Thursday, April 14, 2005

2005 Draft Preview: Offensive Line

By Andrew Mason, from DenverBroncos.com
A look at the Broncos' roster reveals key contributors at almost every position who arrived from other NFL teams.

There's a starting fullback drafted by Carolina. A starting quarterback who spent six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. A recent signee at tight end who's played for three teams in his NFL career. A weakside linebacker who spent a year in Tampa Bay and then returned. A pair of safeties acquired through various modes of free agency. A starting cornerback acquired in the NFL's first Pro Bowler-for-Pro Bowler swap in three decades. And, of course, there's a defensive line with four key imports from the Cleveland Browns.

And then you have the offensive line. The Broncos began 2004 brandishing five homegrown starters, five players who've never known any other professional colors but orange and blue. And even after Dan Neil moved to the inactive list and Cooper Carlisle took his place, there remained a quintet of career Broncos up front.

Of Denver's five starters, only George Foster was a first-round pick. The two guards -- Carlisle and Ben Hamilton -- were both fourth-round selections in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Center Tom Nalen arrived as a seventh-round pick in 1994, and tackle Matt Lepsis wasn't even drafted, joining as a rookie free agent right after the 1997 NFL Draft.

In an era where champions are as liable to be cobbled together through unrestricted free agency as with grooming players straight from the college ranks, the Broncos' offensive line stands as not only a throwback -- but as a testament to the notion that teaching and development of young players is still essential for building a winner.

It also helps the Broncos find their types of offensive linemen, though they cannot be placed into set categories. At 338 pounds, George Foster proved that one doesn't have to be a relatively small offensive lineman to fare well in Denver's scheme, as was commonly believed to be the case.

The offensive line is still smaller than the NFL average, but Foster meshed well quickly thanks to remarkable lightness on his feet for someone of his size and the ability to grasp the scheme after a rookie-year gestation period, most of which was spent ont the practice squad.

Denver's scheme is something that many rising rookie offensive linemen notice immediately as they watch games from afar, studying for the fast-approaching day when their NFL opportunity arises.

"They're not the biggest guys in the NFL," said Oregon's Adam Snyder. "A lot of people think that you have to be 380 pounds (and) 6-foot-7, but that's really not it at all. They're technicians. Everything they do is right, from the way that they move their feet, to the way that they place their hands and are able to pull outside of the line of scrimmage and really run with blocks. So you don't have to be this huge mammoth of a man."

Not mammoth -- just fluid, fleet of foot and precise.

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