Denver O-line becomes Oh-no line

Tuesday, October 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ The overachieving group has taken its share of shots over the years: Too small. Too light. Too inexperienced.

After committing seven penalties while being overmatched by the Seattle Seahawks defense, the Denver Broncos offensive line took its biggest shot to date.

``That was not the kind of offensive line that we normally put out on the field,'' Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Monday. ``It was the worst showing that we've had since I've been here by an offensive line.''

When they weren't being flagged for false starts, grabbing a facemask or holding, the Denver offensive line was often being pushed around by the Seahawks, who sacked Brian Griese three times Sunday and held the Broncos to 92 yard rushing in Sunday's 34-21 victory.

The final insult, and injury, of the day came when a defensive end squashed Griese just as he released a throw. The hit aggravated Griese's sore right throwing shoulder and could prevent him from playing Sunday at San Diego.

``For our offensive line to play like that, I was disappointed,'' Shanahan said. ``They played harder than we did. That kind of sums it up very quickly.''

Since Shanahan took over in 1995, the offensive line has always been a source of pride while protecting John Elway and opening holes for a 1,000-yard rusher in six straight seasons.

The consistent production was crucial to Denver's consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1997 and 1998, and provided a sense of wonderment because the Broncos offense thrived behind a mix of low-round draft picks.

A key part of the formula changed this year, however, when longtime offensive line coach Alex Gibbs decided to cut back his hours this season.

Gibbs, a fiery leader who rarely came up to his players' shoulder pads, still helps the Broncos with game plans during the week but returns to Phoenix for the games.

Shanahan would not use Gibbs as an excuse for the line's poor play against the Seahawks, and running back Olandis Gary warned about making any snap judgments.

``Those guys, you can't judge them on one game,'' said Gary, who ran for 1,159 yards as a rookie in 1999. ``They've been doing so well so long, they're a great offensive line. We just have to go out and tinker with some things and hunker down and get the ship righted.''

So what do the offensive linemen have to say about their uncharacteristic Seattle flop? Not much.

Talking to the media during the week is liable to draw a fine in the line's kangaroo court, and Monday was no different for the Orange Hush.

Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen tried to appoint Lennie Friedman or Matt Lepsis or Dan Neil or Trey Teague as spokesmen Monday. Like Denver's blocking against Seattle, he was unsuccessful, leaving the line with a collective, ``No comment.''

``Write whatever you want. You're going to punk us anyway,'' Nalen said.

Nalen symbolizes Denver's philosophy when it comes to grooming offensive linemen. He was a seventh-round draft pick who has blossomed into a two-time All-Pro selection.

Teague also was a seventh-round pick and Neil a third-rounder, while Lepsis went undrafted after playing tight end for Colorado in college.

David Diaz-Infante, a reserve who can play just about any position on the line, is the senior member of the group. He was part of Denver's back-to-back title run and had few answers for the line's play in Seattle.

``We kind of shot ourselves in the foot,'' he said. ``It's frustrating in that sense.''

There wasn't much else to say. Sunday's performance already spoke volumes.