Unhappy with last year's O-line, Broncos bring in beef

Knowshon Moreno, the first running back selected in last year's NFL draft, never seemed to find a rhythm as a rookie, repeatedly failing to move the chains in short-yardage situations.

Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels insists it wasn't Moreno's fault.

McDaniels defended his first Denver draft pick by suggesting "we had some linemen up front that aren't here anymore that were light, weak, old," an unusually candid criticism of former Broncos Ben Hamilton and Casey Wiegmann, especially considering the team will face both of them this season.

A lot was made of McDaniels beefing up his defensive line with the free-agent additions of Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan and Jarvis Green -- who was waived last week -- but the Broncos also bulked up their offensive line this offseason.

McDaniels drafted guard/tackle Zane Beadles of Utah in the second round and center J.D. Walton of Baylor in the third round. Both are scheduled to start Sunday at Jacksonville along with guard Stanley Daniels, who was claimed off waivers from the Green Bay Packers this year.

Walton and Beadles are both 305 pounds, and Daniels is 320.

Hamilton, 33, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks, weighs 290 pounds. Wiegmann, 37, who returned to the Kansas City Chiefs during the offseason, weighs 285.

Both are on the smaller side nowadays, as NFL linemen typically top 300 pounds. Both were good fits in the Broncos' old zone-blocking system but not so much in McDaniels' power-based scheme.

McDaniels made his remarks about his former linemen while discussing his first Denver draft class in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

The coach said he expected more out of that group this season, including pass rusher Robert Ayers, tight end Richard Quinn and also Moreno, the University of Georgia star who was taken with the 12th overall pick.

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Although Moreno rushed for 947 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 28 passes for 213 yards and two TDs during his rookie season, he repeatedly came up short in short yardage, and his per-carry average was a run-of-the-mill 3.8 yards.

Even last year, McDaniels placed the blame on his offensive line, which was a hybrid of both systems as the Broncos moved away from the synchronized movement of the zone-blocking scheme to the man-on-man power method that McDaniels prefers.

Asked if Moreno's health had anything to do with his struggles in short yardage last year -- he injured a knee on his first series of the preseason last year -- McDaniels said, "I think he was fine."

"Again, he ran for 950 yards or whatever it was and split time with another back (Correll Buckhalter), you know," McDaniels said. "And we had some linemen up front that aren't here anymore that were light, weak, old, and he made some of the most spectacular 1- and 2-yard runs you'll ever see in the NFL, so hopefully we can get him started and get him going a little better this year."

Asked about McDaniels' quote, Hamilton, whose Seahawks visit Denver next week, refused to comment.

Wiegmann -- who returned to AFC West rival Kansas City as a free agent this offseason after two years in Denver, which included a Pro Bowl appearance following the 2008 season -- didn't seem bitter or upset when told of McDaniels' comments.

"It is what it is. That's the way they believe. They can think what they think," Wiegmann said matter-of-factly. "I mean, I've been playing the game for 15 years for a reason. So if he didn't like me, that's fine. There's 31 other jobs out there. That's why I'm here in Kansas City now."

Wiegmann said he wasn't surprised by McDaniels' comments.

"That's what they told me when they called me and said they were going to release me, that they were going to go with a bigger offensive line, a more powerful running game," Wiegmann said. "And that's what they did. They drafted two guys. So be it."

Despite the changes, the Broncos are full of questions up front and in the backfield as they head into their opener.

Moreno again missed most of training camp after injuring his right hamstring an hour into the first workout Aug. 1, and he didn't play in the preseason. He has, however, practiced all this week.

The Broncos' new, younger, heavier line has been in a state of flux all offseason:

»Ryan Clady, a 325-pound All-Pro left tackle, blew out his left knee while playing basketball in April and returned to action last week, a relatively quick recovery from a torn patellar tendon. He's not even listed on the injury report this week, although his snaps will be closely monitored Sunday in the heat and humidity.

»Ryan Harris, a 300-pound right tackle who has a sprained left ankle, is questionable for Sunday's game. Doctors cleared Harris to play this preseason after his 2009 season was cut short by a dislocated right big toe, which he suffered during the Broncos' Nov. 1 game at Baltimore. He missed five games, then aggravated the injury during the first quarter of a Dec. 6 game at Kansas City -- just 10 snaps into his return. Medical tests revealed bone and ligament damage, so the Broncos placed Harris on season-ending injured reserve.

»Chris Kuper, a 303-pound right guard, is the elder statesman at 27 as he enters his fifth season in Denver. He missed time during the preseason with an ankle injury, but he's back in the lineup.

» Right tackle Ryan Harris -- at 300 pounds the "lightest" of Denver's offensive linemen -- sprained his left ankle during the preseason finale at Minnesota last week. He has missed practice all week, meaning the Broncos will more than likely feature three offensive linemen in Walton, Beadles and Daniels who will take their first NFL snaps Sunday.

In that case, the Broncos' line will average 24½ years and 312 pounds, much to McDaniels' liking.

Meanwhile, McDaniels confirmed that he will activate just two quarterbacks for his 45-man roster Sunday, but a third will suit up as the emergency quarterback, The Denver Post reported. According to The Post, rookie Tim Tebow will back up starting quarterback Kyle Orton, with Brady Quinn as the third-stringer. However, the most recent depth chart has Quinn ahead of Tebow.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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