In Josh McDaniels' rookie season as an NFL coach, despite all of the off-the-field chaos, things went great for the first six games. However, coming off their bye week for the seventh game, the wheels came off.
More accurately the toes came off. Starting right tackle Ryan Harris' toes to be accurate.
One of the league's best young tackles who surrendered only 1.5 sacks the previous season, Ryan suffered two disclocated toes versus the Baltimore Ravens. The loss of Harris during the next several games proved to be too much for a thin offensive unit to overcome.
Coupled with an injury to quarterback Kyle Orton's throwing hand, the Broncos lost three straight games before bouncing back against the New York Giants in Week 12.
Ryan Harris was finally able to get back out on the field for the Week 13 matchup against division rival Kansas City. The Broncos bounced back to post a 44-13 beatdown and their unexpected playoff chances looked to be salvaged, but during the game Harris went down once more with a toe injury.
Three days later his season ended when he was placed on the Injured Reserve.
The Broncos did not win another game.
Backup right tackle Tyler Polumbus did an admirable job trying to fill those big shoes, but he was not able to match Harris' impact on the field.
The lack of depth along the offensive line was a major factor in the Broncos ability to make it through the season.
Harris is recovering from his injuries, but the fear of repeating last season is palpable.
The fact that incumbent right guard Chris Kuper was tendered on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent adds to the depth concerns. Behind him at RG is converted college defensive tackle Matt McChesney, who was unsuccessfully tried at center in offseason drills. If Kuper leaves or is injured, the right side would suffer another gaping hole.
With those major concerns on the right side of the line the Broncos needed an insurance policy.
Enter Zane Beadles.
The 2010 second round pick, Beadles crosses over the Continental Divide from the University of Utah.
A Casper, Wyoming native, Beadles was one of coach Kyle Wittingham's hidden gem recruits during his first season.
Despite being overlooked by bigger schools, Beadles quickly made an impact on the Utes squad by starting 12 games at left guard during his redshirt freshman season.
The following year he moved to left tackle and never looked back, anchoring the Utes offensive line for three seasons. He played through numerous injuries, including concussions. He missed out on only one start, against UNLV, because of a knee injury.
In 2009, Beadles was named as a first team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
With his 6'3", 310 pound frame and quantifiable production in college, (87 pancakes, 78 cut blocks and 148 knockdown blocks) Beadles' talent finds its way onto the field every game.
While he has played on the left side in college, McDaniels sees him as a future impact player on the right side. "He's played left tackle, but we feel the could compete at both (right and left). Maybe a little more of a right tackle than a left tackle...", McDaniels said. "We're going to put him at tackle and he will also play guard."
"I think (the Broncos) are really excited about my versatility and they can see me playing multiple positions along the line," Beadles said. "I think that was one thing that maybe sparked their interest in me and something that I take pride in as well.
"He's a very smart player," McDaniels said. "He's tough, a good finisher and he's played a lot of games."
The "smarts" to which McDaniels refers is evident in Zane earning multiple seasons on the Dean's List, Athletic Director's Honor Roll and ESPN's Academic All-District VIII. He racked up a 36 on the Wonderlic assessment at the NFL combine.
Zane's ability to step up to the NFL game will go a long way towards stabilizing the offensive line in 2010. His talent and development as a player could have him taking over a starting job in 2011, especially if Kuper is not signed to an extension.
Playing in the Utah Utes spread blocking system he rarely had his hand on the ground, so some period of adjustment to the Broncos power-blocking scheme would be expected.
As the very next pick following the selection of Tim Tebow, Zane playing on the right side also offers insurance of a different sort. As Tebow is a left-handed passer, his blind-side needs to be protected by stout pass blockers. Both the right guard and the right tackle will be extremely important to the franchise when/if Tim earns the starting job.
While this second round pick might not find significant playing time this season, barring an injury, he certainly is a valuable insurance for the Broncos roster.
Zane could pay tremendous dividends for Denver in the long run.
UPDATE: With the injury to Ryan Clady sidelining him for three to four months, Zane now becomes an even more important "insurance policy" for the Broncos. Whether he fills in at left tackle, or more likely, right tackle (with Ryan Harris moving over to the left side); Zane could make an immediate impact for the Broncos.
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