The offensive line for the Denver Broncos hasn't been the greatest over the past few seasons, though some of the problem has been inconsistent starters resulting from various injury issues across the line. The team seems to be headed in that direction again for this season, too, if Wednesday's worst-case scenario regarding center J.D. Walton comes true.
Walton missed the majority of last season after suffering a broken ankle in Week 4, and seemed to be healthy heading into this season. On Monday, though, the center was forced to undergo an additional surgery on his left ankle to replace some of the hardware from the original surgery. Walton had participated in a limited basis during the Broncos' minicamp last week.
The Broncos tweeted that they expect Walton to be out until mid-October, but Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post reports a significantly different timetable. If Walton is indeed forced to miss what would essentially amount to a second consecutive season, the Broncos -- and particularly Peyton Manning -- could be in trouble this season.
The Broncos aren't known for having a ton of depth on the offensive line as is and, if Walton is out, there isn't a lot of hope for a team that will also see starters Chris Kuper and Ryan Clady coming back from injury. Clady is also holding out, which certainly doesn't help matters.
Denver isn't entering unfamiliar territory with the Walton injury because, unfortunately, the team has dealt with similar circumstances with Kuper over the past few seasons. Kuper suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in the final game of the Broncos' 2011 season and has had multiple surgeries on it since, the most recent coming this year. (Like Walton, Kuper was also unable to participate in the Broncos offseason program).
The Broncos re-signed Dan Koppen to fill-in for Walton on Thursday afternoon -- something suggested by our friends over at Mile High Report.
I expect this will re-spark the Broncos' interest in free agent Dan Koppen, who filled in for Walton admirably as Denver's starting center last year. Manny Ramirez has been playing first-team center in Walton's absence in offseason workouts, but other interesting in-house options include moving Chris Kuper or Philip Blake over to center.
Bringing in Koppen — a player that might not be the most talented option, but obviously would enter the role comfortably and with the know-how necessary to lead a line in front of Manning — is probably the best option for the Broncos going forward.
In short, the Broncos will have flexibility, even if their timetable doesn't work out as well as they optimistically project. Whether or not the aging Manning feels confident on the Broncos in-house options. It's clear that the Broncos' offensive-line play might not be hurting as much as their individual offensive players have been over the past couple of seasons.