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Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line

Posted Jul 15, 2014

Ryan Clady is healthy and Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez are back, so eyes will focus on the shifting situation at right tackle and left guard.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The offensive line has produced two All-Pros the last two seasons. As it heads into training camp, it will boast experienced, proven starters at every position -- no matter whether Chris Clark or Winston Justice ends up as the first-team right tackle.

Nevertheless, the offseason to date -- and training camp to come -- resolves around answering a few questions.

The first revolves around Ryan Clady, and the condition of his foot after recovering from last year's season-ending Lisfranc injury. Although he will be monitored, the question appears to have been answered. His extensive work at left tackle throughout organized team activities puts the Broncos at ease, and he is nearly eight months removed from being on crutches or in a boot after suffering the injury in Week 2 of last year. By all appearances, he's ready.

The next is at left guard, where Orlando Franklin returns to his college position to replace Zane Beadles, who departed in free agency for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Franklin has a comfort level at left guard, having played it during most of his time at the University of Miami. Training camp and the preseason will reveal the progress of Franklin's transition, but Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and line coach Dave Magazu were able to extract plenty of information from the low-contact practices in OTAs.

"We just want to make sure these guys aren’t standing straight up and getting pushed back," Gase said during OTAs. "It is a little less physical than what you expect, but you can do the little things right: your footwork, and just the way that you come off the ball, where it’s in a safe manner, but at the same time, you can show that you know what you’re supposed to do. And then a lot of our stuff is assignment. 'Hey, be right on what you’re supposed to do.'"

So far, it appears that Franklin has done that.

"The footwork is pretty much similar," he said in May. "It’s different putting my hand down but you talk about tracks as offensive lineman and the tracks are all the same. It’s just learning how your center’s going to set as opposed to how your guard’s going to set when I was out there at tackle."

And finally, there's the question of where the two draft-pick additions stand. Versatile Michael Schofield, the Broncos' third-round pick, could be in the mix at left guard or right tackle; his progress this year -- and where he can best compete -- could determine that. Center Matt Paradis, the sixth-round pick, could be headed for the practice squad -- like sixth-round pick Vinston Painter last year -- given the Broncos depth at the position, but he'll have a chance to make an impression.

Paradis' learning curve could be flattened by the complex nature of the offense he learned at Boise State, which he described as "fairly complicated." Denver's offense is even more complex, but he has the time to absorb it.

"One thing that benefits us now is that we don’t have school so I can spend a lot more time in the playbook and focus on that," he said in May. "Every night when I go home to the hotel I got the playbook open. And that’s just what I’m doing."

Three questions, all of which are being answered for a unit that should be a team strength, especially with Clady back.

O-LINEMEN: THE BASICS

Ryan Clady: "Missing a guy of that stature and of that ability, that’s hard to replace. Actually irreplaceable," said Head Coach John Fox. But he's back -- and he could be healthier than at any point in recent years, since an ancillary benefit of his foot injury was that it gave his surgically repaired shoulder the chance to fully heal.

Orlando Franklin: One part of moving from right tackle to left guard is that Franklin has a bit more time to  engage an opposing defensive lineman. "You’re playing against a bigger guy so it’s easier to get your hands on him," he said. "I feel like the play begins after you get your hands on him. When you’re outside at tackle, the play is, you’re dealing with a lot smaller guys and they’re a lot faster, so the battle is before you get your hands on them."

Manny Ramirez: Last year, he stabilized a position that appeared in flux when training camp began; at that time, J.D. Walton was still recovering from a fractured ankle, and Dan Koppen had been brought back. The partnership between him and Texas Tech teammate Louis Vasquez was fruitful; the exceptional communication on the line flowed from their chemistry.

Louis Vasquez: Denver had never boasted a first-team All-Pro guard before Vasquez's arrival, and his one-game stint at right tackle after Franklin was injured last October only enhanced his value. The best could be yet to come for Vasquez, for whom a case can be made as the most technically proficient guard in the game.

Chris Clark: Clady's injury meant that the Broncos' primary backup at both tackle spots was forced into action, and he responded with a solid season and improved as he grew comfortable in the starting lineup at left tackle. This year's duty requires some adjustment; although he has practiced extensively at right tackle, he has never been penciled in there; he played on the left side at in college at Southern Mississippi.

Winston Justice: The 29-year-old, nine-year veteran's primary attribute is his experience: 43 career starts over a career that has taken him to Philadelphia, Indianapolis and now, Denver. All but one of his starts has come since 2009, when he finally emerged after three years as a reserve in Philadelphia, so he has relatively low mileage for a player of his résumé.

Will Montgomery: A swing interior option who can play either center or guard, Montgomery allows the Broncos to be confident in their interior depth. His challenge is different than it was in Washington, given the 180-degree contrast in style and mobility between Robert Griffin III and Manning. Montgomery's experience indicates that adjusting will not be a problem.

Michael Schofield: He arrived at 301 pounds, but the 6-foot-6 rookie believes he can get bigger -- which he did in college. "I came into Michigan only weighing 255, so I’ve gained 50 pounds throughout (five years at) Michigan," he said in May. "So I’m slowly putting it on. I can definitely put on a couple more pounds too."

Ben Garland: Four years and a position shift after his first training camp, the Air Force product looks confident at guard, to which he moved last year. He has another year of practice-squad eligibility if the Broncos choose that option (with the caveat on third-year practice-squad players that the team must always keep its active roster at 53).

Vinston Painter: A developmental project last year when the Broncos took him in the sixth round, he was able to get a brief cameo on the 53-man roster in January, although he didn't take part in any games. Painter started just one season at Virginia Tech, and the continued hope is that he can channel his outstanding athletic gifts to become a contributor. This camp is crucial for his development.

Matt Paradis: He could be the center of the future for the Broncos, as his profile fits all the job requirements: intelligence, athleticism, adaptability, on-field awareness. But spots are at a premium, and the sixth-round pick needs to show some progress quickly to make a claim to one of the 53.

Paul Cornick: Having spent part of 2012 and all of 2013 on the Broncos' practice squad, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound tackle needs to make his move this summer. The arrival of Schofield probably makes his task more difficult. A good preseason would go a long way toward giving him a foothold on a more settled place in the league.

Ryan Miller: After being placed on the waived/injured list by the Browns last year, the 2012 fifth-round pick and CU/Columbine High School alumnus gets another chance with his home-state team. Miller sustained a concussion during a one-on-one drill in last summer's training camp with Cleveland, so he will be monitored closely, but he worked with no problems during OTAs.

Aslam Sterling: His versatility and size are assets. Sterling played guard and both tackle spots at various points at Kansas and at Nassau (N.Y.) Community College. His climb will be steep in a crowded field, but his versatility and size give him a chance to make an impression.