On Monday night, we got our first glance of the Denver Broncos following the season-ending injury to All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady. His replacement, 2010 undrafted free agent Chris Clark, received a two-year extension almost immediately following Clady’s injury. The Broncos also signed former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Winston Justice.
Monday’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders was only the sixth start in Clark’s career. His first task was Lamarr Houston. Clark didn’t seem to have too much trouble with Houston — that is until early in the third quarter, when Houston blew past Clark with a simple move, sacking Peyton Manning and causing a fumble which was recovered by the Raiders. The turnover was Manning’s first this season.
In reality, it is impossible to replace a player of Clady’s caliber. But if there is one player who can mask the downgrade at left tackle, it’s not Clark but instead Peyton Manning. Manning has already lost two centers before Week 1 and has not skipped a beat since Manny Ramirez replaced both Dan Koppen and J.D. Walton.
Against the Raiders, Manning threw a lot of passes under 10 yards, giving pass rushers like Houston less time to reach the quarterback. This is something we can expect a lot this year, especially with the speed of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Being the surgeon that Manning is, he will make sure that every player on defense is accounted for, no matter who lines up beside him.
Given the ability of Clark, you can expect to see a lot more Knowshon Moreno in the backfield. Even though Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball got their fair share of carries against Oakland, Moreno has proven to be much more capable of pass blocking.
Replacing Clady is not going to be something that can be done by one player. It’s going to take an effort by the entire team. We may not truly know where the Broncos’ offensive line truly stands until two weeks from now, when the team travels to Dallas to face DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys.