ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ offensive line has resembled both a carousel and a turnstile. The only constant has been center Matt Paradis, who has played every snap this season.
“He’s the rock,” left tackle Ryan Harris said of his line mate who was cut in camp as a rookie and spent all of last season toiling on Denver’s practice squad for a coaching staff that was loathe to give young O-linemen an opportunity.
Before that, he was a walk-on at Boise State after playing eight-man football at Council High School in Idaho, where he only got a breather on kickoffs.
“I think he played more football games against cows than humans when he first started out,” cracked Harris. “But he’s found a way to adapt and change his game.”
Coach Gary Kubiak’s philosophy of bridging the gap between the starters and backups by giving the second-stringers more snaps in the offseason paid off in a big way for Paradis. Once he got the chance, he never came out, supplanting free agent acquisition Gino Gradkowski in training camp.
Paradis snapped on every one of Denver’s 1,108 offensive plays this season and all 73 possible special teams snaps.
That proved a godsend for a line that lost two left tackles to IR, rotated its right tackles at times and plugged in rookie Max Garcia for both Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez with the Pro Bowl guards beset by nagging injuries all season.
“The most impressive thing is just his work ethic,” Harris said. “He works just as hard as any guy on this team and the way he works, you’d think he’d been a pro for five, six years. But I just know being at tackle and being his line mate, his confidence and his communications are in another realm from the beginning of the year.
“And that’s a big reason we’ve started to pick up the run game because he’s been doing such a good job of directing the rest of us what to do.”
The Broncos hit the playoffs on a roll offensively, having rushed for a season-best 210 yards against San Diego in Week 17. Peyton Manning’s left foot is finally healthy enough for him to line up under center rather than in the shotgun all the time, which opens up the ground game and the play-action opportunities for Denver.
The soft-spoken center has snapped to all three of his quarterbacks in games this year and he’ll be working with Manning again when the top-seeded Broncos (12-4) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) in the AFC divisional playoff round Sunday.
“I’m just trying to do my job,” Paradis said. “I mean, just trying to stay healthy and do my job. It’s been a lot more fun getting to play compared to last year.”
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said Paradis’ rise from bottom rung on the roster to anchor of the O-line hasn’t been a surprise.
“His mannerisms and the way he goes about the game is not unlike some guys that have been successful in this building and in this scheme,” Dennison said. “He’s quiet, a quiet leader, has strong hands and then coordinates people up front. Not really that surprised and excited how much more he can get better.”
Paradis has the look of a player who could anchor the position for years to come, much like retired star Tom Nalen did during the previous incarnation of the Broncos’zone-blocking scheme.
“Tommy was an exceptional football player, having coached him. He’s got a long way to go to step into those shoes, but he has some of those traits,” Dennis said.
Paradis might have languished on the scout team last year, but he knows all about stamina and staying on the field. In high school, he only sat out kickoffs. Otherwise, he played offensive guard and defensive tackle.
“So, it’s a lot of plays. But I don’t really think about it,” Paradis said. “I just play football.”
That’s become his mantra.
“Just play football, man,” Paradis concurred, finally cracking a hint of a smile. “That’s what we’re here to do.”