Broncos keep signing veteran centers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach John Fox keeps saying Manny Ramirez is the starting center for the Broncos and yet the Broncos keep searching the football world for centers.

Ramirez, who has never started an NFL game at center but was moved into the middle of the offensive line during offseason workouts, went through those workouts with the starters, including the June minicamp.

But when doctors said in June that J.D. Walton needed another surgery on a fractured ankle he originally suffered last September that would keep him out of the lineup until at least late October or early November, the Broncos signed the soon-to-be 34-year-old Dan Koppen. He started 13 games for the Broncos as Walton's replacement last season, including the playoff loss to the Ravens, and was on track for some work with the starters in this training camp until he tore his left ACL this past Sunday.

Fox again affirmed Ramirez as the starter Monday -- "I've said it like 10,000 times'' -- even as the Broncos have now signed the 31-year-old Ryan Lilja out of retirement. Lilja is also coming off toe and knee surgeries following the 2012 season that helped push him toward the decision to retire.

"I think there is no substitute for experience, we're pleased to have him in the building," Fox said. " ... We're going to continue to look at people that we think can help us, whether it's depth or competing for starting jobs.''

Executive vice president of football operations John Elway has consistently said he wants a draft-built depth chart with plenty of youth as the team's foundation, but it's clear the Broncos coaches want more experience on the interior of the offensive line, even at the risk of rolling the dice on players like Koppen or Lilja who were not in offseason programs anywhere in the league before they were signed.

The Broncos also approached Jeff Saturday, retired and now an ESPN analyst, as well as Eugene Amano about the job, and neither of those players have been in offseason programs either. The recent signings have also taken some practice reps and moved one of the Broncos' own draft picks -- Philip Blake, a fourth-rounder in 2012 -- down the depth chart.

Blake spent his rookie season in '12 on injured reserve after thumb surgery.

So while Fox keeps re-affirming Ramirez is the starter at center, the Broncos keep bringing in more experienced players for the job.