Jussel: Broncos’ tackle duo is one of NFL’s best



Quick now, name the best offensive tackle tandem in the National Football League.

Um, there’s ...

Enough time.

How about Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin of the Denver Broncos?

There is proof in at least one respect in that Clady on the left side (yes, the blindside) and Franklin on the more-politically-correct right side allowed only 4.5 sacks between them during the 2012 season.

That total was best in the league for starting tackle duos that started every game.

Clady, who was selected to his third Pro Bowl berth as a starter but will not play because of injury concerns, allowed only one sack all season, the NFL best, with Max Starks of Pittsburgh next best, allowing three sacks.

Franklin, who has started every game for the Broncos in his two-year career, allowed only 3.5 sacks, tying him for third in the league with Sam Baker of Atlanta and Nate Solder of New England.

It would appear the Broncos are set for years to come at the offensive tackle spot, assuming of course that they can keep Clady, a free agent, around.

Clady, at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, was the team’s top draft choice out of Boise State in 2008. He and the Broncos talked about a new contract throughout the past summer, couldn’t come to terms on an agreement and shelved discussions until the season was over.

John Elway, executive vice president of football operations, said during his postseason news conference the team wants to keep Clady. The team does have the option of making Clady a franchise player, meaning they would pay him $9.66 million next season, when he could again become a free agent.

Franklin, a second-round pick in 2011 out of Miami, is even bigger than Clady at 6-7, 330 pounds. He was drafted essentially because he was a superb run blocker and, after struggling as a pass blocker in his first season, obviously improved.

Clady’s steady play and Franklin’s improvement helped the Broncos become one of the league’s best offensive lines, according to several statistical services.

Advanced NFL Stats has the Broncos as the best offensive pass blocking line and 11th-best at rush blocking. Pro Football Focus has the Broncos as the sixth-best offensive line: third best at pass blocking, 14th best at run blocking and, yikes, ranked 26th in terms of penalties.

According to NFL.com, the Broncos had the second-best overall offensive line in 2012 to the New York Giants. The Broncos were just middle of the pack rushing to the left or right, but ranked second in sacks allowed, only 21, and first in quarterback hits allowed, with Peyton Manning hit only 45 times. By way of comparison, the Philadelphia Eagles allowed their quarterbacks to be hit 118 times, and the Indianapolis Colts, a playoff team, allowed rookie Andrew Luck to be hit 116 times.

It is safe to say Manning, coming off those four neck surgeries, is thankful for his two tackles.

There may, however, be a change coming in the makeup of the line. What has been reported is the possibility of moving Franklin inside to right guard, if veteran Chris Kuper can’t stay healthy.

The Broncos’ offensive line, as good as it was in 2012, did it mostly without Kuper, who started only five regular-season games because of ankle and arm injuries.

Kuper, voted an alternate to the Pro Bowl despite the injuries, is a superb pass blocker who allowed zero sacks in 2008 and has allowed only 12 sacks in his seven seasons. His replacement, Manny Ramirez, is a mauler, but a detriment as a pass blocker, allowing 6.5 sacks this season.

If Kuper’s injuries would force Franklin, who spent much of his collegiate career at left guard, inside, that would have them looking for another tackle through the draft, free agency or trade. Chris Clark, a third-year pro, is the replacement for both Clady and Franklin at this point, but he is a restricted free agent and has been regarded as a versatile backup, not a full-time starter to this point.

There are offensive tackles galore available in the draft. D.J. Fluker of Alabama is a 6-6, 335-pound right tackle and possibly will be available at the Broncos’ current 28th draft spot if the team would decide to go that route. The free agency market is thin, with many of the best available having injury and/or age concerns.

The simple solution to the possible problem is for Kuper to stay healthy, allowing Clady and Franklin to stay put and go along quite nicely with what they already have: Zane Beadles, like Kuper an alternate Pro Bowl selection, at left guard and either J.D. Walton, who was injured most of the season, or his replacement, Dan Koppen, at center.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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