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Training Camp Primer: Offensive Line

Posted Jul 23, 2010

In the weeks leading up to training camp, DenverBroncos.com will take you inside the roster, position-by-position. The seventh installment in the eight-part series focuses on the offensive line.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The box office doesn't lie. Offensive linemen wield star power, too. The highest grossing sports movie of all time wasn't about a quarterback or a linebacker, but a big ugly.

The film adaptation of Michael Lewis' best-seller, The Blind Side, was all about the rise of a left tackle, teaching the movie-going public what almost any football coach could tell you. Sometimes an offensive lineman is the best athlete on the field, and he's just as important as the quarterback he protects.

With a crop of young, high-performing blockers, the Broncos could be set at critical positions on the line for the next decade.

In 2008, the Broncos drafted a big-ticket tackle of their own. Ryan Clady turned out to be the best pass-protector in the NFL in his first season a pro, starting all 16 games and allowing only half a sack to lead the league.

Last year Clady joined the likes of Anthony Munoz and Jonathan Ogden by becoming only the fifth tackle since the 1970 NFL merger to earn first-team All-Pro honors by his second season, and fans and players voted for Clady as a starter in the Pro Bowl. He drew only one holding call the entire season.

How quickly Clady recovers from a knee injury he suffered this offseason will determine if the tackle can continue his streak of starting every game as a Bronco.

Ryan Harris makes up the other half of the Broncos bookends. The club drafted Harris a year ahead of Clady, but both players made their first start together in the 2008 season opener.

He only allowed one sack in eight games last season before a toe injury forced him onto injured reserve, so now he can't wait to see live action after participating in minicamp.

"I've been on a long road," Harris said. "I don't think anyone else in this camp is more excited for camp than I am."

The opportunity to play out his career alongside pros the caliber of Harris and Clady excites Chris Kuper. Kuper proved his worth to the front office with 42 starts -- mostly at right guard -- in four seasons since he was drafted in the fifth round out of North Dakota. He landed a new six-year deal in June, and he loves the idea of teaming with Clady and Harris for the duration.

"Those two guys are, in my opinion, two of the best at their positions in the league," Kuper said. "To have us three guys be able to play together hopefully for a long time, we're going to do some good things up front."

Kuper, Clady, and Harris are all entrenched as starters at their spots as long as they're all healthy in time. Valuable swing tackle Tyler Polumbus, who replaced Harris in the second half of the 2009 season, could step in if either bookend isn't 100 percent healthy. That leaves the positions for starting center and left guard open to competition.

The club used consecutive picks on Zane Beadles from Utah and J.D. Walton from Baylor in the second and third rounds to compete for starting jobs. Both worked in with the first team in minicamp -- Walton at his natural center position and Beadles, who could also fill in at the tackle spot he played in college, at left guard.
Dustin Fry could challenge for the center spot, while rookie Eric Olsen and veterans Russ Hochstein and Seth Olsen will give Beadles and Walton a run for their money as they try to win time at center or guard. Broncos newcomer D'Anthony Batiste, who came from the Redskins, could fill in at multiple positions across the line.

College free-agents Paul Duncan and Chris Marinelli -- in addition to Stanley Daniels and recent pick-up Kirk Barton -- will also vie for playing time.

Beadles said he'll take the same approach to training camp whether he's a part of the starting five or backing up the guards and tackles. Grabbing a spot on a line this talented isn't a given, even for a college All-American like Beadles.

"You can't really worry about the outcome at the end of the day," he said. "That's not really in our hands. The coaches will make the best decision for the team, and all we can do is come out every day and put our best foot forward."

Meet the Offensive Line

  • D'Anthony Batiste spent the final two weeks of the 2009 season on the Broncos' practice squad after playing a career-high eight games for Washington earlier in the year.
  • Ryan Clady didn't allow a sack in his first 20 starts according to Stats Inc., marking the longest streak by tackle to start his career since at least 1994.
  • Dustin Fry owns four games of NFL experience from his rookie year with the Rams in 2007.
  • Ryan Harris garnered an All-Pro nod from Peter King in Sports Illustrated in 2008.
  • Russ Hochstein has started 35 games at five different positions during his NFL with Denver, New England, and Tampa Bay.
  • Chris Kuper was the only 16-game starting guard in the NFL to hold opponents to 0 sacks in 2008.
  • Seth Olsen appeared in three games for the Broncos during his rookie season in 2009.
  • Tyler Polumbus became the 11th payer to start a game at the high school (Cherry Creek H.S.), college (University of Colorado) and NFl levels for a home team in the state of COlorado when he started for the Broncos against Pittsburgh (11/9/09) in place of Harris.
  • Zane Beadles started 50 games at Utah, opening 38 contests at left tackle and 12 games at left guard, earning All-Mountain West Conference selection in three seasons and several All-America honors as a senior.
  • J.D. Walton was credited with touchdown-resulting blocks on 13 or Baylor's 16 rushing touchdowns in 2009 and became the first non-special-teams player from the school to earn first-team All-America honors since 1991.
  • Eric Olsen was named Notre Dame's top offensive linemen as a senior in 2009.
  • Stanley Daniels saw time on the Packers' practice squad in 2009 and Jets' practice squad in 2008 after entering the NFL with the Rams in 2007 as a college free agent from the University of Washington.
  • Paul Duncan logged 24 starts in 41 games at Notre Dame.
  • Chris Marinelli was a three-time All-Pacific-10 Conference choice at Stanford

    Defensive Backs
    Running Backs/Fullbacks
    Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
    Defensive Linemen