ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When new Bronco
Now, that construction can wait a little longer, as the 10th-year offensive lineman decided to come out of retirement to play for the Broncos in 2013.
“Only took a day of mulling over and talking with my wife and figuring out if this was something for us – 24 hours later, I was on a flight, so, here I am,” Lilja said. “This was just too good an opportunity for me to pass up, to come out here and play with these guys.”
Lilja has started 104-of-111 games during his first nine NFL seasons, with most of that action coming at guard during his first eight years in the NFL. He moved to center for the Kansas City Chiefs and started 12 of the team’s final 13 games at that position in 2012.
His versatility, along with his nine years of NFL experience, made Lilja a natural target for the Broncos front office when center
“When I write on my surveys, I put O-line,” Lilja said. “You know you’ve got to be able to play multiple positions. You’ve heard it before. I’ve played a lot of guard in my career. I’ve only started (12) games at center ever. So it’s something that is exciting for me, and it’s a challenge for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
He played well at the new position last season, ranking as the 14th-best center in the league according to ProFootballFocus.com. Lilja allowed just one sack and 13 total pressures in 375 pass-blocking snaps.
Lilja helped anchor a Chiefs offensive line that ranked fifth in the NFL with an average of 149.7 yards per game a year ago, despite the club’s 2-14 record.
He has a familiar face on the club in quarterback
Their history helped Lilja decide that Denver was a good destination.
“You know, that was a big part of me coming back,” Lilja said of his history with Manning. “(Denver) is a special team. It’s a special offense. I picture being in the huddle and that’s a cool place to be. You feel pretty good in there, you feel pretty confident. And I haven’t felt that way in a few years. It was enticing for me.”
While Lilja admitted that his head was “still spinning” after his first walkthrough with the Broncos, his background with Manning and a few of Denver’s assistant coaches that spent time in Kansas City has helped.
“It's kind of a mishmash of some of that stuff and some new stuff and some stuff I've been using in other places, and some of the terms mean completely opposite things,” Lilja said. “It's going to take some time, but I'm sure I'll pick it up.”
He also has playoff experience, having started all nine postseason games that he has played, including eight with Manning. Lilja started all three playoff contests in 2006 when the Colts earned a victory in Super Bowl XLI.
With Denver’s postseason aspirations and a familiar face at quarterback, it was a natural fit for Lilja to come out of retirement to join the Broncos.“For me, it’s a way to get that feeling back—playing some good football, having some fun and winning some games,” Lilja said. “I felt good about doing that here.”