A quarterback's best friend is an offensive lineman. Without a good offensive line, a team has no chance to succeed.
In 2008, the Denver Broncos had one of the best offensive lines in the league. However, in 2009, they were mediocre.
The starting Denver offensive line for 2009 was RT Ryan Harris, RG Chris Kuper, C Casey Weigmann, LG Russ Hochstein, and LT Ryan Clady. When Harris went down with an injury, it hurt our line immensely.
When the line suffered, our running game suffered big time. Our O-line especially couldn't get a push in short yard situations.
Before we take a look at the players we have, I recommend taking a look at this article that I found analyzing our O-line. There is a chart that shows exactly what the production was of each of the O-line players.
Left Tackle Analysis: Ryan Clady
Ryan Clady was drafted 12th overall in the 2008 draft. He signed a five-year, $14.75 million deal. He is the best young left tackle in the league despite playing just two seasons. He is a great player who works hard. In 2009 he was selected to the Pro Bowl team.
He will anchor our line for the next few years, and then we will sign him to a massive contract that will keep him a Bronco for a long time.
Right Tackle Analysis: Ryan Harris
Ryan Harris was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft. He is yet another outstanding young tackle on the Broncos. In 2009 he had a toe injury that sidelined him for a big portion of the year. He was sorely missed. When he is healthy, he combines with Clady to form the best young tandem of tackles in the league.
He is another player that should get a big contract when the time comes barring any future injury-prone seasons.
Right Guard Analysis: Chris Kuper
Kuper was a fifth round pick in 2009. He struggled a bit this year in the starting guard position.
Since the '09 season finished, Denver has committed to the power blocking scheme. There have been questions about whether the 6'3" or 6'4" guard will be able to transition to the new scheme. I say we give him a shot to prove himself. If nothing else, we tender him a high selection. If it is a high selection like a second rounder, then I think we should consider it.
Left Guard Analysis: Ben Hamilton
With Hamilton being a free agent this year, I say we let him go. He was not helpful in our running game, and we need a fresh start as we transition to the power blocking scheme.
Center Analysis: Casey Weigmann
Weigmann had a Pro Bowl year in 2008. Unfortunately, Casey was one of the weakest parts of our line. He was also released today. I was a fan of Weigmann, but his time had come.
Left Tackle Analysis: Tyler Polumbus
Polumbus played over half the season for injured starter Ryan Harris. Polumbus did a decent job as a backup. He isn't perfect, but he did an adequate job in the backup role. He will be back again for the same role next season.
Left Guard Analysis: Russ Hochstein
As mentioned earlier, Hochstein ended up nabbing the starting spot from Ben Hamilton due to his lack of production and his injury early in the year. Russ did a good job this year. He did better then the previous starter Hamilton.
Left guard is our weakest area on the O-line. While Russ did a good job, he was put on injured reserve in December. Hochstein is a free agent this year. It's possible that we offer him a backup role contract.
Guard/Tackle/Center Analysis: Brandon Gorin and Seth Olson
Neither of these players played in 2009. Gorin is a free agent and is going to leave Denver. However, Olson has a chance to be a big part of the team in 2010.
Overall Grade: D+
While Clady gained his first Pro Bowl selection, the offensive line was one of the most problematic areas in Denver this season. The O-line needs an upgrade. If Knowshon Moreno is going to reach his full potential, then we need to give him a line that will help him. Not only that, but if Kyle Orton is going to be our starter next season, then we need to do a better job of protecting him.
Five Possible Solutions to Center
1. Seth Olson becomes a starter
2. Maurkice Pouncey, Center from Florida
3. J.D. Walton, Center from Baylor
4. Jeff Byers, Center from USC
5. Casey Rabach, Free Agent Center from Washington Redskins
Nobody got to see Olson this season. However, if he is promoted to starter, I have confidence in the coaching staff that they know is the right man for the job.
Maurkice Pouncey and J.D. Walton are two of the best centers in the draft. Pouncey is going to cost at least a second rounder, while Walton can be bought for a three with some luck.
Jeff Byers came into the early mock drafts as a low round pick with little upside. However, in the Senior Bowl, Byers showed that he can play at guard and center. His versatility is causing him to rise on draft boards. With some luck, he can be picked up for a fourth or fifth round pick.
Casey Rabach is a free agent from the Redskins. He is a quality backup center. He is still producing at age 32.
Five Possible Solutions to Guard
1. Mike Iupati, Offensive Guard from Idaho
2. Bryan Bulaga, Offensive Lineman from Iowa
3. Vladimir Ducasse, Offensive Guard from UMass
4. Rob Sims, Free Agent Offensive Guard from Seattle
5. Rex Hadnot, Free Agent Offensive Guard from the Cleveland Browns
Mike Iupati is the best guard in the draft. He was one of the top guards in the Senior Bowl. He would anchor our O-line for years. He would be our first round pick.
Bryan Bulaga is a beast. He is labeled a tackle, but he can play guard in our system. He would be very valuable as a guard and backup tackle if needed (credit to Sayre Bedinger for this idea). He would need to be our first rounder also.
Vladimir Ducasse is a solid guard prospect. He is a big, strong lineman who we would get in the second round.
Rob Sims is one of the bright spots on the Seattle line. He is a good player. He is also only 26, which makes him a very attractive offseason pickup.
Rex Hadnot is another good, young player. At 28, he helped Jerome Harrison have an 862-yard season in just seven starts. We could use a talented run blocker like Hadnot.
This area of the Broncos has to improve if we want to take the AFC West title away from the Chargers. With an improved O-line, all aspects of our offense will improve. The O-line will be a big reason for our future success or failure.