JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Contrary to the popular injury-replacement narrative, Denver Broncos coaches insist Manny Ramirez was going to be their starting center all along.
This despite the fact he never had been a full-time center.
"So many people were so worried about playing Manny at center. That bothered me a little bit," offensive line coach Dave Magazu said this week as the Broncos prepared to face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"The guy's done everything right since he's been here in Denver. He earned that opportunity. Once he got that opportunity, he embraced it. He's run with it. He's proven that he's a very good football player."
That certainly didn't seem to be the case in October 2010, when the Detroit Lions -- who would finish 6-10 -- released Ramirez. He signed with the Broncos in January, barely played in 2011 and became a part-time starter at guard in 2012.
J.D. Walton was entrenched as Denver's starting center entering the 2012 season, but four games in he suffered an ankle injury from which he has yet to recover.
Veteran Dan Koppen took Walton's place. But Ramirez took the bulk of the first-team reps during offseason workouts. When Koppen suffered a season-ending knee injury in late July, the job indisputably belonged to Ramirez.
Before this season, Ramirez said, he hadn't played center in a game since high school. He started every one there for the '13 Broncos, finishing as Pro Football Focus' fifth-ranked center.
Ramirez did have experience making line calls. He did it as a guard at Texas Tech, whose no-huddle offense under Coach Mike Leach helped prepare Ramirez for what was to come years later: Serving as the snapper for line-of-scrimmage maestro Peyton Manning.
"As far as the league, I've never been a part of an offense like this," Ramirez said. "I'm not going to say it's hard, or easy. I would say it's in the middle. But it's something I enjoy. Knowing how much passion and dedication he has to the game, I want to make sure that I'm on point with what he's seeing -- make sure that everything runs smoothly and we're able to get the ball off quick."
For a guy who has led the Seahawks in tackles in each of his first two seasons and is the quarterback of the NFL's top defense, Bobby Wagner received shockingly little publicity this week.
Which is just the way he likes it.
Wagner, who attended Colony High in Ontario, says he isn't a naturally outspoken person. That changes when he's lined up at middle linebacker.
"The position that I'm in, I have to be more vocal," Wagner said. "But I have a great group of people around me. Between the secondary and the front line, I've learned a lot. They've definitely helped me become the leader that I am today."
Wagner's high school teammate, cornerback Omar Bolden, is a member of the Broncos. They live together in Los Angeles during the offseason.
Wes Welker is among the Broncos with previous Super Bowl experience -- not that his was all that pleasant.
Welker was on the losing end of Super Bowls XLII and XLVI with the New England Patriots. In the latter, he failed to come down with a difficult but catchable pass that could have clinched a victory.
Welker doesn't view his third Super Bowl as an opportunity for redemption.
"You know what? I don't even think about it," Welker said. "The past is the past. What happened happened, and I'm just looking forward to this one."
The Broncos pulled a practical joke on long snapper Aaron Brewer (Troy High) on Friday. During practice, a plane flew over the field with a banner that read: "MEET BRONCOS' AARON BREWER TONITE AT TIMES SQUARE." ...
Both squads conducted walkthrough practices at MetLife Stadium on Saturday that doubled as photo ops for team members and their families.
(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services