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Woody Paige: A Mystery Mammoth must emerge for the Denver Broncos

March 19, 2017 Updated: March 21, 2017 at 6:36 am
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Offensive tackle Ryan Clady (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

During a span of a quarter of a century, the Broncos had Four Horsemen at left tackle. Now, they don't even have a steed to start there.

Thus far, 19 miscellaneous nominees have been mentioned as the Broncos' potential left tackle next season.

Living Legend John Elway reacted agitatedly, but truthfully, a few days ago: "We feel like we have some different options. We're not done yet. Last time I heard we don't go to camp until July, so we don't have to have that (position) fixed just yet. But we'll figure out how to get that done."

Therefore it's possible that, in another 115 days, a dozen more players could be added to the list.

Last year's starter, Russell Okung, has signed with the Santa Rosa Chargers, and 2015 starter Ryan Harris recently announced his retirement. Ryan Clady, who started all 16 regular-season games for the Broncos from 2008-2012 and again in 2014, is available.

The Broncos - and Elway specifically - were very fortunate at that vital "blind side" spot for a protracted period. Since Claudie Minor and I arrived in Denver in 1974, four players manned left tackle - with time off for injury or at right tackle - for a majority of those seasons, a feat rarely achieved in the NFL.

Minor was a major at left tackle after being selected in the third round. He didn't miss a game for six consecutive seasons - four at left tackle sandwiched around two on the right side. His streak ended with a one-game injury absence in 1980. He started 13 in '81 and retired after being out seven games in 1982.

Dave Studdard, drafted ninth by the Baltimore Colts in 1978, was cut and joined the Broncos the following season. He started every game at right tackle across from Minor. In 1983 Studdard transferred to left tackle to support a rookie quarterback - Elway.

For the next seven seasons Studdard was one of Elway's closest friends on and off the field. He played all but three games until a 1988 knee injury ended his career.

Elway was blessed with another great left tackle in 1993 after the Broncos acquired Gary Zimmerman from the Vikings. Zimmerman safeguarded the quarterback and opened holes for running back Terrell Davis until the Broncos won their first Super Bowl. All three have been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Clady was selected 12th overall in the 2008 draft and started all 16 games in his first season. He played in 80 straight, made four Pro Bowls and was named the league's No. 1 offensive tackle.

In September 2013, Clady was placed on season-ending injured reserve because of a Lisfranc injury. He returned in 2014, sat out '15 with a torn ACL, and was traded to the Jets before last season. He tore a rotator cuff in November and didn't play again. The Jets declined to pick up his $10 million contract option.

Clady's possible return to the Broncos is being debated publicly, but the team has expressed no interest (and he interviewed with the Seahawks Friday).

The Broncos' roster currently is comprised of 13 offensive linemen - with left guard Ron Leary and right tackle Menelik Watson signing as free agents - and no definitive starting left tackle.

The Broncos were considered candidates for free agents such as Andrew Whitworth, Kelvin Beachum, Riley Reiff and Matt Kalil, but there was no action. They wanted to downsize Okung's contract and bring him back, but he chose the Chargers.

The cupboard is as bare as Mother Hubbard's.

The princes have disappeared, but King Dunlap, who played for Mike McCoy and new Broncos offensive line coach (and former Broncos starting left tackle) Jeff Davidson in San Diego, is a fresh candidate. There is some sentiment for the Broncos to rethink a trade for the Browns' Joe Thomas or a deal for the 49ers' Joe Staley.

The Broncos still possess those four underachieving offensive linemen they drafted in rounds 2, 3, 4 and 5 in 2014-15-16 - Michael Scofield, Ty Sambrailo, Max Garcia and Connor McGovern. They must get up or get out this year. Only center Matt Paradis has been a remarkable discovery as a sixth rounder in '14.

And the Broncos can pick a left tackle at No. 20 from Ryan Ramcyzk (who is recovering from a torn labrum, and the choice of the mock draft crowd), Garett Bolles (the Mormon on a mission to Colorado Springs, and my preference) or Alabama's Cam Robinson.

A Mystery Mammoth must materialize, as Elway says, by July when the Broncos try to figure out the right left tackle.

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