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Mason's Mailbag: O-line, scheme, veterans in Week 17 and more

Posted Dec 31, 2016

New Year's Eve is going to be more about reflection than celebration for the Broncos.

You can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase or use the submission form to your right (if you're viewing on a standard browser) or at the bottom of the page if you're on the mobile site.

With the post season no longer an option, how likely would it be that most of the veterans and typical starters get the day off and we see the rookies and depth play to see where they are at developmentally?

-- Jordan Brantley

If you give most of the "veterans and typical starters" the day off, you're left with, say, 25-30 players. No NFL team is going to get by giving that few players repetitions in a game. So by necessity, veterans and usual starters have to play, although they may see fewer repetitions. Head Coach Gary Kubiak has said he plans to play "everybody."

But the desire to get young players repetitions must also be balanced with playing to win the game -- not just for the Broncos to get above .500, which has meaning for players on the field, but for league-wide competition, since the game will have an impact on the AFC West. For the sake of competitive legitimacy, the Broncos need to put forth an earnest effort -- just like the 4-11 Chargers did last year when they kept battling back in the season finale, ensuring the game was not decided until the final moments.

So I've been listening to and watching the Broncos since 1960. This year we have offensive outputs that parallel our 1960s futility. Why did the front office not face realities and retool the offensive line? And why did we not look analytically at how our offensive schemes are not dynamic and do not reflect 2016 NFL realities?

-- Dudley Gardner

Forty percent of the offensive line spots had 2016 free-agent signees as starters, with Matt Paradis the only player who returned at his position. The Broncos did re-tool the line with the resources available (remember, they had to work out a long-term deal with Von Miller that required placing the franchise tag on him, chewing up $14.129 million of cap space before the deal was signed). It's just that the re-tooling didn't work out as hoped -- or expected.

Further, this same scheme gave the Ravens their best offensive output in franchise history two years ago. Baltimore set franchise records in yardage per game, yardage per play, yardage per pass play, and by moving the sticks on 30.1 percent of their snaps, they moved the sticks more consistently than at any other point since their first season of 1996. Baltimore's offensive production has steadily declined since Kubiak departed. The scheme didn't suddenly go bad or outdated in two seasons.

Another iteration of this scheme is responsible for a Falcons offense that this season ranks second in yardage per game, first in yardage per play and first in scoring. Thus, the scheme can work in the 2016 NFL reality. But execution, ability and efficiency have been lacking from the Broncos; the attempt to fix these issues will likely define the Broncos' offseason.

Since Michael Schofield switched to guard, he has been doing a lot better. Is there anyone else who could switch positions and make an impact? And how about Connor McGovern?

-- Jeff Holik

Ty Sambrailo has some flexibility to go inside to guard, and Max Garcia could work at right guard, as well as at center, in a pinch. The coaches also gave James Ferentz some repetitions at guard this summer; if Ferentz can develop into an interior backup at all three positions, it enhances his prospects for a long career. McGovern has the potential to play all along the line, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak has noted this season that the first focus for him is in learning guard before moving him elsewhere. He faces an important offseason and training camp in 2017; how he fares will be crucial in determining whether he develops into a long-term option.

Andrew, Great column, and I appreciate your candid approach, more so due to the knowledge, experience, and facts that you use to support your position.

I would like to suggest the option for preseason games in non-NFL team markets. For example, I live in a state that does not have an NFL team. I think an interesting idea would be to have some preseason games in college venues, similar to the NBA exhibitions. I think it would support the fan base, local tourism, and give fans like me a more ready access opportunity to see the Broncos (and other teams) play.

Do you think this is a feasible option? Thanks!

-- Jared Gunderson

I appreciate the kind words; thank you.

At one point, this was not only a feasible option, but a regular part of NFL preseasons. In the Broncos' first 15 seasons, they played preseason games in places such as Rochester, N.Y., Little Rock, Ark., Mobile, Ala., Stockton, Calif., Winston-Salem, N.C., North Platte, Neb., and three games in Spokane, Wash.

As recently as 1999, the Packers still had regularly-occurring preseason games at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. -- in part because Camp Randall's exceeded that of Lambeau Field at the time by 15,239 seats. (Today, Lambeau Field has 1,114 more seats.)

But with preseason games a part of season-ticket plans, and the revenue-generating capacity of current NFL stadiums higher than it has ever been before, teams would generally generate less revenue playing in alternate venues than at their home markets.

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The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

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