Give the O-Line Some Credit

DB CooperCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2008

For all the talk surrounding the youthful trio of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal it is appalling how little credit has gone the way of the Denver Broncos offensive line.

Considering how lackluster the unit looked on paper going into the season, the Broncos could not have asked for more out of its front five over the first two weeks of the season. Two weeks ago, all five starting spots had serious question marks that ranged from severe inexperience to legitimate injury concerns.

Anyone not impressed by Denver’s offensive line thus far, needs only to take a look at the numbers. The unit has allowed just one sack this season, which is tied for second in the AFC. The running game is averaging 4.9 yards per carry (3rd highest in the AFC) and has scored a NFL-best four rushing touchdowns. By the way, the Broncos rank first in the league in both total yards and points per game.

Plenty of recognition must go to Jay Cutler’s overwhelmingly stellar performance (minus two horrendous red zone plays in the final minutes of week two) as well as head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to finally open up the playbook after two years of ultra-conservative decision making. Nonetheless, none of it would have been possible without the surprising play from the front line.

Take a look at the dire circumstances that the offensive line found itself in going into the 2008 campaign. Center Tom Nalen and left guard Ben Hamilton represented the only proven veteran starters and were both coming off major injuries that ended their 2007 seasons. Nalen was lost in early October to a torn biceps muscle while Hamilton missed the entire year with effects stemming from post-concussion syndrome. The bookends of the line, rookie left tackle Ryan Clady and second-year right tackle Ryan Harris, did not have a single NFL start between them while Chris Kuper was moved all over the place before finally settling in at right tackle.

A lot can change with two games and two wins. Nalen’s sketchy left knee has kept him off the field since he boarded the surgery table a month ago, but it has been a non-issue so far. That’s because Kansas City cast-off Casey Wiegmann has done a more than suitable job filling in and in doing so has extended his NFL-best streak consecutive starts to 113 through week two. Ben Hamilton is showing no ill effects from the injury issues of 2007 and Chris Kuper has been solid. Clady and Harris have been excellent, especially against a supremely intimidating San Diego defense. The two could prove to be a solid combo for the next decade.

With all of that said, the line could very well collapse against a very-speedy New Orleans defense this week and all this talk about a spectacular offensive line goes down the tubes. There is promise, however; there is no question about that.

If the offense is to continue speeding along on all cylinders, the line must continue to improve and mature. Either that or the Broncos just need to keep getting a lucky call to end every game like they did last Sunday.