Jack Dempsey/Associated Press file photo
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press file photo
Ever since college, Louis Vasquez has managed to keep a low profile despite his 6-4 frame.
The new Denver Broncos’ right guard has a penchant for avoiding penalties and keeping his quarterback upright. He only committed one infraction in college – he says it was a bad call, of course – and he had one more in his four years with the San Diego Chargers, and that came on a field goal.
At 330 pounds, he’s also adept at anchoring the pocket and keeping his quarterback clean, having allowed an average of just 2.75 sacks a season in the NFL, according to STATS.
That, along with his terrific technique, is what made him so attractive to Broncos front office chief John Elway, who has spent his offseason trying to surround Peyton Manning with players who can help him win the next Super Bowl.
Free agency was barely 20 minutes old when Vasquez put his signature on a four-year, $23.5 million deal last week that made him the vanguard of Denver’s $65.5 million offseason splurge.
Vasquez said he sought the counsel of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and former teammate Kris Dielman before deciding on Denver – without so much as a visit to the Rocky Mountains.
“No, just from what I know about the team and just from playing against Denver twice a year when I was in San Diego, I knew what I was going into, and it was a pretty easy decision,” Vasquez said.
Playing for one quarterback icon and alongside another, he said, made it a no-brainer.
“It’s hard to fathom. You grow up watching these guys, and then you actually have a chance to play for one of the greats and play under one of the top ones, too, as well,” Vasquez said, shaking his head. “It’s like a childhood dream. If somebody would have told me 10 years ago, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a Denver Bronco playing for John Elway and Peyton Manning,’ I would’ve said, ‘You’re out of your mind.”’
The Broncos are counting on the additions of Vasquez and wide receiver Wes Welker – a fellow Texas Tech alum – to help them put their no-huddle offense into turbo drive as new offensive coordinator Adam Gase desires.
Vasquez can’t wait.
“It’s in my roots,” he said.
Wednesday marked the 1-year anniversary of Manning’s arrival in Denver, a wildly successful 12 months save for that stinging, double-overtime loss to Baltimore in the playoffs and a few too many hits on the four-time MVP quarterback who turns 37 on Sunday.
Manning was sacked 21 times in his first season in Denver, his highest total since 2006, but only twice with Chris Kuper in the lineup at right guard. Trouble is, Kuper spent more time on the sideline than on the football field last season.
Although Manny Ramirez – Vasquez’s college teammate – admirably filled in, the offensive line wasn’t the same without Kuper, who made just six starts at right guard because of various injuries last season.
Kuper needed another operation this offseason to repair another break in his lower left fibula, but this one wasn’t as complex as the surgery he needed after a severe ankle dislocation during the final game of 2011 caused multiple breaks in his fibula and tore several ligaments.
With three other lineman coming off surgeries this winter, notably Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady (shoulder), the Broncos’ top priority was patching up Manning’s protection.
“We needed help there. We couldn’t sit there and hope that everybody came back healthy. I’m not sure that would have been the wisest thing for us to do,” coach John Fox said, adding, “We should have good competition there. I’m just hopeful that Kupe comes back healthy.”
If he does, it’s likely that Kuper will compete with left guard Zane Beadles, who played in the Pro Bowl last month. Kuper also was invited to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but he couldn’t go because of his impending operation.
Fox said he’s not sure how things will shake out along the O-line, but he’s confident Vasquez is “a good piece of the puzzle.”
Vasquez almost never gets noticed on the field because he so rarely gets flagged by the officials or beaten by defenders. That’s a rare combination even at guard because a lot of times, linemen who get beaten by their defender grab hold of him and draw the whistle rather than let their quarterback get creamed.
Vasquez swears it’s not sleight of hand but good, old-fashioned discipline that makes him one of the league’s least-penalized offensive linemen.
“I do take pride in it,” he said. “It just becomes part of growing as a football player and knowing what you can and can’t do. It’s just going out and playing clean, hard-nosed football.”
Vasquez couldn’t quite recall the one time he was flagged in an NFL game until someone jogged his memory, reminding him it came on a field goal attempt, of all things.
He only remembers getting one flag thrown his way in college, too.
“That was against Texas my sophomore year,” he said. And that one still bothers him.
“Of course I would say it was a bad call,” Vasquez said. “The offensive coaches said the same thing, and at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters – what the coaches think.”
In that case, he’s got a big fan in his new head coach.
“He’s a big, powerful man,” Fox said. “He’s a stout guy in pass protection, and you’re trying to funnel that pocket around that quarterback, and to do that, you have to be pretty stout inside.”