Denver's linemen break silence, vow to get better

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Orlando Franklin ambled into the locker room Thursday and loudly announced, ''I'm available to talk about the situation.''

It was the start of an extraordinary half hour in the Denver Broncos' locker room where the offensive linemen cling to vestiges of the old code of silence that former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs introduced in the 1980s.

One by one, each member of the Broncos' usually quiet O-line chimed in on the criticism that's being piled upon them for failing to protect Peyton Manning or get the ground game going, which threatens to derail their Super Bowl dreams.

-Franklin, still getting used to playing left guard after three years at right tackle, said he doesn't care about the scathing critique from Mark Schlereth. The ESPN analyst and ex-Broncos Pro Bowl O-lineman said this week that Denver's front five was so horrendous that ''if I was grading, giving an F would be kind.''

-Will Montgomery, who slid in at center two weeks ago as the centerpiece of Denver's wholesale changes up front, said he doesn't pay any attention to what's being said outside the building but was confident the front five can get the team back on track starting Sunday.

-Ryan Clady, who's dealing with a strained groin, said his surgically repaired left foot that sidelined him almost all of last season feels great. He stressed the O-line realizes righting the ship starts up front because ''if we go, the team goes.''

-Louis Vasquez, the All-Pro right guard who's been moved to right tackle, said while changes are tough ''especially in the middle of the season, I'll take it as a complement that the coaches believe and trust in me to get out on the edge and get the job done.''

-Manny Ramirez, who's moved from center to right guard, said the reconfigured O-line was a work in progress but he appreciated Manning's vote of confidence a day earlier.

Manning defended his O-line, pointing out the difficulty in switching the group midstream.

''Certainly,'' Manning replied when asked if this front five was good enough to win. ''It's not easy forming chemistry in just two weeks in the middle of the season, right? What is that, just a handful of practices they've had together? You'd like for an offensive line to have a minicamp and a training camp to go through together, but ... we're having to form that chemistry on the run.''

Franklin said: ''You don't just create chemistry in two weeks as an offensive line. It's not going to be like that.''

The Broncos have seen 38 runs go for zero gain or negative yards, their O-line has been penalized 31 times and although Manning's been sacked a league-low 11 times, three have come on three-man rushes.

The heat was turned up high after the Broncos' 22-7 loss at St. Louis on Sunday in which Manning threw 54 passes and handed off just nine times.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who one week earlier criticized into his offensive linemen for their poor play, took a more contrite tone Thursday, saying he could help them with better play-calling.

''The first thing I can do is run the ball more,'' Gase said, ''giving them more of a chance and allowing those guys to tee off a little bit instead of being on their heels so much.''

Another thing that could help is the return of Virgil Green, whose three-game absence with a strained calf has coincided with the offensive line's dive.

Franklin said no matter what's called or who's in there or who's saying what, the O-line has to get it done.

''At the end of the day, this is the NFL. You're at the top of your game. You do what you're told in this league,'' he said. ''They pay us a lot of money. They compensate us very well in order for us to go out there whether you're going to throw the ball 100 percent of the time or run the ball every time. That's our job to get it done.''

The Broncos knew there would be growing pains when they chose to make wholesale changes up front rather than try to help the O-linemen out schematically by inserting another tight end or running back into the formations.

Gase said it was a matter of getting his best five linemen on the field.

''Right now, I feel good about it,'' he said. ''I know we're getting better. ... I think we are going to start moving forward here in these last six games.''

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