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Broncos’ 30-Year-Old Center Takes Long Path To Top

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Manny Ramirez (credit: CBS)

Manny Ramirez (credit: CBS)

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Peyton Manning’s new snapper won’t say “I told you so.” He’ll leave that to his coaches.

One week after making his first career start at center since high school, Manny Ramirez proved he was more than just a 30-year-old fill-in when he signed a two-year extension with the Denver Broncos.

“I’ve been kind of talking about him for a while and nobody believed that he was going to be our starting center,” coach John Fox said. “We feel really good about where he is and I think it’s a good marriage for both sides.”

It was an unconventional courtship.

In 2010, Ramirez was out of football, his NFL career seemingly over after his release from the woeful Detroit Lions, and he started to wonder whether he’d have to fall back on his studies in exercise sports science.

“I was at peace about it. If that was meant for me, that I was done playing, I was OK with it,” Ramirez said. “But I feel like I’ve been given another opportunity and I’m just going to run with it.”

Back then, he realized he hadn’t reached his potential in the pros, so he rededicated – and remade – himself.

“You do something for so long, especially something you have so much passion for that you love, and all of the sudden it’s taken away from you. It kind of puts everything in perspective,” Ramirez said. “It kind of makes you think that, if I do get an opportunity again, you’ve got to take advantage of it and give it all you have.

“That’s where I feel I’m at today. I’m not going to let it go with ease. I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”

Ramirez put that mind-set into action this offseason when he slid over to center with J.D. Walton still recuperating from an ankle operation.

“He’s done a great job as far as developing that relationship with the whole offensive line,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “Like I’ve been saying since the spring, he’s been our starter since the spring it’s just that nobody wanted to give him the credit.”

Maybe that’s because the Broncos kept bringing in veteran centers.

When an infection set in, Walton had to have another operation on his ankle and the Broncos brought back Dan Koppen, who filled in for Walton at center last season while Ramirez was starting 11 games at right guard.

The Broncos signed free agents Steve Vallos and Ryan Lilja after Walton blew out a knee in July. Lilja didn’t make it through camp healthy and Vallos made the roster as a backup.

Fox said this week that bringing in the newcomers was more about adding veteran depth than looking for a better option.

Either way, Ramirez fended off one after the other to hold onto the starting job, a remarkable rise for a guy who signed with Denver in 2011 and was inactive for 14 weeks plus both playoff games before earning a bigger role last season due to injuries.

He was the one snapping the ball when Manning became the first quarterback in more than a half century to throw for seven touchdowns without an interception in the NFL kickoff. One week later, he put his signature on a contract extension through 2015.

“Yes, a very good week,” Ramirez said. “I’m blessed.”

Notes: CB Champ Bailey (left foot) won’t play against the Giants on Sunday, missing consecutive games for just the fourth time in his 15-year career. “That’s a big loss for us,” S Rahim Moore said. “I mean, the greatest corner ever to play this game. But we’re doing a good job and when he comes back we’re going to be even better. What we say is when he’s not in there, let’s go out and make him proud.”

- By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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