McDaniels beefs up O-line with newcomers
Knowshon Moreno, the first tailback selected in last year's NFL draft, never seemed to find a rhythm as a rookie, failing repeatedly to move the chains in short-yardage situations.
Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels insists it wasn't Moreno's fault.
He defended his first-ever 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 Broncos 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 slated to start Sunday at Jacksonville along with guard Stanley Daniels, who was claimed off waivers from Green Bay this year.
Walton and Beadles are both 305 pounds and Daniels is 320.
Hamilton, 33, who signed with Seattle, weighs 290 pounds. Wiegmann, 37, who returned to Kansas City in 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 draft class in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
He 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.
Although Moreno rushed for 947 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 28 passes for 213 yards and two TDs 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 on 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.
All-Pro Ryan Clady (325) blew out his left knee 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.
Right guard Chris Kuper (303), 27, is the elder statesman as he enters his fifth season in Denver. He missed time in the preseason with an ankle injury but is back in the lineup.
And right tackle Ryan Harris (300) - the ''lightest'' of Denver's offensive linemen, sprained his left ankle in the preseason finale in Minneapolis last week. He's missed practice all week, meaning the Broncos will more than likely feature three offensive linemen in Walton, Beadles and Daniels who will be taking their first NFL snaps Sunday.
In that case, the line will average 24 1/2 years and 312 pounds, much to McDaniels' liking.
AP Sports Writers Doug Tucker in Kansas City and Tim Booth in Seattle contributed.