ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The scuffling and shuffling along Denver’s offensive line may not be over.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said he’ll stick with the same five starters from his retooled line when the Broncos (7-2) visit St. Louis (3-6) on Sunday.
That lineup isn’t written in indelible ink, however.
“For the most part, I’m trying to find out who those five guys are that we want to finish this year with,” Gase said.
Left to right, that line is: Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery, Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez
Ramirez and Vasquez are playing out of position after sliding one spot over last week at Oakland to make room for Montgomery at center. Clady (groin) and Franklin (knee) are ailing but will play Sunday.
Montgomery, who started the last three seasons in Washington, signed a $1.2 million, one-year free agent deal with Denver last summer – buried beneath the ballyhoo over the signings of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Emmanuel Sanders.
He might end up being just as big as any of the other additions if he helps stabilize a line that’s given up a trio of sacks on three-man rushes and allowed the running backs to get hit in the backfield too often.
“He did a good job getting to the second level – which when we actually got him that was one of the things we thought he did a great job with – with the Redskins,” Gase said. “And he did a good job as far as directing traffic.
“Now, having Manny next to him, does that help him? Absolutely. Now we really have two centers on the field. They know all the calls, they know what to do.”
A bigger test comes Sunday from a Rams front that features pass rusher Robert Quinn and run stuffer rookie Aaron Donald.
“This group will be tough,” Gase said. “We can’t let them just go free up the field and hit our backs in the backfield before we’ve even touched them.”
The line’s flaws have shown up mostly in run blocking. The Broncos have had more than three dozen runs go for either no gain or negative yardage, which strongly suggests defenses have deciphered technical cues about Denver’s ground game.
“I just don’t want to take any more steps backward,” Gase said. “We’ve done good in pass protection for the most part, the whole group, no matter who’s been in there. But we need to make sure that our run game is going upward.”
The Broncos have already made four changes to their O-line and flirted with signing Richie Incognito.
Three weeks ago, they benched right tackle Chris Clark for Paul Cornick. With still too much pressure coming from Peyton Manning’s throwing side, they moved Vasquez out to right tackle even though he’s been dealing with a bad back and sore ribs.
“I think wherever we put Lou, he’s going to have success,” Gase said. “… He did a good job shutting down that edge, and I’m pretty sure 18 felt pretty good in the pocket last week.”
Manning saw five of his throws batted down before finding his rhythm and finishing with five TD passes at Oakland.
Franklin is still adjusting to his offseason move to left guard from right tackle after a horrific Super Bowl performance.
“He’s done a good job in pass protection for the most part, which we do so much of,” Gase said. “And in the run game, that’s still a tough feel, it’s a different angle for him as far his guys on him so much quicker. … He’s still working through some of those things.”
Gase said he also sees Clady rounding into shape after missing most of last year with a foot injury.
The Broncos practiced indoors all week with temperatures hovering around zero, a good reminder that they can’t keep relying on Manning’s right arm to get them where they want to go.
“Weather’s bad, we’d better be able to run,” Gase said.
C.J. Anderson’s breakout – 90 yards on 13 carries and 73 yards on four catches last week – means he’ll be the starter against the Rams.
“We’re going to play the hot hand,” Gase said. “Right now C.J., he had the best game last week. So, we’ll see what he brings and then we’ll get the other guys going and we’ll see what happens there.”
Ronnie Hillman (foot) is out, but Montee Ball is ready for his hometown game after missing five weeks with a torn right groin.
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