ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is tired of watching Denver’s running backs get hit in the backfield and a shake-up along the Broncos line appears imminent.
Gase was asked about Denver’s dreadful ground game against New England last week (48 yards on 17 carries) and used the opportunity to put his O-linemen on notice.
“Any time your best two runs were the last two runs of the game, that’s probably more than a disappointment,” Gase said. “I was really frustrated with the fact that we did not run the ball better.”
Although things have generally improved with the speedy Ronnie Hillman starting over the last month, the Broncos are still just 27th in the league in rushing. Moreover, they’ve had 37 runs go for either no gain or negative yardage.
“We have to find a way to get these guys (blocked), get our backs back to the line of the scrimmage and see what they can do. It’s hard to make any ground when you’re getting hit behind the line of scrimmage,” Gase said. “That’s where it starts. It starts with those front five guys making sure we’ve got guys covered up. Then it’s the backs’ job to find the hole and hit it.”
Right tackle Paul Cornick is dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice most of the week. But coach John Fox demurred Friday when asked what his plans were for that position Sunday in Oakland.
“I’m not going to get into who’s playing, how much, when, where, just purely from a competitive standpoint,” Fox said. “We’ll make those decisions an hour and a-half before kickoff.”
The simple solution would be returning Chris Clark, benched three weeks ago in favor of Cornick, to the lineup.
That’s just a Band-Aid, if that. So, the Broncos appear poised to really shake things up and insert Will Montgomery at center, move Manny Ramirez to right guard and push Louis Vasquez to right tackle.
Another possibility is putting left guard Orlando Franklin back at right tackle, the position he played the last four seasons, and play Montgomery at the left guard spot. But Montgomery hasn’t started at guard in a while.
The O-line hasn’t just had problems in the ground game. Three times this season, they’ve allowed a sack of Peyton Manning on a simple stunt out of a three-man rush, including once on fourth-and-6 at the New England 34 last week.
Things got so bad against the Patriots that star tight end Julius Thomas was kept in on protection duties, limiting him to two targets, one of them an 18-yard touchdown catch in Denver’s 43-21 loss.
“I know that’s not ideal since he’s one of our better players at the skill position,” Gase said. “But we’ll figure out some ways to help out our protection (and) make sure that he’s still a big impact player for our offense.”
The O-linemen have been at a loss to explain why they’re still struggling to find cohesion halfway through the season.
“On paper, you would think that it would be a better line than last year,” Franklin said on his radio show on 104.3 The Fan in Denver this week. “We’ve just got to keep working to improve.”
The Broncos thought that by moving the 320-pound Franklin inside next to Ramirez (320) at center and Vasquez (335) at right guard this year that they’d have not only a better pocket of protection for their quarterback but also nearly 1,000 pounds of muscle to bore holes for the running backs.
It hasn’t worked out that way. And too often, they’ve had to rely on Manning’s right arm to bail them out.
Montee Ball, who returned to practice this week 12 pounds lighter than he was when he tore his right groin Oct. 5, said it’s not just the O-linemen who need to clean things up.
“I haven’t been hitting the holes fast. I’ve been doing too much second-guessing,” said Ball, who got down to 212 pounds during the last month to help him hit those holes faster.
“I’m never going to point the finger because we all have an area to improve on,” Ball said. “The O-line, they understand what they were struggling in and we’re doing our best to correct it. Myself, I can make some defenders miss and being lighter is most definitely going to help.”
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