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20 days, 20 Broncos camp questions -- 8. How long will it take the new OTs to get up to speed?

Posted Jul 15, 2016

Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson were signed to provide veteran upgrades to the tackles, but Okung's full-speed practice debut will wait until training camp.

The Broncos hope it happens by the start of the regular season; however, it will likely take longer than that for full cohesion up front. Patience will be involved, but the overall experience of the group compared with this point last year should help the unit congeal much faster.

"We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think at the end of the year you’ll see the finished product," said left tackle Russell Okung during OTAs.

Okung's signing in March was the signature move of rebuilding the line in the offseason. When they added him, the Broncos knew that his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery would keep him sidelined through all offseason work. Okung underwent surgery after the season and made it clear to teams that communicated with him in free agency that he would be unavailable for full work during OTAs.

Russell Okung

Okung did take part in individual periods of work during the practices. Further, the Broncos' zone-blocking-based scheme is a perfect fit for him, since the Seahawks have used zone concepts throughout Okung's entire six-season stint there. In fact, when Okung was drafted, zone-blocking guru and longtime Broncos assistant Alex Gibbs was the team's offensive-line coach.

His contract -- with minimal guaranteed money and an opt-out clause for the Broncos after 2016 -- drew criticism in some circles. But Okung, who represented himself, defended it, and if he succeeds in 2016 and the option is picked up, a big reward is ahead for betting on himself

"No better position for me to be in," he said.

Right tackle Donald Stephenson had the advantage of taking part in OTAs on a full basis, so his adjustment is ahead of Okung's. Stephenson can also play left tackle in a pinch, but during OTAs, he worked mostly on the right, with Michael Schofield filling in for Okung at left tackle.

One aspect that should help the line is the fact that its newcomers aren't rookies or first-year players, as was the case last summer when Matt Paradis and Ty Sambrailo were adjusting to full-time work with no previous regular-season snaps to their names. Max Garcia is settling in at left guard, but he played both guard positions last year and should be comfortable at the position.

"We’re fighting to be the best," Okung said during OTAs. "I want us to be the best offensive line in football. Period."


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