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Mason's Mailbag: The offensive line, the trade deadline, and more

As always, 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 discussion about the Broncos/Browns trade for Thomas coming down to the wire, was the Broncos' front office serious about the trade or were they strategically elevating Thomas' price to prevent another team from getting him?

-- Bryce Bouwens

It was about nobody but the Broncos and Browns. The talks were serious, real and truly did go down to the last minute.

In the end, John Elway stood his ground. He didn't want to mortgage the team's future. Would it have been nice to have Joe Thomas on the roster? Absolutely; even at 31, he remains arguably the best left tackle in the game today and if he can extend his effectiveness for another year or two, he's on a Hall of Fame trajectory.

But if you consider the Broncos' short- and long-term plans for the roster -- which includes Elway's stated desire to get Von Miller signed to a long-term contract -- plus the hopes of getting other emerging young players signed to second contracts, you can't afford to immolate your stock of draft picks.

Those selections are essential to having a young, cost-controlled core that gives you the flexibility to give mid-career stars the big paydays that are often necessary to keep them after their first contracts.

There was a price the Broncos were willing to pay for Thomas. But once it got too high, Elway followed the model of patient, prudent general managers like Green Bay's Ted Thompson and Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome. They don't reach. They don't make panic moves. When the price is too high, they walk away and move on.

That's what Elway did.

It takes a unique boldness to step up to the table at the cusp of the trading deadline and make a deal.

But it takes even more gumption to pass when the deal would help you in the short term, but be countered by the potential long-term damage to the big-picture process of team-building.

Your team is in good hands, Broncos fans. Your general manager blends decisiveness in the moment with pragmatism for the long haul. Not every season under Elway's watch will be great, but the Broncos are positioned to be the type of franchise for which down seasons are the rare exception, and consistent contention is the norm.

I find it absolutely ridiculous that the Bronco's don't know how to teach the zone blocking scheme to this offensive line. Better call John Benton soon -- the guru of it. He'd probably be a little bit wiser than the current oline coach and figure out how to get the best starting 5 out there as well. Any coaching changes coming soon Mason? I'd love to see Garcia and Smith incorporated.

-- Bob Friday

Issues with the offensive line represented a reasonable narrative in the first few weeks of the season, but it's time to abandon them now.

What we've seen in the last few games -- particularly late against the Browns and last Sunday against the Packers -- is a group that, while not perfect, is finding the cohesion and chemistry that helps get zone-blocking schemes going, since you have to know what your neighbor does in this offense to get everyone in sync.

The group is starting to click, particularly late in the win over the Browns and throughout the 29-10 win over the Packers. Its progress before last week was helped by having the entire unit together in practice throughout the week.

"Working together the past 10 days [in practice] has helped them," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday. "The key now is going to be staying healthy, keeping them all on the field. I think we should only get better, and that's the thing I'm excited about."

As for Benton, the former Texans assistant is under contract to the Dolphins. Besides, current offensive line coach Clancy Barone has his group rolling after some early hiccups. The sack rate has dropped from one every 13.1 dropbacks in Weeks 1-2 to one every 37.2 in the last five games.

The pistol formation and Peyton Manning's adjustment have helped, but so has the unit's growth.

OL_CP_151106.jpg

"We've done a lot of things on the line of scrimmage to help us protection-wise," Kubiak said. "I think just getting the ball gone a little quicker, we run the ball better -- usually when you run the ball well, you're not giving up sacks. We've been really good now for, I want to say, about four or five weeks. Hopefully we can continue that.

"[When you] get off to a bad start and we've got some ground to make up. Hopefully we can keep going."

The improvement has carried over to the running game, with fewer carries in which average per carry was 2.59 yards in September; it is 4.58 yards in the four games since then.

That's good for a unit that has included three first-time starters at various points this season and now incorporates another rookie, Max Garcia, for multiple series every game.

But before I move on to the next question, wait a minute ...

... Hang on, I'm trying to avoid having a microchip blow in my brain ...

... Okay, I think I've got it.

Did you REALLY ask, "Any coaching changes coming soon Mason?"

Are you freaking kidding?

This team is 7-0. SEVEN AND ZERO!!

(Yes, I went all-caps with multiple exclamation points there. This will shock some friends of mine. Jake Jarmel and Mr. Lippman would not approve. Some people I know use them, and it doesn't bother me; I couldn't imagine their writing without the enthusiasm multiple exclamation points convey. They usually aren't for me, but I felt as though the situation warranted it.)

Why do the Broncos keep going with Max Garcia after he continues to get penalties every game and kill drives? I have no doubt he'll be a great player someday but to put it simply he's a rookie and needs time to develop. I'd like to see a proven vet with starting experience backing up our lineman in Shelley Smith.

-- Skylar Davis

Because the best way to develop is by playing, and for every rookie moment Garcia endures, there's a great play.

Take Ronnie Hillman's 15-yard touchdown run. Garcia is the blocker who pulls right and engulfs Packers LB Clay Matthews, preventing him from blowing up the play from the back side. This gives Hillman time to get low inside, see the gap developing to his left and sprint toward it for the score.

Shelley Smith has been around the NFL -- and this scheme -- to the point where you know what he is and what his ceiling is. That's not the case with Garcia, who is quick on his feet, uses his peripheral vision well and has already demonstrated a nasty streak when he gets into games.

"It's going to help him," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said. "He's just a young guy. Right about now, he's thinking about shutting it down and going for a bowl game being a rookie.

"I think we'll just keep playing him. I think he's really grown a lot, but he certainly has -- just like the rest of us, we all have some room to grow."

As Garcia learns how to avoid penalties and channel the ferocity with which he plays, he'll get better. And every snap he has now will help him be ready for his ascent into the starting lineup, perhaps by next year.

I doubt that. There's too many other angles in play, starting with exacting some measure of revenge for last January's playoff loss and wanting to play well to give Peyton Manning the kind of return he didn't have two years ago at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Finally, there's the desire to help Manning break two hallowed league records (passing yardage and wins by a starting quarterback) in a venue that might as well be -- and has often been -- called "The House That Peyton Built."

If the Broncos come up short Sunday, it won't be because they overlooked the Colts; it will only be because they were outplayed.

**

Mason, You think Mr. "Son of Bum" Phillips will win coach of the year? I know it's only mid-season grades but what he's done with this defense is remarkable.**

P.S. Not sure if defensive coordinators can win coach of the year but a fan can dream right?!

-- Dom Turner

If the defense maintains its current pace, I'd love to see just one vote in the Coach of the Year balloting go to Wade Phillips.

But there is now an Assistant Coach of the Year award. The Associated Press began issuing it last year, which it honored then-Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Phillips should be a leading candidate for the award, although there are plenty of others who in the mix, including Carolina's Sean McDermott, Cincinnati's Hue Jackson and Oakland's Bill Musgrave.

The Colts and Patriots are strong interdivisional rivals, and those games justifiably quicken the Broncos' collective pulse. But the AFC West rivalries will always come first, given the history of massive games among the Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers.

The legacy of passion and shared enmity among the teams in the AFC West is among the best of any division in the sport. Although Broncos-Raiders is the signature series in the division, every game involving two of those four teams can be considered part of a hostile rivalry. It's difficult to top.


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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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