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Broncos Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

Posted Apr 8, 2014

Independent analyst Andrew Mason delves into how the Broncos' roster looks along the offensive line.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Replacing left guard Zane Beadles after his first-day-of-free-agency departure wasn't going to be a simple as plugging an existing reserve or a free-agent guard into the spot.

And as the Broncos turn toward the draft in earnest, there are still multiple possibilities in play. The most obvious since the signing of former Washington center Will Montgomery is to move center Manny Ramirez to left guard; he started 11 games at right guard in 2012 while Chris Kuper was injured and started 13 games at left guard with the Detroit Lions in 2008 and 2009.

At the owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. last month, Head Coach John Fox suggested, "We may move somebody," to answer the left guard conundrum.

But the possibilities go beyond Ramirez, who meshed well with college teammate Louis Vasquez in their first season together.

"You have young guys that have shown promise. There is Ben Garland (who has) been with us but hasn’t played a lot," said Fox, citing the Air Force Academy product who was converted from defensive tackle to guard last year as he toiled on the practice squad.

That versatility made Garland potentially an invaluable practice player. But after two years on the practice squad and another two on the military reserve list after being signed from Air Force, the clock is starting to tick on Garland, who could potentially spend one more year on the practice squad, assuming the Broncos always keep 53 players on the primary roster.

Another possibility is opting to move a tackle inside. The most obvious candidate would be Orlando Franklin, who played guard at the University of Miami. That shift would allow Chris Clark to remain in the starting lineup.

"There are a bunch of options and they will define how we go," said Fox. "The coaches will put together a plan. You have to be flexible when you can only suit up seven (offensive linemen) per game at five positions."

But no matter what path the Broncos take at the interior, they will be deeper at offensive tackle, if only because left tackle Ryan Clady is expected back after missing the last 17 games of the 2013 season to a Lisfranc injury.

"That makes us better instantly," Fox said.

But Clady is likely to be eased back into work throughout the offseason, which could leave Clark and Franklin still at the tackle spots when organized team activities begin.

But if someone is moved inside, then the door could open for recently re-signed Winston Justice, 2013 sixth-round pick Vinston Painter or practice-squad veteran Paul Cornick to get some first-team repetitions. Justice's experience offers a security blanket, but Painter's athleticism and youth are intriguing; his task now is to refine the edges on his game evident because he only had one season as a full-time starter at Virginia Tech.

"We’ll work a million combinations," Fox said.

It was through offseason shuffling caused by injuries last year that Ramirez emerged as a viable option at center, a position he held even after the Broncos brought back Dan Koppen in late June and added ex-Colt and Chief Ryan Lilja during training camp.

"It took me a whole season for you guys to believe that Manny Ramirez was our center," Fox said with a laugh at the owners meetings.

The offseason will bring questions, as usual. But it could make Fox, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and Offensive Line Coach Dave Magazu feel more comfortable about the potential answers for the regular season.

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