Broncos offensive line tackling new scheme

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. ” In an offseason of big changes, the Denver Broncos offensive line has been an element of continuity. That doesn’t mean the unit, which returned all five starters, won’t be learning on the job under new coach Josh McDaniels.

A new offensive scheme has been in the works since shortly after McDaniels, formerly the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator, was brought in to succeed the fired Mike Shanahan.

“It’s different definitely,” right tackle Ryan Harris said after a minicamp practice Saturday. “There’s similar concepts. The biggest thing for us is the communication. That’s what we’re working on right now, kind of figuring out where to be and how to communicate that to one another at a fast pace to make sure we’re on the same page as an offense.”

The team’s line ” Harris, left tackle Ryan Clady, guards Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper, and center Casey Wiegmann ” was at the center of a Broncos offense that produced the second-highest yardage total in team history (6,333) while ranking second in the NFL with a 395.8 yard average per game.

But the departure of quarterback Jay Cutler in a trade to Chicago will mean a new triggerman for the Broncos: Chris Simms and Kyle Orton are competing for the job. Top draft pick and running back Knowshon Moreno also figures to give the backfield a new look on top of the schematic differences envisioned by McDaniels.

Harris said he senses the changes could produce significant benefits, for individual players as well as for the team.

“All of us see this as a great opportunity to learn a new set of skills, and any time in this league when you can learn multiple skill sets, that only furthers your value as a player and your versatility,” Harris said. “There’s lot of figuring out what to do and once we do that, I think as an offense, we’ll be very, very good.”

Harris said the bond formed among the line last season should help in the transition to McDaniels’ system. Another key, Harris said, was Wiegmann’s decision to put off retirement in favor of returning to play his 14th season.

“Casey is kind of our field general out there,” Harris said. “He kind of knows how to communicate to each of us and also, we know our trust level with everybody. We trust each other tremendously, and we’re working hard to make sure we can be a stable unit.”

The familiarity between the linemen and their ability to work in concert with one another already has made an impression on rookie offensive lineman Blake Schlueter, the Broncos’ seventh-round draft pick.

“Their communication is amazing,” he said. “You can tell they’ve been together for a while.”

Harris said he and his linemates have embraced the challenge of turning McDaniels’ new concepts into a source of offensive strength for the Broncos.

“I think if you talk to any of the guys, they’re excited,” Harris said. “They see the opportunity to further what we felt was a good group offensively last year, and that’s exciting to think that you can do better than you did last year.”

The team’s three-day minicamp concludes Sunday.