ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --How you view the Broncos' offensive line depends on whether you are among those who see the proverbial glass as half-empty or half-full.
If you're in the first group, you see three vacancies beyond Ryan Clady at left tackle and Louis Vasquez at right guard and shudder at the lack of experience present among players under contract after center Will Montgomery became a free agent and left guard Orlando Franklin signed a five-year contract with the San Diego Chargers.
But if you're Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway, you see young reserves Ben Garland, Matt Paradis and Michael Schofield as three players ready for their chance.
"As I've said, we don't draft All-Pros, hopefully we develop them," Elway said.
All are career Broncos to date. And in the case of each, Elway believes that the staff changes along the offensive line will have a profound impact, with Clancy Barone moving from tight ends and long-time line guru Rick Dennison becoming offensive coordinator.
Elway reminded reporters that the Broncos weren't done in free agency, leaving the door open to add experience to the offensive line. And the upcoming draft -- in which he hopes to have 10 selections after compensatory picks are distributed -- will provide more prospects.
But he is prepared to give Garland, Schofield and Paradis a viable opportunity.
"I'm excited with Rico (Dennison) and Clancy going to the offensive line, the coaching that they're going to get, I think they really have a chance," Elway said.
Of the trio, Garland is the only one with regular-season experience. The converted defensive tackle played 47 snaps at guard last year, 36 of them in the regular-season finale against Oakland after Franklin suffered a concussion.
The Broncos still have veterans with starting experience who will be in the mix: center/guard Manny Ramirez and tackles Chris Clark and Paul Cornick, who signed an exclusive-rights free-agent tender last week.
But Elway's hope is that the investment in Garland, Paradis and Schofield pays off.
"I think the mindset with the new staff and the coaches we have is that mindset (of) realizing that we've got to develop those young guys," Elway said.
The Broncos have experienced success with this pattern at other spots on the roster: linebacker, with Danny Trevathan and later Brandon Marshall, defensive line, with Malik Jackson, cornerback, with Chris Harris Jr.'s persistence eventually landing him a prominent role even as the Broncos invested in free agents like Tracy Porter and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in 2012 and 2013, respectively. C.J. Anderson got his opportunity last year, and ran all the way to the Pro Bowl.
With every player, at some point his team had to show faith in him and his ability to improve with experience -- which is exactly what Schofield and Paradis lack. Schofield was on the 53-man roster, but never saw the field during the regular season, and Paradis toiled on the practice squad.
With Schofield in particular, Elway and the coaches had to study preseason tape to make their evaluation and projection.
"We're excited about what he did in the preseason last year," Elway said.
Schofield has also put on weight, something Head Coach Gary Kubiak noted at the Scouting Combine that he needed to do in order to be ready to push for a role.
"He's getting there. He was a young buck. But he's a talented kid," Elway said. "We have expectations that he's going to (develop)."
The only way to sustain a successful team for the long haul is to create a smooth, endless assembly line that churns out young players, often from the middle to late rounds, who step forward when opportunity arrives.
"(We) have got to put some pressure on them, step up, grow up and get in there," Elway said.
|Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison know a little something about cultivating offensive linemen. Here's a list of some of the long-time NFL starters selected in the third round or later that the Broncos developed under the watch of Kubiak, Dennison or both:|
|PLAYER||HOW ACQUIRED||CAREER LENGTH|
|Tom Nalen, C||Round 7, 1994||15 seasons|
|Dan Neil, G||Round 3, 1997||8 seasons|
|Matt Lepsis, OT||Undrafted, 1997||11 seasons|
|Cooper Carlisle, G||Round 4, 2000||12 seasons|
|Ben Hamilton, C/G||Round 4, 2001||10 seasons|
|Tyson Clabo, OT ||Undrafted, 2004||10 seasons (still active)|
|Chris Myers, C/G||Round 6, 2005||10 seasons (still active)|
|Chris Kuper, G ||Round 5, 2006||8 seasons|
|Ryan Harris, OT ||Round 3, 2007||7 seasons (still active)|