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Broncos working toward answer to biggest offseason question

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe it isn’t quite the football-is-family missive the league wants, but one of the Denver Broncos' newest arrivals -- tackle Menelik Watson -- offered his own take on team chemistry in recent days.

"If they’re getting into something, I’m getting into something," Watson said with a grin.

He added some things about having his teammates' backs, about sticking up for each other and how he's been a fighter his whole life. Certainly, some of it can be attributed to the prospect of a fresh start and the fact he wanted to make new friends in new places.

Watson is a physically gifted player who has dealt with a string of injuries that seem to strike him when he’s just about to show what he can really do. So, he sees the Broncos as a massive opportunity to have an impact on a team that routinely considers itself in the Super Bowl conversation.

But his signing, as well as that of guard Ronald Leary, are about chemistry as much as football. Broncos chief decision-maker John Elway has repeatedly said the difference between talented teams that do, or don’t, turn that talent into success is "how that locker room is."

And he made it clear he was signing Watson and Leary because he wants them to give the offensive line that physical edge Elway feels last year’s group didn’t have as the Broncos struggled to protect the passer and carve out room in the running game. But this week he also dropped another missive about what’s needed up front.

"With Ron (Leary), we like the way that he plays the game. He’s a physical guy that plays with an attitude," Elway said. "... Menelik has the same kind of ability at tackle. The good thing is they have personalities, as you’ve seen. They’re real positive guys that like playing the game. Not only are they good football players, but I think they’re going to add a real positive feel in the locker room with the type of people they are. I think we get a little bit of the personalities back and they’re going to help there."

In short, the offense needs to have a little of that don’t-start-none-there-won’t-be-none swagger the Broncos' defense has carried around over the past two seasons. And that’s what the offseason is for, to fix, to repair, to change.

However, the Broncos' work up front on offense still lacks a rather significant piece of the puzzle -- left tackle. They dove into free agency and didn’t get one yet, at least not a slam-dunk solution.

"It’s still open, we’re not done," Elway said. "... We feel like we’ve got some different options. We’re not done yet. Last time I heard, we don’t go to camp until July. We don’t have that fixed just yet. But we’ll figure out how to get that done."

He’s floated the idea of Watson or Donald Stephenson (who started at right tackle and was briefly benched at right tackle last season) as possible solutions -- or at least two players who could get a look. But neither has shown himself to be a consistent blind-side protector to this point, though Stephendon has almost two dozen starts at left tackle.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph even said this week that the Broncos' future left tackle might be a veteran player who is on somebody’s roster and hasn’t been released yet. Overall, the draft is also thin in potential rookie starters at left tackle -- the list might not take five fingers to count.

In short, consider the search still on. Overall, the Broncos hope a new coaching staff, a few reinforcements and little luck when it comes to Watson’s past injury history -- he’s never played more than 12 games in a season -- will bring the change they need in the line and that they can, as Elway puts it "play the best five."

There were many reasons the Broncos had their first playoff miss since 2010 last season, but the single biggest reason, without argument, was that the offensive line didn't play well enough. And this is now the third consecutive offseason when it’s been a priority.

That's one long chemistry experiment still in search of a eureka moment.