Ramirez has fended off doubters, d-linemen alike

Manny Ramirez has arguably the toughest job in pro football. As

Peyton Manning’s center, he literally works under the most

demanding quarterback in the NFL.

Not only that, but before this season, the seventh-year

journeyman from Texas Tech hadn’t played a full year at center

since his junior year at Willowridge High School in Houston – way

back in 2000.

With Ramirez as its anchor, the Broncos’ offensive line has

allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL (17), giving Manning time to

throw his record 51 TD passes and plowing the way for Knowshon

Moreno to top 1,000 yards rushing for the first time.

The Broncos (12-3) are 28 points shy of becoming the first

600-point team in history and a win at Oakland (4-11) on Sunday

will secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

”Manny’s been awesome,” Manning said after a Christmas

afternoon practice in pads. ”That is no easy task to go from guard

to center, especially in a sophisticated, fast-moving,

always-changing offense. I think it would be one thing if you knew

what play was going to be called and you had 40 seconds to process

it. But we call one play and change it to the next with five

seconds on the play clock and when we change a play, Manny has to

make his own calls and he has just gotten better each week.”

He’s got the brawn and backbone to match the brains, too,

Manning said.

”I know he has played through a lot of injuries. It speaks to

his toughness,” Manning said. ”He is one of the strongest guys on

our team, so it’s very impressive. I’m not sure people (appreciate

it). I think people in this building understand with the

sophistication of our offense just how difficult his job is and

he’s just been outstanding.”

Ramirez is an unlikely fulcrum for this historic offense,

spending all season casting aside doubters and defensive linemen

alike.

”This summer, I’m hearing all kind of grief about Manny can’t

do this, Manny can’t do that,” offensive line coach Dave Magazu

said. ”Well, I think Manny’s proven all those people wrong.”

Coach John Fox laughs now that nobody seemed to believe him when

he kept saying in the offseason that Ramirez was his starting

center and that he wasn’t just keeping the position warm for J.D.

Walton or Dan Koppen or Ryan Lilja or Steve Vallos or even Chris

Kuper.

Ramirez, whose claim to fame before this season was

bench-pressing a school-record 550 pounds in college, didn’t listen

to the skeptics but he couldn’t help but hear them, either.

”Truthfully, and unfortunately, that’s been my entire life,”

Ramirez said. ”You know, even when I was playing in middle school

and high school, I’ve always had doubters, and that’s fine. That’s

always been motivation for me.”

He’s been proving people wrong since he first starting playing

football.

”Growing up, where I’m from, people aren’t shy to tell you to

your face, `You’re not going to make it. You’re a Mexican, for one

thing. There’s not many Mexicans that play in the league anyways.

You’re not smart enough. If you go to college, you’re going to have

to go to a juco first and then go to college if you get an

opportunity,”’ Ramirez said. ”I don’t know, it’s just some dumb

stuff people were always saying, trying to put me down for whatever

reason it might be. But you’ve just got to put all that to the

side.”

Ramirez started 11 games at right guard for Denver last year,

but free agency was barely 20 minutes old when he got a call from

his old college teammate, Louis Vasquez, informing him he’d just

signed a four-year, $23.5 million deal with the Broncos to play

right guard.

”I was shocked, but at the same time I was excited because

Louie and I got a bond that’s like brothers, so I was happy for

him,” Ramirez said. ”And then my mindset was I’ve just got to

fight for a job.”

The Broncos had a plan in mind for Ramirez.

When Manning began the second chapter of his career in Denver

following the series of neck surgeries that affected his famed

right arm, he rebuilt his throwing motion from the ground up.

No longer does he rely as much on his arm strength so much as he

does on proper mechanics, using more of his hips and torso to

direct his passes and generate speed. So, it’s imperative that he

has room to step into his throws.

That means, the Broncos needed more height and beef in the

middle of their line, and they got it with Vasquez (6-foot-5, 335

pounds) and Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) at guard and Ramirez (6-3, 320)

at center.

”That’s helped us become a little more powerful on the run and

a little stouter on the pass,” Fox said. ”So, those are areas you

try to get better at physically. And then mentally is the thing

that Manny’s done a great job with.

”He’s got a quarterback behind him that’s a pretty demanding

guy and changes and does things on the fly, so you’ve got to be a

sharp guy and you’ve got to earn his trust and he has and done an

excellent job.”

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