ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Twelve months ago, if this offensive line had been asked to work at a quick tempo unlike anything it had collectively experienced before, the results probably would have been lousy.
That was before a 13-3 season, before a successful year keeping
Sixty percent of the first-team offensive line has been together since 2011, and Beadles and Clady were starting alongside each other in 2010. They've seen nothing but change, from the overly-pass-intensive offense of 2010 to a more balanced attack early in 2011 with Kyle Orton to the zone-read option with Tim Tebow in 2011 to something completely different with Peyton Manning in 2012. That Beadles, Clady, Franklin backup
By comparison, the accelerated tempo this offseason is a bit of a relief.
"I love it. I think it could be a huge advantage for us. And, it's a lot of fun," Beadles said. "I think we have a lot of smart guys on our side of the ball and on the offensive line. It is a challenge for us, but at the same time, it's fun for us to be able to take on that challenge. I think it is going to be a big advantage for us."
It wouldn't have been possible a year ago, when Manning's arrival led to a 180-degree pivot in emphasis.
"I think we're more comfortable with him; he's more comfortable with us," Beadles said. "I think we kind of have an idea with what direction we want to head in and where we're going. It is exciting to be able to take some next steps and rather than just learning about each other and learning the offense, really taking that step to do the fine details."
That's the case for Beadles, Franklin, Chris Clark and
That led to the recent re-signing of
But for right guard
"Being here now, it did affect me when I first got here. But I've had some time to acclimate to it and I'm good to go," he said.
"Now it's just the terminology. That is just going to come naturally."
Vasquez played remarkably mistake-free football in four seasons with the Chargers, particularly in pass protection. That will help shore up the primary trouble spot from last year's offensive line; with an injured Chris Kuper and the reserve Ramirez splitting time, teams such as the Texans attacked that point of the line, with varying results. Some games, the Broncos held up well at right guard. But against elite pass rushers like Houston's J.J. Watt, the line was overwhelmed and caved in from that spot.
Vasquez's size and technical fortitude should change that.
But while the focus is on the present and the near future, the offensive line still lingers in the past -- particularly the final moments of regulation play in the divisional round loss, when one more rushing first down would have salted away the game. Instead,
"For me personally, especially from an O-line standpoint, if we gain one more first down in the four-minute drill and we finish with the ball in our hands, there is not even an opportunity for them to go down and score," Beadles said. "So, I think the big thing is just everybody looking at their position and themselves specifically and seeing how they can get better and how we can finish games. That will make us all better in the end."
And if the offensive line improves, the end of which Beadles speaks won't come until February.
THE OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: THE BASICS
Ryan Clady: When he signs his franchise tender, two questions will remain. First: is this the step toward a long-term contract that the Broncos have repeatedly said they want to work out with Clady? Second: how will the surgically repaired shoulder hold up? That procedure meant that he would have missed offseason work even if he had signed his tender, but how it responds to the first collisions of practice and preseason will bear monitoring.
Orlando Franklin: His pass blocking improved noticeably in his second season as starter. Having a decisive quarterback like Manning behind him certainly helped, but he allowed fewer sacks and fewer pressures. What you'd like to see in his third season is fewer penalties.
Chris Clark: Clady's absence meant plenty of offseason work at left tackle for the versatile Clark, who is athletic enough to line up as an eligible tight end when the Broncos go into run-intensive packages. Still, if Clady's shoulder doesn't hold up, there's questions over whether the career backup (to this point) can handle the full-time load. Until he actually does it, we simply can't know.
Centers and guards:
Zane Beadles: The Broncos would like to see him continue to progress as a run blocker, but his work in pass protection -- just two sacks allowed -- helped him move into the upper echelon of guards last year.
Louis Vasquez: It's been said that the best offensive linemen's names are rarely mentioned on a television broadcast -- and certainly not through a referee's microphone. Vasquez has only been called for one penalty in four pro seasons and has permitted just three sacks in the last two years, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He was easily the most reliable component of a leaky Chargers offensive line.
Dan Koppen: Walton's surgery made the return of Koppen a fait accompli. Koppen's price is right (league minimum salary) and his experience in nine Patriots seasons and as the injury replacement for Walton last year make for the smoothest possible transition.
Manny Ramirez: He got a long look at center during OTAs and minicamp with Walton injured and Vasquez settling in at right guard, but his ideal fit is as a versatile backup who can work at any of the three interior spots. He started most of 2012 for Kuper, and could be the first reserve called up again.
Chris Kuper: With Vasquez's arrival, it's tough to see where Kuper fits in unless it's as a pricey -- but potentially valuable -- insurance policy. The presence of Beadles, Vasquez and the experienced Ramirez means that the Broncos don't have to rush Kuper into service, and their salary-cap situation is solid enough that they can afford to keep Kuper around until he heals.
J.D. Walton: It's more than just his season that's in question, but his future, too. This is the final year of Walton's contract, and if he's unable to even practice before late October, he doesn't have enough time to flourish and earn a big-money, long-term deal. Walton may find himself forced to sign a one- or two-year contract after this season and re-prove himself -- and prove his ankle is back to 100 percent -- before earning the life-changing payday.