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In this time of transition, the Denver Broncos need leaders to emerge. The team saw a change of philosophies when John Fox and crew were dumped while Gary Kubiak and his mile high men returned to Denver, and their window to win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning is closing quickly.
Yes, Manning is the unquestioned leader of the orange and blue, but the 39-year old quarterback can’t be the only one pushing his teammates on this season if they want to bring home that coveted third Vince Lombardi Trophy.
One of the places with the most major need for leadership is along the offensive line, which has been in an ever-evolving flux for the last few seasons. Those five men paid handsome sums of money to protect Manning and give him time to throw, as well as open holes for the running backs to scamper through, must play as a cohesive unit to thrive.
The man that can bring them together is Ryan Clady.
Clady is the last man standing – like Doc Holliday at the OK Corral in Telluride – he’s the final player who was around during the Mike Shanahan Era. It seems like a lifetime ago that Shanny was strolling the sidelines in agony – two coaching staffs removed, in fact – and yet Clady is still with the team. Since his selection with the No. 12 pick overall in 2012, Clady has been named to four Pro Bowls and twice been named All-Pro. He started the first 80 games of his career before being injured two games into the 2013 season, then bounced back with another solid campaign last season.
Of course, it was easy to see the Broncos were dominated by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on the offensive line, a game in which Clady couldn’t compete. Since his injury, the team has been scrambling to put together a consistent group of starters and struggled.
Clady is the glue, playing the all-important left tackle spot. Newly signed veteran guard Shelley Smith should start at left guard in 2015, with Manny Ramirez at center for a second straight season, Louis Vazquez moving back to his natural right guard position from tackle and Ryan Harris is in line to start at right tackle. Of course, there are other youngsters – like guard Ben Garland out of Air Force and tackle Paul Cornick – who could push their way into the starting five, creating even more need for a veteran voice to step up and take control.
It needs to be Clady. Sure, he can lead by example as the most talented player in the trenches, but he should also take control in a verbal manner, lessening the load on Manning’s aging shoulders. If someone false starts, Clady should jump on them and tell them to get their head in the game. He rarely commits penalties and can speak from a position of power in that respect among his peers.
And with the newcomer Smith next to him at guard, Clady’s going to have to help expedite the learning process anyway if the Broncos want to win as many games as possible and ultimately a Super Bowl in this, likely Manning’s final season in the NFL.
So why not take the reins of the entire group? It will better the offense and improve the team overall in their quest for Lombardi.