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A Fine Line

Denver's line -- which includes a rookie left tackle -- hasn't allowed sack in three games

December 14, 2008|Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, COLO. — Broncos rookie left tackle Ryan Clady shies away from the spotlight, scramming when the cameras come too close.

That pretty much holds true for the rest of the Broncos' offensive line. They don't seek attention, preferring to be left alone to quietly go about their business of keeping Jay Cutler safe and secure.

They're doing fine work, not allowing a sack in three straight games -- the first time Denver's line has done that since 1995.

"We could be playing better," left guard Ben Hamilton said.

Really?

The line is giving up the lowest sack percentage per pass play in the NFL -- and Cutler does sling it around quite a bit.

"That stat is deceptive," Hamilton countered. "Jay has done a good job of getting out of bad situations. That's helped us also."

See, they don't want notoriety, only seclusion.

"We're just doing our job," right guard Chris Kuper nonchalantly said.

They've allowed just eight sacks, despite having two tackles, Clady and Ryan Harris, in their first year of starting.

Clady is even getting some consideration for the Pro Bowl, something Cutler would like to see happen.

"We knew that he was going to be good. You just don't expect a rookie to be able to step in there and play at that level right away and as consistently as he's been," Cutler said. "Ryan Clady definitely deserves consideration."

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Clady has a tough assignment this Sunday at Carolina, drawing the responsibility of stopping Julius Peppers.

Not that he's worried. The Boise State product doesn't rattle, nor does he show much emotion.

Or does he?

"He definitely shows his emotion," Harris said.

Like when?

"If he doesn't want to show you, I'm not going to tell you," Harris said, smiling. "But we have a lot of fun."

The line suffered a blow in training camp when center Tom Nalen had trouble with a balky left knee, leading to his placement on injured reserve.

No worries, veteran Casey Wiegmann stepped in. The 13-year lineman out of Iowa has now taken 7,855 straight snaps, a streak that began in 2001.

Following Wiegmann's lead, the entire line has taken every offensive snap so far this season.

"We know we have to stay healthy to help this team," Harris said.

The line had a litany of ailments last season, losing Hamilton to a concussion and Nalen after he tore his right biceps. It forced the Broncos to juggle things around, opening the way for Kuper to get some experience.

When Matt Lepsis announced his retirement after the 2007 season, the Broncos drafted Clady, and coach Mike Shanahan quickly anointed him as his starter at left tackle.

Clady hasn't disappointed, giving up just 0.5 sacks as he furiously protects Cutler's backside. He's been largely left on an island as well, receiving little help from a back or a tight end.

"I think I'm progressively getting better," Clady said. "I've still got some work to do and it's not perfect."

That's the mantra of all the linemen -- keep working, get better.

"You can't settle for anything or be satisfied with anything," said Kuper, who's yet to allow a sack this season. "There's definitely stuff I can do to be better and more consistent. There's always room for improvement."

Like in the running game, where the Broncos rank a pedestrian 16th in the league.

Then again, the Broncos have gone through a bevy of backs this season, with rookie Peyton Hillis becoming the latest to get hurt, tearing his right hamstring against Kansas City.

Hillis became the fifth different tailback to go on injured reserve, joining Andre Hall, Michael Pittman, Anthony Alridge and Ryan Torain. Selvin Young, the starter when the season began, has carried the ball just once in the last two months because of a torn groin.

That leaves only three healthy backs -- Tatum Bell, Cory Boyd and P.J. Pope.

None of the backs knows who's starting Sunday. Not that it matters to the offensive line. Their job is to open holes, no matter who's running.

"Whatever the task, no matter how many Pro Bowlers we may face, we're up for it," Harris said. "We want to play well and help this team win. If we play well, good things will happen."

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