ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – General manager John Elway promised he’d fix Peyton Manning‘s pocket of protection this offseason. The one position he didn’t have to bother upgrading was left tackle.
Blindside protector Ryan Clady is the only member of Denver’s remodeled offensive line returning to the same position in 2015.
Louis Vasquez, who was moved to right tackle in a major midseason shuffling that failed to halt the Broncos’ unraveling, returns to his natural position at right guard, where he was an All-Pro in 2013.
The Broncos will have new starters at left guard, center and right tackle.
Elway added guard Shelly Smith in free agency and center Gino Gradkowski via a trade with Baltimore and those two will compete with plenty of holdovers for starting jobs this summer.
The Broncos’ right tackle could come out of the draft, where they’re expected to select an offensive lineman with their top pick for the first time since taking Clady at No. 12 in 2008.
Clady returned from a foot injury that cost him almost all of the 2013 season and was part of Denver’s league-leading contingent at the Pro Bowl. He said he feels even better heading into offseason workouts this year and can focus on technique and a new system rather than rehab.
He doesn’t feel any added burden as the old man of the group, either.
“The chemistry, that just takes time over repetition. We’ll work on that and get to that,” Clady said Wednesday. “But I don’t think there’s any new responsibility or anything like that. I’m just trying to learn the system like everyone else and improve as a player.”
The Broncos are returning to their zone-blocking roots under new coach Gary Kubiak, the fifth head coach Clady has played for in his eight-year career in Denver.
“It’s always different for sure,” Clady said. “I’ve heard good things about Kubiak, though, so I don’t think it will be too hard of an adjustment.”
Clady started his career under Mike Shanahan in the zone-blocking scheme, a system that favors athletic linemen like him.
“I like it, as a tackle being able to run and whatnot. I like to show off my skills in the zone scheme for sure,” Clady said.
Manning took several weeks over the winter before informing Elway he’d return for a fourth season in Denver.
“I was relieved for sure,” Clady said. “I think we’re a better team with him than without him at this point. I mean, I was a little nervous, but you know he loves football so much, I figured he’d at least come back another year.”
Right now, the players vying to earn a starting job alongside Clady and Vasquez on the O-line are guards Smith and Ben Garland, centers Gradkowski, Matt Paradis and Manny Ramirez and tackles Chris Clark, Michael Schofield and Paul Cornick.
Cornick got some playing time last year and Elway said he expects Garland, Schofield and Paradis to thrive under the new coaching staff.
MILLER LIGHT: LB Von Miller has dropped 10 pounds to 242.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to step away from the burgers,” he said.
WHAT ABOUT ME?: David Bruton said he’s driven by talk that cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Kayvon Webster or free agent acquisition Darian Stewart will win the safety job left vacant by Rahim Moore‘s departure.
“I envision myself starting,” Bruton said. “I’m dreaming big this season, especially in a contract year.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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