Center is a central concern for Broncos
A black cloud?
Somebody shatter a mirror?
A bushel basket full of clover and not one possessing four leaves?
What gives with the Denver Broncos? If it weren’t for bad luck, there would be no luck at all.
There has been trouble with driving, trouble with all those nasty rules and regulations, and now, trouble with a knee.
A torn ACL in the left knee of likely starting center Dan Koppen during the first day of contact during training camp followed the announced four-game suspension of star linebacker Von Miller and the suspensions of two team executives in separate alcohol-related driving incidents.
As previously mentioned, team executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert don’t play and won’t be missed on the field. Miller will certainly be missed if he is indeed out the first four games of the season, but he will be back and be a force for a dozen games, maybe more.
Koppen, however, is done for the season and likely his career, being 34 years old and re-signed for this season only after original starting center J.D. Walton continued to battle an ankle injury.
Koppen’s injury is magnified because he was the conduit between quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of the offensive line.
The Bronco center is first charged with listening to Manning’s 15- to 20-second rants as the quarterback dissects the defense. At that point, the center calls out blocking schemes, perhaps changing assignments for the upcoming play.
Then the center must do what every other offensive lineman must do — move the large mass across the line of scrimmage to a place that mass doesn’t want to go, or stop said mass from attacking Manning with bad intentions.
In short, Koppen was expected to be brilliant and brutish, a tough combination to find.
Didn’t I just see Jeff Saturday, Manning’s center for more than a decade while with the Indianapolis Colts, on SportsCenter? Maybe …
It’s time to get real and look at replacements for Koppen.
The first and most logical choice will be Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez’ pluses are: 1.) He is versatile, having started at right guard last season for 11 games and trained in practice sessions as a center and even at tackle; 2.) He is big at 320 pounds and a mauler in the run game; and 3.) He is a former teammate of neighboring right guard Louis Vasquez while in college at Texas Tech and they should be able to work well together quickly.
Ramirez to the negative: 1.) He is not known as a pass blocker, having allowed six sacks last season, the most of any Bronco O-lineman. 2.) He hasn’t been at the center spot other than at offseason minicamps, having started 26 games in his career with Detroit and Denver at guard.
If it isn’t Ramirez — and there are still nearly six weeks of practice at hand — then it could be newly signed Steve Vallos, a free agent formerly with Seattle; Philip Blake, a second-year player who was on injured reserve last season; or another backup at center or guard, C.J. Davis.
Let’s say Ramirez is the guy and let’s look for some silver lining. Here’s the Broncos’ offensive line as it should look when they open the season Sept. 5 at home against Baltimore:
Left tackle is Pro Bowl player Ryan Clady, 315 pounds of athlete from head to toe, maybe the best in the game.
Left guard is Zane Beadles, at 305 pounds a consistent performer who allowed only one sack, starting all 16 games for a second straight season. He also was called for only one holding penalty and was an alternate Pro Bowl pick.
At center would be the 320-pound Ramirez, who will help the running game but have to learn Manning’s every whim in the crash course over the next month plus.
At right guard is the 335-pound monster Vasquez, a superb pass blocker who started all 54 games for the Chargers in his four years there, allowing only 11 sacks and being called for one penalty in that span.
And at right tackle is Orlando Franklin, the 320-pounder who is improving as a pass blocker, and is a terrific run blocker.
Look at that line: 315, 305, 320, 335, 320 from left to right.
Koppen was smart, but a bit light at 300 pounds to do much road grading for the run game.
The Broncos now will be brutes all the way across, a big force to deal with.
And won’t that be a lucky thing?