The Denver Broncos have a huge question mark at right tackle. They shuffled through a few different offensive line combinations last year, mostly spurred by the lack of quality play from the right tackle position.
This offseason, the Broncos have insured they will create better competition at the spot this year.
In the second round of the 2015 NFL draft, the Broncos selected offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo of Colorado State. Even though he’s a premium pick, the rookie will have to prove that he’s worthy of being a starter for the Broncos during training camp.
His main competition should come from Michael Schofield. A third-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Schofield made the final roster as a rookie, but he was inactive for every game last season. This year, Schofield will try to prove that he’s worth not only being active, but also that he’s their best option at right tackle.
So which one of these young tackles will win the starting job? Let’s take a look.
The zone-blocking system has been implemented by the Broncos this offseason. This style of blocking requires offensive linemen to be laterally agile after the snap. There are going to be some elements of cut-blocking, but the Broncos also want players who can control their man at the point of attack.
This attribute is not a strength for either player, but there could be significant progress from both players in training camp.
Schofield might have a slight edge, as he’s good at controlling his man in tight spaces. He’s not overwhelmingly strong, but Schofield loves to finish blocks whenever possible. Schofield can be helped in this area if he improves the inconsistent hand placement he showed in college.
Earlier this month at veteran camp, Schofield’s upper body looked much bigger than it did last year. Schofield struggled to keep weight on last year, but now he looks much bulkier in his chest and shoulders.
The biggest negative for Sambrailo could be his lack of functional strength. His body type features narrow shoulders and a pudgy midsection. This was evident when Sambrailo walked across the stage during the weigh-in at the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Earlier this month at rookie minicamp, Sambrailo showed a much better physique. It looks as though he worked hard to lose the bad weight and add more strength to his frame and lower body.
This comparison might be even at this time. However, both have improved physiques and will have to prove themselves in training camp.
Protecting Peyton Manning is priority No. 1 for any offensive lineman in the Broncos' starting lineup. Blockers in front of Manning need to be able to handle all sorts of pass-rushers. Power players to speedy defenders will try to find their way to the quarterback, and the right tackle position will be critical to keeping Manning upright.
Sambrailo wins going away in this comparison.
At Colorado State, Sambrailo started at left tackle over the last two seasons. He wasn’t tested by the best college competition, as the Rams play in the Mountain West, but Sambrailo did show great footwork. He’s got the athleticism to ride defenders off the edge, or he can mirror secondary moves to the inside. Sambrailo plays to the echo of the whistle, and his aggressive nature can get under the skin of defenders tasked with getting by him.
Schofield didn’t see the field last year for the Broncos in part because of his weight fluctuations as a rookie. However, with all the problems they had at right tackle, we never saw Schofield even active for one game in 2014.
Another reason why? Schofield also struggled in pass-protection drills during practice. He did play inside at left guard for 10 starts during his college career, and that may be where he winds up as a pro.
The Broncos will often ask their offensive linemen to be “sticky blockers” at the second level of the defense. Blockers need to be able to hit moving targets, stick with their man and finish the block through the whistle or until a back/receiver is in the clear.
Sambrailo is the winner here.
The rookie can get off the line of scrimmage quickly, and this helps him get to the linebacker level swiftly. Sambrailo uses his eyes well to find opponents to block downfield, and he has the athleticism to get to his man at the proper angle.
Schofield is athletic in a phone booth, but he struggles when asked to block in the open field. Too often, Schofield will reach for his man when going to the linebacker level instead of striking them and running through. He’s got tight hips when asked to move laterally, and Schofield lacks the quickness to square up to his man in space.
Physical attributes are one thing, but having quality intangibles certainly does help. Grading this for both prospects shows a very tight race.
Both Schofield and Sambrailo stand out in this category.
In college at Michigan, Schofield was known as a player with high football intelligence. This shows when Schofield reads and reacts to pick up extra rushers. He was also considered a hard-working overachiever, and Schofield can barely contain his competitiveness when on the field.
Sambrailo has sharp recognition skills and knows how to properly counter pass-rushing moves that are used against him. Like Schofield, he has a high football IQ and puts in a lot of work on and off the field. Sambrailo plays with a lot of confidence, and teammates seem to like what he brings to the table.
The battle for the starting right tackle position is going to be one of the most hotly contested competitions in training camp. It may not get the headlines it deserves, but this could be the most critical spot on the entire team that is up for grabs.
Schofield looks like he worked incredibly hard through the offseason to better prepare himself for his second season. The larger physique will help him as a run-blocker, but it remains to be seen how he will hold up in pass protection.
Sambrailo looks like the best option for the right tackle position. Even though he’s a rookie, Sambrailo already has plenty of experience in the zone-blocking system.
He’s a nasty player with an attitude that can intimidate opponents on the football field. Like Schofield, Sambrailo has improved his physique to boost his functional strength.
Sambrailo has the footwork to work well in pass protection, and he does a good job of recognizing stunts and twists on the defensive line. His hard-working attitude can be infectious to teammates, and he could become a vocal leader up front.
The Broncos need better offensive line play this year. Manning was banged up too often last season, and that led to him being less effective in the second half of the year and in the playoffs.
This year, the Broncos will try to make another run at the Super Bowl. Sambrailo could be key to the team jump-starting the ground game, protecting Manning and leading this team through the postseason.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.