A forgotten man by many fans, Ty Sambrailo is only a couple months older than Garett Bolles—the newest Denver Broncos first rounder—and after finally having a healthy offseason under his belt, Ty’s come back to being a contender to start at tackle this season.
It’s easy to forget why Sambrailo was a vaunted offensive tackle prospect in his own right coming out of Colorado State in the 2015 NFL Draft. Selected in the late second round by the Broncos, he won the starting left tackle job in training camp for the eventual Super Bowl champions, starting three games before being placed on IR for the remainder of the season.
Since then Sambrailo's NFL career has been tough, marred by injuries and inconsistent play that limited him to only four starts in 2016 with spot appearances in 10 more games. With the selection of Bolles in this year’s draft, and the addition of another former promising second-round tackle in Menelik Watson, the early narrative on the Broncos line told a story that didn’t include Sambrailo in Denver’s plans. Future or present.
Things seem to have changed a bit as the former Ram is in shape this season and has been battling Bolles for the starting left tackle job. While he’s been a source of frustration for fans and analysts in the past, it seems like Sambrailo has a legitimate chance to contribute to Denver’s line, a unit that needs all the help it can get.
With Sambrailo’s return to relevance, it was time to go back and see what he’s done thus far in his pro career. What is there to get excited about and build on? Is there reason to still be skeptical of him playing any significant role in Orange & Blue this season?
As a left tackle in 2015
Ty’s footwork is what got him drafted, it’s what won him the job in 2015, and it’s what really stood out with his play at left tackle.
[caption id="attachment_84679" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Not just his mobility but Sambrailo's awareness in picking up added blitzers stood out in 2015.[/caption]
He did a nice job shadowing opposing edge rushers with his feet and staying steady in his movements not overextending or getting sloppy.
Sambrailo was at his best blocking in shotgun formations when setting wide. Having a plan in place.
His ability to prevent opposing pass rushers (often Terrell Suggs Week 1 or the two Chiefs aces Week 2) from beating him on his outside shoulder was crucial in protecting the blind side. He’d often force defenders onto his inside shoulder where left guard Evan Mathis was crucial in picking up pressure for the young rookie.
Mathis’ play was a pleasant surprise while watching 2015 film. He was great in helping Sambrailo by simply doing his job and picking up the inside rush that the tackle directed his way. Veteran Ronald Leary could have a similar impact in 2017 for the Broncos regardless of who starts at left tackle.
Even as a run blocker, Ty is a nimble mover who can work downhill and shows a willingness to finish blocks.
[caption id="attachment_84680" align="aligncenter" width="640"] While not creating great initial push Ty shows a little nastiness when finishing this block.[/caption]
Though he wasn't used too often in space, he did show the ability to get out on screens or pulls and make big blocks downfield thanks to his movement skills.
It’s clear that Ty has all the athletic gifts necessary to play the position. Has he’s shown the ability to stay with guys like Terell Suggs and Justin Houston among others.
Sambrailo was, of course, still a rookie and his footwork wasn’t always consistent, at times playing off-balance without a wide enough base. When he does play with balance, he’s dynamite. When he doesn’t, he’s a liability.
There are times in pass protection where he’d lean too far forward and would get off balance, allowing opposing defensive linemen to win the leverage battle, get under his pads with their hands, and create pressure with their bull rush.
In the run game, Sambrailo lacked power and often struggled to initiate contact.
Sambrailo has added significant weight with a full healthy offseason that should help him greatly in limiting such struggles.
No. 74 began to struggle when matched up against bigger DL who out leveraged and out muscled him in one-on-one situations. He actually fared better against nimbler rushers like Suggs—interestingly enough, this is an issue Bolles had at Utah as well.
As a rookie, one of the most noticeable weaknesses in Sambrailo’s game was that he didn't use his hands as efficiently as he could. He needs to show more consistent power on his initial punch to jolt lineman back and simply needs to be more of a technician.
He’s frustrating when he gets to the second level as he’ll try to cut-block defenders instead of running them over. He should be a better finisher in space than he is.
He's inconsistent in his ability to create push in the run game. His hips aren't as explosive as some of the other contenders at tackle on the team.
Ty, at times, struggles to re-set his feet or re-anchor his base after initial contact. His feet need to be quicker, and his upper body power gets tested in such instances as he’ll be thrown off balance too easily.
While there were still plenty of areas to work on, Sambrailo played well as a rookie showing enough promise to project as a starter once he cleaned up some technique and became stronger. He showed progress with every start and showed some significant promise in very important areas of the game for an offensive tackle.
Performance at right tackle in 2016
2016 was a different story for Ty, as there really aren’t many strengths to add to his 2015 performance but a few more weak points to be sure.
Probably not himself or fully healthy, Sambrailo was thrown in at right tackle in 2016 as free agent acquisition Donald Stephenson kept struggling. His performance was fairly disappointing.
[caption id="attachment_84683" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Hands, balance, even feet were a struggle at times. 2016 was a year to forget for N. 74.[/caption]
What were the issues?
Sambrailo struggled particularly against Vic Beasly in Week 5 when Paxton Lynch started. Beasly froze him with his stutter-step moves a few times. Once opposing edge rusher understood to keep him off balance he suffered.
Playing on the right side, his awareness wasn’t nearly as good. Whether it was the position change or not having Manning at quarterback, he wasn’t as quick to react to things. He seemed to have his head spinning and did not know where pressure was coming from at times.
Sambrailo also wasn’t nearly as efficient limiting players to his inside shoulder where he had help.
A lack of offseason preparation showed as Sambrailo didn’t have the same sort of movement in space that we saw in 2015.
Ty simply didn’t seem to have a well-thought-out plan of attack like he did in 2015. He also didn’t have an experienced guard by his side, nor did he have as much help in the form of added blockers to his side.
Simply put, he seemed to regress, and it was much more than just personnel changes or playing on the right side.
Summing it up
To put things into context, Sambrailo plays a premium position, and often those can be some of the hardest to grow into. It takes time and patience, and sometimes even taking a few beatings and having to learn the hard way. Offensive linemen, in general, can take time to develop and many Broncos fans will remember how optimism surrounding both Zane Beadles or Matt Paradis wasn’t sky high at the beginning of their third NFL seasons, but both managed to prove themselves to be serviceable starters. Sambrailo’s had injuries to deal with on top of all that, which has complicated his ability to develop as much as the organization would like.
The 2015 tape for Sambrailo was encouraging, more so than I remembered and more so than I ever expected. The problem is, the 2016 tape might be just as disappointing as 2015’s was encouraging, Sambrailo took a step back. Such a performance should worry and if he can’t find that athleticism that made him such a high selection he could really struggle, forcing him to be a backup in the league.
By all accounts, his performance thus far in camp should lead to some cautious optimism that the worst is behind him and that the player we saw in 2015 could be back with some added muscle to boot.
Sambrailo’s fit in McCoy’s scheme makes him quite intriguing; he has all the qualities necessary to get out in space and make crucial blocks. It’s also worth remembering that the former CSU standout is still 25 with only seven starts under his belt as he enters a new season with a new coaching staff.
Write him off if you want, but forgotten man Ty Sambrailo might be a bigger factor than you think in revamping Denver’s offensive line in 2017.