COMMENTARY | Five days into training camp, the Denver Broncos are already facing adversity.
Terrible news came out of Dove Valley on Sunday with reports that center Dan Koppen had torn his ACL. Koppen, 33, was projected to be the starting center this season and started 12 games for the Broncos in 2012.
With Koppen out for the year, the Broncos now have a serious obstacle to overcome
"That's the Catch-22 any coach goes through any time of year," Fox told reporters. "You're getting ready for the season and you need to get into pads because you've got to get in shape, and yet you're still trying to make sure you've got enough guys to battle with."
Koppen was a pleasant surprise last season, being signed in Week 2 to provide additional depth. The 11-year center soon got his chance to start after JD Walton suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Koppen thrived, quickly finding a rhythm with Peyton Manning -- just as he did with Tom Bray for 10 seasons in New England.
His absence this year will be felt. Injury concerns to the offensive line were problematic before Koppen's injury. Walton, who had started 36 games with the Broncos, still hasn't recovered from the ankle injury that he suffered last season. Walton required additional surgery in the offseason and is expected to miss at least until late October. There is also a possibility he misses the entire season.
The offensive line is suddenly the biggest question mark for a team that had one of the best rosters in the NFL. Along with injuries to Koppen and Walton, there are two other quality linemen trying to get healthy. Left tackle Ryan Clady and right guard Chris Kuper are expected to be back by the regular season, but both had surgery this offseason.
Clady, who recently signed a 5-year, $52 million extension, had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. So far, he's been limited in training camp. He's expected to be fine, yet there are still question marks surrounding him. Will truly be at full strength and be able to protect Manning?
Meanwhile, Kuper is a bigger mystery. Kuper missed eight games last season with an ankle injury and had additional surgery to fix it. The Broncos designated him to the physically unable to perform list before training camp opened. There's also a chance Kuper, scheduled to make $4.5 million in 2013, becomes a cap casualty.
However, even if Kuper and Clady fully recover, the depth behind Koppen is extremely limited. Third-year center Manny Ramirez is now the projected starter. Ramirez started 11 games at right guard last season. He was easily the Broncos' biggest weakness on the offensive line and signed Louis Vasquez as a much needed upgrade.
Ramirez is now the line's biggest weakness again. This time it's under center, where he'll need to have perfect communication with the game's most experienced quarterback.
The Broncos also signed Steve Vallos, a journeyman center that has been with four teams in five years. He will back up Ramirez, which at the moment doesn't seem to encourage any Broncos fan. There's also second-year center Phillip Blake to provide depth, although Blake struggled to the point where he was put on the practice squad last season.
The team is doing its best to fill the void. Will it be enough?
Matthew Paras is a Journalism Major at DePaul University. He writes for multiple outlets, including Maxboxing.com, Operationsports.com, and DePaul's student newspaper, The DePaulia. He can be reached by email at Mparas1432@gmail.com or on twitter @Matthew_Paras. He currently resides in Chicago, but lived in Littleton, Colo. for seven years.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Dan Koppen
- Denver Broncos
- Chris Kuper