By Arnie Stapleton, AP pro football writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The man charged with fixing the Denver Broncos’ biggest bugaboo is new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.
He was hired by new coach Vance Joseph on Saturday, following former Chargers coach Mike McCoy to Denver. McCoy was Joseph’s first hire, replacing Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator.
Davidson, 49, worked on McCoy’s staff in San Diego last season, when second-year running back Melvin Gordon had a terrific comeback season with 997 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 11 games.
Davidson has 22 years of coaching experience, including 15 years with the offensive line.
He replaces Clancy Barone, one of several offensive assistants whose contracts have been terminated since Joseph replaced Gary Kubiak .
The Broncos struggled up front in each of the past two seasons, preventing Kubiak from using his run-based offense quite the way he wanted.
They were able to patch things up enough to go on a terrific playoff run last season thanks to the savvy of veterans Ryan Harris, Evan Mathis, Louis Vasquez and key backup Tyler Polumbus.
None of them returned in 2016 with Polumbus retiring and the others becoming free agents.
General manager John Elway replaced four-fifths of his line, but free agent tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson flopped.
Max Garcia and Ty Sambrailo, two of Elway’s draft picks, struggled as well, and the Broncos (9-7) failed to make the playoffs a season after winning the Super Bowl.
The most consistent lineman was center Matt Paradis despite playing through two bad hips, one of which was surgically repaired this month with the second operation scheduled for February.
Too often, the Broncos’ leaky line was unable to protect the passer or spring a battered backfield.
Rookie running back Devontae Booker, who struggled as the lead after C.J. Anderson (knee) went on IR in October, led the team with 612 yards rushing.
The tight ends too often had to stay in to help protect quarterbacks Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch and none had more than 22 receptions. So, defenses kept double-teaming Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside.
The Broncos scored an NFL-low 40 points in the first quarter, their slow starts defanging a powerful pass rush and stellar secondary.
A former NFL offensive lineman, Davidson played in Denver from 1990-93 before finishing his career with a season in New Orleans. That’s where he started his coaching career the next season before stints with the Patriots, Browns, Panthers, Vikings and Chargers.
Davidson’s teams have featured top-eight rushing attacks in six of his past eight seasons. He was in charge of Minnesota’s O-line from 2011-15 when the Vikings featured the league’s second-ranked rushing offense behind Adrian Peterson.
With Davidson working alongside McCoy in Carolina from 2007-10, the Panthers averaged 134.5 yards rushing and in 2009 featured a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.