This has been something I've been thinking about over the past few weeks, and I've come to the conclusion that Gibbs' zone-blocking scheme has a propensity to be veteran-oriented.
What I mean by that is that the majority of players that have excelled in Gibbs scheme have been guys that have been long in the league. Meaning, not guys with 4 or 5 years of experience, but I'm talking like 8, 9, or even 10 or more years.
If you look at the Broncos lines, rarely did they have young players starting during GIbbs years as the chief OL coach (1995-2000). Tom Nalen started as a 2nd year player in GIbbs first year there in 1995, replacing Dave Widell. That year, Gibbs initial year, they had 3 new starters. But 2 of them were long-time vets: LG Mark Schlereth (7 year vet) and RT Broderick THompson (10 yr. vet). Gary Zimmerman (3rd yr. in Denver, 11th in league) and Brian Habib (3rd in Denver, 7th in league) were the only holdovers.
That same starting 5 starting again in 1996.
In 1997, they lost Thompson to retirement. They replaced him with veteran Tony Jones (10th year in NFL). They went to the Super Bowl.
The next year, Zimmerman retired and Jones was shifted to LT. Harry Swayne, who had been added the year before was promoted to the starting lineup at RT. It was his 12th year in the league. Dan Neil also took over for Habib, who left via free agency to Seattle. Like Nalen before him, he was a 2nd year player.
In 1999, Swayne left for greener pastures in Baltimore, being replaced by 2nd year guy Matt Lepsis.
The same starting lineup started in 2000.
So looking over Gibbs history, never once was did a rookie start for the Broncos. The youngest players were 2nd year guys. And with exception to Nalen in 1995, all came into the starting lineup with steady veterans around them to ease their transition.
You look at the average experience of his lines:
1995 - 6.4 years in NFL
1996 - 7.4 years in NFL
1997 - 8 yrs. in NFL
1998 - 7 yrs. in NFL
1999 - 5.8 yrs. in NFL
2000 - 6.4 yrs. in NFL
Our line by comparison:
2004 - 3.6 yrs
2005 - 4.6 yrs
This is not a post to say that we should just wait until our line becomes old men, and then we'll be good. But I just want to point out that I think there is a legitimate connection in this type of scheme between experience and performance. Usually as the first goes up the other seems to to.
But we do need to add some talent. In each of the years Gibbs coached that unit, he sent someone to the Pro Bowl.
1995 - Zimmerman
1996 - Zimmerman
1997 - Nalen
1998 - Jones, Schlereth, Nalen
1999 - Nalen
2000 - Nalen
And because of this, I think people make a good point about upgrading in the middle of the line over McClure. But in all honesty, if I had to pick a replacement, I think I'd rather see Tom Nalen than LeCharles Bentley.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.