ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Ty Sambrailo's injured shoulder and the subsequent shuffling of the offensive line ensures that the Broncos will look different up front than they did in the first three weeks.
But that cannot be an excuse for the offensive line's incremental progress to stall. Not when the pass blocking has stabilized with more use of shotgun and pistol formations, allowing the passing portion of the offense to draw closer to its production level of recent years. And not when the running game still has so far to go.
"We definitely felt more confidence," said Ryan Harris, who moves from right tackle to left tackle Sunday in the wake of Sambrailo's injury. "With that, we also feel like there is room for improvement."
And even though Peyton Manning had his first 300-yard game of the season last week, pass blocking remains in need of improvement. Manning was sacked just once, but was hit eight times last week.
Whether the Broncos line up in the shotgun, pistol or with Manning under center, the best way to reduce contact absorbed by their quarterback is to become consistent enough on the ground to force defenses to play them honestly.
That comes down to doing everything better -- and not simply adjusting one piece of technique or one component of the line.
"You can't put it in a nutshell. There are a lot of little things," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said. "Certainly technique and assignments -- everything is involved in the run game."
And that still starts up front.
"When you're evaluating the running game, we're talking about being better up front, getting more creases, doing that," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's a coaches' thing. We've got to create some space for these guys."
But then the runners come into play.
"Sometimes as a back, you've got to do a little bit more. You're in this league to make some plays that nobody else can make sometimes," Kubiak said. "We're calling on those guys to do some of that. We're all trying to get better and calling on everybody's best."
And among the running backs, the one whose best is seen most frequently will end up seizing the job.
"Whoever finds the holes will play. I'm not saying who's in the game. We're going to play some guys and whoever finds the holes, that's who's playing," Dennison said. "It's not that hard."
The Broncos' first three opponents are a combined 2-8. Their next four are 8-4. The time for the blocking scheme and the running game at large to put things together is now -- no matter who's blocking or running it.