Giants, Cowboys and Jaguars did not sack Manning. The Colts, however, will likely be the most aggressive defense the Broncos have faced in a season when opponents have rushed four players or fewer at Manning on 70 percent of his dropbacks. Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.5.

The Broncos also have two games remaining this season with the NFL's sack leader -- the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We're playing in one of the loudest places to play, if not the loudest, against a great pass-rush team," Manning said. "We've got a great challenge from that standpoint."

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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