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DOGFISH: Camp Preview O-line

July 10, 2007

In our continuing series by guest author Dogfish, we will be taking a look at his Training Camp (TC) preview of the personnel on our O-line.  Here, again, is fellow blogger Dogfish…

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GUEST AUTHOR: DOGFISH 

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

OVERVIEW:

The return of Matt Lepsis is crucial to the success of our O-line this year.  And as reports from OTAs have him running at full speed, so far so good on that front.  Lepsis’ return will lock down the most important position on the line and help keep the young face of our franchise upright, and it will also allow Eric Pears to slide over to his more natural position of ORT.   Although he struggled down the stretch with pass protection, Pears acquitted himself fairly well for a rookie put in a difficult position.  Hopefully he will continue to improve with a year of experience under his belt, and this TC will give him a chance to start establishing himself at his proper spot.   Camp will also give us our first look at Ryan Harris, the prospective future at the all-important left tackle position.   Harris won’t play this year barring injury, but he needs to take full advantage of the offseason to make sure he’s as ready as possible if called on–playing in a pro-style offense under Charlie Weiss should give him a jump on the playbook, but he really needs to hit the weights hard.
Adam Meadows is an adequate vet who won’t be overworked in TC.   Jacob Rogers was picked in the 3rd round out of USC a few years ago, but never did much in dallas.  He’ll get another shot here, although he’ll have to impress to beat out Meadows–which is something i’m actually hoping to see.  Meadows is a more proven and reliable player, but I simply don’t trust his body to hold up for any length of time if he’s forced to start (dude already retired once because of injury, and couldn’t make it through two games last year).
Doug Nienhuis has some potential, but looks like a longshot to make the team at this point. . . still, don’t just pencil Meadows in as the 4th tackle, or Pears as the starter–there’ll be some competition for those spots. 

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Matt Lepsis!  His loss was one of the main factors that sunk our season last year, and his ability to return to pre-injury form is one of the keys to this season.   I don’t think we have another tackle on the roster who’s close to Lepsis at the critical OLT spot.  If he isn’t 100%, we could be in trouble.   As I said, the early signs are good, but i’ll keep my fingers crossed until I see him doing it in live action.

BEST POSITION BATTLE:

Pears vs. Meadows for the starting ORT spot.   It’s age and experience against youth and raw ability.  I want the best man to win the job, but I’m hoping that Pears earns it.   Consistency is very important on the line, and Meadows obviously isn’t the future there–I’d rather see us start fresh with a new right side that can grow together instead of plugging in a stop-gap.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

1. Matt Lepsis
2. Erik Pears
3. Adam Meadows
4. Ryan Harris

GUARDS / CENTERS

OVERVIEW:

With at least two spots open on the offensive line, this is the most wide open things have been going into camp in a while.  And the fiercest battle promises to be at the ORG position.  Second-year player Chris Kuper and free-agent acquisition Montrae Holland are considered the front-runners for the job, but youngsters Chris Myers and Greg Eslinger will also be in the mix.

Early reports from PFW indicate that the coaching staff loves Kuper’s size and athletic ability, and would like to see him win the starting job.  Montrae Holland is the hardest player to predict.  He is considerably bigger than the traditional broncos O-linemen, and it remains to be seen if he has the mobility to succeed in the ZBS.  He also lacks the advantage of familiarity with our scheme and playbook that the other prime candidates for the spot have.   Myers has waited a few years for a chance to make an impact, and Eslinger is coming off a great season in NFLE.  This could be one of the most hotly-contested positions on the team, which is quite beneficial IMO.   These same players will most likely also be competing for the backup spots on the interior of the line, which will intensify things even more.

I also feel that, after a subpar season, Ben Hamilton isn’t entirely safe as the starting OLG.  I do believe that the job is still his to lose, but if he doesn’t play well in camp and the preseason, Myers or Eslinger could mount a challenge for the starting spot on the left side.  With all the centers on the roster, it will also be interesting to see how the depth chart breaks down behind Nalen. 

Denver also added guards Emmanuel Akah and Kevin McAlmont from NFL Europe, and center Mark Fenton of CU as an undrafted rookie free agent.  These players are facing long odds to actually make the team, but the fact that they were brought in (along with Tim Duckworth–who was already cut) may indicate that the team is looking for a developmental type to groom for the future.  IMO, Fenton seems like a good candidate for the practice squad.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Chris Kuper–I trust the PFW report the most, but I’ve also heard one or two other rumors that the front office is very high on Kuper, and it seems to me that he may get the first shot to replace Cooper Carlisle. Kuper has a little better size and base strength than the guards we’re used to working with, which would be a welcome addition to the line.  In last year’s preseason action, I thought he generated the most movement in the running game of any of our backup linemen.  He has the potential to turn into the kind of powerful straight-ahead drive blocker you need in short-yardage situations–the kind of guy we really haven’t had since ‘Stink’ hung ’em up.

BEST POSITION BATTLE:

Obviously, this is the open competition at right guard. . .

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

1. Ben Hamilton
2. Chris Kuper
3. Mike Myers

1. Tom Nalen
2. Greg Eslinger

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That wraps up today’s installment of Dogfish’s Camp Preview.  Tomorrow, he will cover the other side of the line as he takes on the Defensive Line. 

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