ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — A little-known tight end recently signed off the street may just hold the solution to turning around a struggling Denver Broncos offense.
Journeyman Richard Gordon's particular set of skills opens up quite a few avenues for the Broncos. He can block, meaning Peyton Manning should have Owen Daniels and Virgil Green available for short passes over the middle. That translates into teams having to defend the middle again, which could in turn spark a sputtering ground game.
So maybe this is a bit of a stretch for a fifth-year tight end who is joining his fifth NFL team. But the Broncos are searching for fixes to an offense that ranks 29th in the league heading into Sunday night's showdown against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Gordon isn't shy about going straight to the source as he takes this crash course in the Broncos' offense.
"It's nothing to turn around and ask (Manning) a question and he can tell me," said the 28-year-old Gordon, who was signed by Denver on Oct. 14, released a few days later and then signed again last week. "When you need help, he is there to help you."
Because Gordon could be a big help in keeping Manning upright as he scans the field for an open receiver. Ever since losing Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme to free agency, Manning has been searching for a security blanket over the middle. Daniels and Green have assisted a banged-up offensive line with blocking, which limits their production in the passing game. They have a combined 17 catches and three TDs.
Denver was counting on rookie tight end Jeff Heuerman to provide a lift in the passing game, but he tore his ACL in May. It put a dent in coach Gary Kubiak's plans.
"I love running tight-end type offenses, two-tights, three-tights and those type of things," Kubiak said. "How we're built right now is a lot different, so we're having to adjust to that. We'll see where we go."
Gordon was a defensive end at the University of Miami before being converted into a tight end right around his junior year. A sixth-round pick by Oakland in 2011, Gordon has four career catches in stints with the Raiders, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Tennessee.
His plan here is simple for now.
"I just have to learn my plays," said Gordon, who's listed at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds.
Added protection can only help the 39-year-old Manning, who has more interceptions (10) than TDs (7) this season. His teammates have his back, though, with everyone asking the same sort of question this season: What's wrong with Manning?
"We're going to rally behind everybody," tailback C.J. Anderson said. "I'm not playing as well as where I'd like to be right now, and they're rallying behind me."
Anderson has yet to break off a run longer than 14 yards. And while Ronnie Hillman has two 100-yard games, the Broncos still rank 30th in the league in rushing.
Basically, the holes that were prevalent a year ago are just not opening up. Part of that has to do with a patchwork offensive line, with Denver reshuffling things before the season even began when Ryan Clady tore an ACL in the spring. Rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo has been banged up in recent weeks, too, leading to more shuffling.
"We'll keep plugging here," Kubiak said. "We're going to all try to get better as we go."