Broncos offensive line starters won't play together until season opener

While Evan Mathis worked with the first-team offensive line on Monday, he won't play a game with the Broncos' starters until the season opener. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos' starters on offense were doing some extra conditioning work after Monday’s practice, guard Evan Mathis was right there with them.

And while Mathis just signed with the Broncos last week and will not play in any of the team's four preseason games, if you're doing drills with Peyton Manning, you're someone who the team is counting on.

“Yeah, he arrived (Monday), he practiced today," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’s fine, his conditioning is really good, we’ll work him really hard this week ... My expectations are he’ll be ready to go in two weeks."

Mathis will start at left guard in the regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 13. It means that after an offseason filled with experimentation and multiple personnel groupings, the Broncos will wait until the season opener to play its starting offensive line.

That’s not quite what Kubiak had in mind when making over the offensive front. Originally Kubiak had said he hoped to work through several combinations during the offseason program and then select a starting five to start working together in training camp.

It didn’t work out that way. After sticking with a group of starters that included rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo, rookie left guard Max Garcia and center Matt Paradis -- none of whom have played in a regular-season NFL game -- for several weeks, the Broncos decided last week to close a deal with Mathis. Mathis, a two-time Pro Bowl selection set to begin his 11th season, was immediately moved into the starting lineup at left guard, though the Broncos had him wait a few days before letting him practice full-time.

Mathis did his most work with the starters on Monday since his arrival.

“They’ve done a great job coaching me up," Mathis said. “ ... Those two young guys on either side of me have been impressive."

Mathis has been given a crash course in the offense, which has some carry-over from the offense he started in during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mathis said the concepts transfer, but learning the verbiage of the Broncos offense is where most of the work is.

“It’s just like you learn 20 words in one language and learn those same 20 words in another language," Mathis said.

Mathis added that Manning's presence behind center as well as how much he does at the line of scrimmage in terms of changing plays before the snaps has spurred him along the learning curve.

“Since you’re cramming, he’s the type of guy, there is some much going on you’re going to have a sense of urgency," Mathis said. “And usually you cram really well when you have a sense of urgency."

As Mathis continues to work toward the season opener, the Broncos have also clarified where things stand in the position group. They traded veteran tackle Chris Clark, a starter during the 2013 Super Bowl season, on Monday to the Houston Texans in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in 2016. Clark had opened training camp as the starter at right tackle, but was quickly eclipsed by Ryan Harris.

The trade also confirms the Broncos are prepared to use Michael Schofield, a third-round pick in the 2014 draft who was a gameday inactive for every game of his rookie season, as the backup tackle on gameday.

“We think Michael’s done a good job and we’ve moved on from there, giving Michael every chance to be our swing guy," Kubiak said. “He’s done a good job ... We’re starting to get close to how we’re going to swing on gameday."