ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There is probably a very good reason it’s called growing pains.
Not growing festivus, not grow-a-palooza, but growing pains.
And in their attempt to make over their offensive line with a group they can keep together in at least a season or two to come, the Denver Broncos are having some growing pains up front. While Evan Mathis’ arrival puts a two-time Pro Bowl selection between rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo and center Matt Paradis and should settle things down a bit, the Broncos’ preseason finale was not the best of nights for the Broncos' reserves in the line.
None of the Broncos’ starters played in the preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals, so the evening was reserved for the reserves.
And on the team’s pass protection, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said; “We didn’t protect our quarterback very well in some situations.’’
And on the team’s efforts in the run game, Kubiak said; “We didn’t run the ball a lick.’’
That about covers it. But unless an unexpected lineman or two presents themselves among the cuts around the league this weekend, the Broncos are every bit as committed to their youth movement. They want a group that stays together, learns together and plays together.
“That’s kind of what you’re looking for overall,’’ Kubiak said.
Against the Cardinals reserve tackles Michael Schofield and Kevin Roberts got the most playing time on offense with 65 snaps each, or 100 percent of the team’s work on that side of the ball. The two had moments when they had things under control but also had some difficulties in some one-on-one situations when opposing rushers attacked the outside shoulder of each.
Kubiak has said he believes Schofield has shown enough to be the team’s swing tackle on gameday.
“Everyone's fighting for a job, everyone wants to prove what they're capable of doing in the National Football League,’’ Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler said. “The group of linemen that I was out there with, I thought they did a great job. Obviously, when we go back and look at the tape, I'm sure all 11 guys that were on the field are going to say, 'Shoot. I should have done this on that play or I could have done this.'’’
The Broncos also kicked the tires on Max Garcia at center Thursday night – he played 38 snaps, split between guard and center. Garcia, who was a starter at center at the University of Florida, has played guard almost exclusively since his arrival to the Broncos, save for a few snaps last week after the Broncos signed Mathis.
Mathis replaced Garcia at left guard in the starting lineup.
“I think we know we're young, that's been from the start,’’ Kubiak said. “I think the depth is a key. … Some of our young guys have played well throughout the course of preseason. … We put Max at center in the second half -- I know you all saw that -- so he's had about three days playing there. That's on us as coaches. That's tough on him. We went ahead and let [rookie] Dillon Day come in and play in the fourth quarter. We probably put him in a tough situation, too.’’
Overall, the Broncos are most likely to take the coach-them-up approach and keep the players they’ve already invested so much time in. Despite signing Mathis they see Garcia as a potential future starter with the team and see Schofield as a potential starting right tackle in the future.
But both Kubiak and executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway have said despite their optimism about the youth in the offensive line they would consider bringing in others if they thought it would improve the situation as they try to keep their salary cap in order.
“We're going to do everything we can to make our football team better,’’ Kubiak said. “I think we're going to look at every position, not just one or two, with what's out there from a cuts standpoint.’’