Examining How Ryan Clady's Injury Could Affect Broncos' Playoff Run

Jon HeathContributor IJanuary 2, 2013

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos speaks to Ryan Clady #78 during the game against the San Diego Chargers  at Qualcomm Stadium on October 15, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos were back on the practice field this week, without starting left tackle Ryan Clady.

The Broncos were braving the weather on Wednesday, practicing in a reported of 21 degrees, according to AccuWeather.  Denver has a playoff bye this week, but that didn't stop them from practicing in brisk conditions.

All except for Ryan Clady.

According to a Denver Post report, Clady sat out of practice with an "undisclosed injury," and coach John Fox is not about to reveal why.  We won't know until next Tuesdaywhen the league will require Denver to release an injury reportwhat is causing Clady to miss practice.

Fortunately for Denver, the Post report indicates that Clady will be back in time for the Broncos' first playoff game, a divisional match at home on Saturday, Jan. 12.  If Clady's injury causes him to miss playing time, the Broncos' offensive line will be in a tough situation.

Clady, a 6'6", 315-pound fifth-year player out of Boise State, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and has started in all of Denver's 80 regular season games since he was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft.

Clady is the Broncos' best offensive lineman and has allowed a team-low one sack this season, while being penalized for holding just four times (a far better alternative to quarterback Peyton Manning being driven into the turf).

Behind Clady on the depth chart, the Broncos have third-year player Chris Clark listed as his backup.  Clark is a reserve lineman who saw action last season, when the Broncos used extra offensive linemen in certain packages of their run-heavy offense. 

Clark has proven to block well against the run but is unproven as a pass protector.  It seems unlikely that the Broncos would give a lineman his first start with the task of protecting Manning's blind side in a divisional playoff game.

Another option is veteran Manny Ramirez, who has moved around on Denver's offensive line filling in for injured starters this season.  Ramirez has started in 11 games this season and if the Broncos wanted to move right tackle Orlando Franklin over to replace Clady, Ramirez could work as a fill-in right tackle in Franklin's place.

An ideal situation would be for the Broncos' offensive line to stay in place moving into the playoffs.  If Clady is able to return from his mysterious injury soon, Denver's offense will breathe a big sigh of relief. 

Otherwise, Manning's back side could become exposed in the playoffs, as Clady has anchored Denver's offensive line all season.  Stay tuned for more updates on Clady's status.