In 2013, the Broncos needed to make a few changes on the offensive line. Manny Ramirez did a better job at center than J.D. Walton had. Chris Clark impressed at left tackle as Ryan Clady's understudy.
In 2014, Denver wanted to play its five best starters, so Clady was back at left tackle with Clark on the right side, although there were potential problems there. The Broncos entered minicamp looking to move Orlando Franklin, formerly the right takle, to left guard.
Understandably, the Broncos wanted to see if Clark could do equally well on the right edge. They brought in Winston Justice to ‘give him competition'. Unfortunately, left and right tackle often require different body types. They need different skillsets, too.
The right tackle tends to be more massive and often leads the run. The left tackle needs to play on an island more often. While all line positions are important in the run, the left tackle is even more important in terms of protecting the quarterback. Whatever his physique, Clark just wasn’t a good match for right tackle.
How did this come about? It wasn’t due to a lack of attempts to prevent it by the front office, as had happened in 2010. Adding rookies Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton to the starting lineup was pure carelessness - this wasn’t. In 2014, having failed to unseat Clark, Winston Justice was cut.
Vinston Painter wasn’t going to be ready for at least another year. The Broncos brought in Alex Gibbs to try and speed Painter's progression in 2013. It still wasn’t enough to develop him quickly. Denver let him go to get the roster to 53. He ended up in Cleveland, where he’s played on special teams a couple of uneventful times.
Clark’s lack of a good fit became onerous, and Paul Cornick took over. He played fairly well if not impressively, but then suffered a shoulder injury. Denver was somewhat uncomfortable with Cornick’s pass protection, so they adjusted again. Now it’s Clady at LT, Orlando Franklin at LG, Will Montgomery at center, Ramirez at right guard, and Louis Vasquez at right tackle.
If there are more injuries, there are two options. The first is to move Franklin back to right tackle and to try and find a LG. Richie Incognito visited last week, and it's suggested that Denver might sign him sometime after Sunday's game against Miami.
The final name on this list is rookie Michael Schofield. He was taken by the Broncos in the third round of the 2014 Draft. He needs a full year to get his body ready and to fully comprehend the voluminous playbook. Peyton Manning tends to use certain, specific plays. The various ways that they can be run and changed lends the need for an encyclopedic understanding of the plays by the line. A lineman has to know all his responsibilities, no matter how a certain play is changed at the line. It makes it tough for a rookie to handle working on a Peyton Manning line.
Denver’s getting close to exhausting their OL options.
They've moved All-Everything Louis Vasquez out to right tackle. An additional injury at this point could make it necessary to use Schofield. Hopefully, Cornick will return and show himself up to the task, but that remains an unknown. I’m not betting on it.
I enjoyed watching Schofield in four college games to establish some notes on him. Given that he might be needed, I thought I’d share with you what I learned about him.
Findings on Schofield
Schofield usually shows very good vision. If he doesn’t, it is when he struggles to find the right target on the second level. Despite that, there were a lot more plays where he kept his head on a swivel and ended reengaging with a pursuer. Some blocks were just in time to allow his runner to reach the first down marker.
He’s already strong, but could (and will) add more muscle to his 6’4” height. Over the four games, I saw that he generally keeps his pad level low. Many tackles are taller and may struggle to keep low. That’s one advantage he has. Schofield has a good punch. He tends to lock up well with his assignment. He can still fill out, and has already reportedly been gaining weight. That’s a process - not an event. It will take time.
Michael could anchor better. He’ll develop that more through coaching and repetition than anything else. He’s got the bubble and the power for it. He likes contact and won’t back down from a bigger defender.
I found him to be very tenacious. When he locks into his man, he doesn’t let go. He uses his punch well to keep his man off-balance. At times, he looks like he’s about to lose control of his assignment, then he manages to recover. As the most extreme example I saw, he was caught wrong-footed on one play, and he flung himself through the air between the defender and quarterback. It slowed the end enough for the QB to set his feet and get the pass off. I like guys who are never out of the play unless the whistle’s blown.
One major key for him: he has a nasty punch when he sets his feet and anchors. He keeps his feet moving and mirrors well. He generally seems to handle speed rushers well. Again, one moment he looks as if he's on the edge of losing position. Then he'll recover and redirect the attacker until they are well past the QB.
One of his biggest attributes is that he tries to clean up other players' errors. When patrolling from RT across toward LT, whether on the opponent’s side or in his own backfield, he’s looking for a target. If there’s one there, he tries to get there with all out full pursuit.
Schofield is aware of the backside of runs and works toward cleaning them up. This is big for a lineman. Most of the longest runs in the NFL occur on a backside cut. I want my linemen to be aware of the backside pursuit and to harass it out of the play.
With Michigan using both inside and outside zone runs well, he has experience in that approach. I only saw a full stretch zone once. It was effective, probably in part due to its unexpectedness.
I caught him lunging occasionally. I’ve never seen a college tackle that didn’t, but some do more than others. In some of those instances, he could have let the blocker come to him and controlled him with hand and foot technique. That’s just a matter of time and film work.
I did notice that he had quick feet when pulling. He showed nice footwork in general. If, at some point, they decide to use him for left guard, that would be an advantage. If they do want him for guard, though, that’s something that he should be training for as soon as possible. The anchoring technique at guard is quite different from the kick-step/slide step that one uses on the right edge.
Right tackle usually is the key to the running game. Schofield has to clean up his second level work over what he was doing in college, but I didn’t see a lot of red flags. Mike Mayock said that he ‘stoned everyone’ in the one-on-one drills during Senior Week. It wasn’t a reference to Colorado law. He was well suited to the best level of college competition. Now it’s a matter of taking the next step.
Given a year to fully prepare, I would be surprised if he struggled too badly at right tackle. All young players struggle. Sometimes it’s just more obvious than with others. The coaches will see where he is in practice, but a review of the film I saw left me more positive than I felt at the time of his selection by Denver. When I watch too much draft film, the errors tend to run together. What I saw was a good candidate to start at right tackle if Schofield can clean up a few areas. He needs to continue to develop the usual - core strength, pad level, and hand technique.
Let’s hope that Denver doesn’t need him this season. The way things are going, though, it’s at least possible that they will.