ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Since the offseason, the Broncos' offensive line has had to deal with several different lineup changes due to injury.
But that hasn't stopped it from being the best in the league at keeping the quarterback upright. Through the first six games, the Broncos have allowed just five sacks. The next best teams in that category have allowed nine.
The offensive line was forced into change again against the Jaguars as right tackle Orlando Franklin suffered an ankle injury. Guard Louis Vasquez moved over to the tackle spot and Chris Kuper filled in at guard.
"When we pick our team, we pick 53 guys that we think in reality they're all one play away from being the starter," Head Coach John Fox said. "So guys go down during the season – we've had our share, but knock on wood – those guys step in. The players do a great job and our coaching staff does a great job preparing guys for multiple spots."
Fox added that both Vasquez and guard Zane Beadles had reps at tackle during training camp. Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said Thursday that Vasquez has been given so many reps at tackle that he "didn't even think twice" about moving Vasquez over.
Though Vasquez has seen some time there on the practice field, there are some differences between the guard and tackle positions that present different challenges.
"You're playing in space a little bit and that's a challenge when you're playing guys that are a lot smaller and a lot faster," Gase said "When you're inside you can get your hands on them a lot quicker. You just have to be very smart in how you set and how you attack the opponent you're going against."
Fox said that the switch doesn't necessarily require a change in technique but does offer some different scenery – a different view of the play. He compared to the move to switching from cornerback to safety or from inside linebacker to outside.
Franklin did not participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday at Dove Valley, but for a couple of weeks now, Kuper has been back at full participation. He's seen action in two games now and is expected to see more should Franklin be unavailable at Indianapolis.
Center J.D. Walton, currently on the Reserve/PUP list, has been working his way back to participating in practice and has been out there this week. Though he won't be eligible for game action until removed from the Reserve/PUP list, his presence provides a boost of energy to the offensive line.
"You can tell he's excited to be back out here," Gase said. "His biggest challenge is trying to keep that energy all through practice. I was giving him a hard time today as far as hey you were pretty high early and towards the end of practice you could tell he was a little winded. But he's doing a good job, it's great to have him back out there. He brings great energy to the practice."
This week in Indianapolis, the Broncos will have the task of containing one the NFL's leaders in sacks – Robert Mathis. Mathis has 9.5 sacks this season, nearly twice as many as the Broncos have allowed. Key in the success of the offensive line has been communication and that might be tested as the Colts play in a loud, indoor environment.
But Gase said that they've been working on handling the crowd noise since the offseason and so far, the offensive line has been up to the challenge.
"They do such a good job with communicating with each other and just the signals – just kind of whispering to each other," Gase said. "Up front we haven't had any issues with our pre-snap procedure. It's a big emphasis for us and it has been since the spring and these guys have continued to do a great job with it."