NEWARK — If there’s any one number on the mind of Denver center Manny Ramirez when the Broncos take the field Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks it’s 18.
Peyton Manning wears that number, and former Texas Tech lineman Ramirez will be standing shoulder to shoulder with another Red Raider, guard Louis Vasquez, trying to keep the Seattle pass rush off Manning’s back and out of his face.
“We take a lot of pride in being able to protect 18, and we do understand that that’s not an easy job.” Ramirez said in a media session during Super Bowl week in New York. “It’s not every game that you’re able to say that he didn’t get touched, but we’ve been able to do that so far. Hopefully we’re able to go maintain that.”
The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Ramirez, a guard at Tech and in his first six NFL seasons, shifted to center in preseason when Dan Koeppen suffered a season-ending knee injury during training camp. Vasquez, who came to the Broncos this season after four years with the San Diego Chargers, stepped into the guard spot.
“There’s a special bond there for sure,” Broncos head coach John Fox said of the Tech tandem in the offensive line.
“They’re very close friends, as well as teammates,” Fox continued.
As a new name on the Broncos’ roster, Vasquez also is pleased at being reunited with his Tech teammate — and says the connection helped him cement his spot in the lineup.
“Our previous relationship we had in college was just a tremendous help to me. It’s been awesome and it’s made my play that much easier,” Vasquez said.
Ramirez, who joined the Broncos in 2011 after four seasons with the Detroit Lions, said the 2013 season has been a blessing.
“It’s been very amazing for me, and I’m just grateful that I was given an opportunity here and for them to actually even feel like I was capable of doing the job,” Ramirez said, adding that his mindset at the start of the season was to take advantage of whatever position he was assigned, and give the job all he had.
Ramirez added: “I feel like I’ve been able to do that, so far. But there’s still more that I could still adjust and get even better.”
Those adjustments, he commented, are happening every day in practice.
“I think that we’ve gotten better every day that we’ve practiced and I think it’s been a good year,” Ramirez said.
“I’m not the only one that’s up front trying to protect him on every single play,” Ramirez said. “But it’s just making sure I’m on the same page with Peyton, to be able to relay it down the line when he makes adjustments, to adjust the protections and be able to get the offensive line on the same page.”
Fox commented: “You have to be not just a very physical player to play in that position, but also a very smart player.”
The head coach said Ramirez has stayed healthy all season, and has done well communicating changes in blocking schemes to his teammates.
Going into Sunday’s game, Ramirez acknowledged that the Seattle defense is one of the more versatile units in the NFL, but added that keeping the Seahawks out of the Bronco backfield is about being aware and taking care of business.
“They give a lot of different looks and work very well together, and they’re very strong up front. I think it’s just something that we have to make sure we’re on-point with our adjustments that we make throughout the week,” Ramirez said.
“They’re the No. 1 defense for a certain reason, because they’ve been able to do something that other teams haven’t been able to do,” he added.
Tackle Orlando Franklin, who played alongside Ramirez in 2012 said “Manny has been doing a great job the last two years. For him to step up as center — I don’t think he played center at all last season.”
As the man snapping the ball to Manning, Ramirez has a little different relationship with his quarterback.
But, he says, Manning’s presence with the Broncos, nudges everyone on the roster to raise their game.
“That’s not just me, that’s all across the board, even on the defense and special teams,” Ramirez said. “You just see how much dedication and how much passion he has for the game that you don’t want to let him down.”
He added: “I’ve never had an opportunity to play with somebody like that. And to be where we are today, the expectation this year is that we’re going all the way.”
And it matters a lot because of who’s back there waiting for the ball to be snapped.
“You just see how much dedication and how much passion he has for the game that you don’t want to let him down,” Ramirez said. “Especially with all the work he’s put in and what he’s gone through, you want to make sure you do everything in your power to get him his next ring.”
Ramirez isn’t just a leader of linemen on the field. He also approaches young people with a message to steer clear of drugs and alcohol.
It’s not just a clean message, but one that’s about practicality in Ramirez’s life.
“I’ve seen what it’s done to other people, and in my life, I don’t need it,” he said. “I’m already a big guy. I don’t need anything else to slow me down.”
Freelance journalist Matt Sugam reported this story from Newark.
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