Denver Broncos: Investigating the True Impact of Ryan Clady's Injury

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Denver Broncos: Investigating the True Impact of Ryan Clady's Injury
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Ryan Clady of 2015 is nothing like the Ryan Clady of 2010, but his ACL tear will still impact the Denver Broncos.

Clady's unfortunate knee injury during OTAs marks the second season-ending injury suffered by a Bronco this offseason, and this one will hurt. Clady was a Pro Bowl left tackle last year and has been a consistently stellar player for many years.

So it will hurt not to have him around. However, the Broncos have the talent on the line to withstand this major loss.

First of all, they have Chris Clark, who did an admirable job filling in for Clady in 2013. He earned a plus-14.1 grade on Pro Football Focus (subscription required) while filling in for Clady at left tackle. At a mere 290 pounds, the athletic Clark is a great fit for new head coach Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme.

However, Clark struggled at right tackle last year, showing that he's best suited on the left side. Even though he hasn't played in a zone-blocking scheme, he has the tools to be successful.

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The team also brought back right tackle Ryan Harris. Harris was drafted by the Broncos a year before Clady and played under current offensive coordinator Rick Dennison for two years and under Kubiak in Houston for two more.

Harris' performance was comparable to Clady's last year; in fact, he actually earned a higher grade on PFF. In Denver's zone-blocking scheme, he could be even better.

In 2008, Harris earned a stellar plus-11.6 grade. Weighing in at only 292 pounds, Harris lacks the frame to thrive in a power-blocking scheme, but he has the athleticism Kubiak is looking for in Denver's offense.

Clady is also a better fit for the zone-blocking scheme, and he would have thrived under Kubiak at left tackle. But Clady is more scheme-diverse at a solid 316 pounds, so Harris would appear to benefit more from Denver's scheme.

However, the Broncos can't just slide Harris in at left tackle to solve their problem. While he posted great numbers in Denver and did well under Kubiak in Houston and Kansas City, those numbers came at right tackle. He has played sparingly at left tackle.

The Broncos could put Harris at left tackle, but it sounds like that's not the plan. According to Mike Klis of 9News Broncos, the initial plan is to put rookie Ty Sambrailo at left tackle and leave Clark at right tackle.

I believe that Harris will end up at right tackle, but the main point of Klis' article is that Sambrailo will enter training camp as the left tackle. That should concern Peyton Manning.

Sure, Sambrailo is an extremely athletic prospect who fits well in Denver's scheme. But even at 311 pounds, he lacks the functional strength to be an effective left tackle. 

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This seems like a fixable issue, but simply adding strength to his frame is very different from applying that strength on the field. Also, Sambrailo is a rookie, and, according to ESPN's Jeff Legwold, he's had trouble dealing with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in Denver's OTAs. He's smart, but he has a lot to learn.

The Broncos have one more reasonable option in Michael Schofield. However, Schofield was an overlooked third-round pick last year who has no real experience, so he's probably only going to fill a depth role.  

In my opinion, Harris should start at right tackle, and Clark is the best option at left tackle. Neither is in Clady's league, but both can keep Manning upright for the most part.

On the contrary, if the Broncos end up starting Sambrailo and he lets one guy past him, it could end Manning's career.

The Broncos will be fine if they start the veterans in accordance with Manning's shrinking championship window. But if they don't, the blindside, career-ending hit on Denver's aging quarterback would become a real possibility.

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