As the 2021 offseason winds down and training camp approaches, we're turning our attention toward the season. Over the following few weeks, we'll take a look at each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster before finishing our training camp preview series with a look at some of the top questions facing the team. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to keep an eye on when practices and the preseason get underway shortly. We continue the series with a look at the Broncos' offensive line.
What we know:
Denver's offensive line was one of the Broncos' most-improved units in 2020, as Garett Bolles took a massive leap forward and the rest of the line provided capable play. Dalton Risner and 2020 free-agent addition Graham Glasgow were solid at the two guard positions, while Lloyd Cushenberry III earned All-Rookie honors. Only right tackle was a bit of a turnstile, as several different players made starts at the position.
In 2021, the Broncos should feature long-desired continuity. Bolles, Risner, Cushenberry and Glasgow are all back — as is Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak. As the Broncos look to utilize their swath of offensive weapons, the line could be the unit that allows the whole group to function.
Denver didn't purely stick with its 2020 roster, as it added necessary talent at right tackle — more on that in a moment — and spent its first third-round pick on Wisconsin-Whitewater's Quinn Meinerz. The Division III product's standout performance at the Senior Bowl put him on the Broncos' radar and gave him a chance to earn a starting role.
"We're pushing each other," Cushenberry said of the competition with Meinerz. "We're working together in the individual drills, making each other better. He's a young guy. He's going to have his ups and downs. Going through what I went through last year and having the experience I have now, I can kind of teach him some things and show him the ropes a little bit like guys did for me last year. It's all competition, and at the end of the day, the more competition we have on the offense and on this team, it's going to make everybody better. It really didn't affect me at all mentally. I was just looking forward to the challenge of making him better and him making me better."
What we need to learn:
Who will play right tackle?
The Broncos' offensive line stability took a hit when Denver lost right tackle Ja'Wuan James for a second consecutive season. GM George Paton moved quickly to sign Bobby Massie and Cameron Fleming, and the two veterans appear set to compete for the job with Calvin Anderson. Massie seems like the most likely option to start at right tackle, but he dealt with a pectoral strain during the offseason program that kept him out for the final few practices. Massie has been effective when healthy, but he'll need to earn his job during training camp and the preseason.
The competition is only beginning, according to Head Coach Vic Fangio.
"It's really early," Fangio said in mid-June. "You've got two things there that make it hard to comment much on it. One, the injuries … with Calvin [Anderson] and Bobby [Massie]. Two, the work that we've done for the bulk of the offseason hasn't involved the linemen a whole lot. We started involving them last week and then [in minicamp]. They haven't had a lot of work and you need the pads on to evaluate O-line and D-line. There's really not much that I can intelligently say there."
Right tackle is one of very few question marks along the offensive line for Denver. Bolles appears to have taken the next step at left tackle, while Risner and Glasgow appear entrenched at the two guard positions.
Perhaps the most exciting spot to watch other than right tackle is whether Meinerz can make a move to unseat Cushenberry at center. Meinerz has intriguing potential, but it will be difficult to tell how much he can contribute as a rookie until the pads go on in late July and August.
Player to watch:
There's plenty of options in a position group this large. Some will want to see how Massie responds at right tackle. Others will want to see how much Meinerz can push Cushenberry at center. Perhaps a few others want to see whether star reserve Netane Muti can find his way into the starting lineup.
I, however, am most intrigued by Bolles. The formerly maligned player took a massive leap in 2020 as he earned second-team All-Pro honors and cut his penalty numbers by a drastic rate. In 2020, he was more than just the Broncos' best offensive lineman; he may have been the team's best player.
As training camp begins, it will be interesting to see if Bolles can maintain the same standard of play, particularly when he goes up against Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. A star left tackle is one of the game's most-desired commodities, and the Broncos will be in good position for the next several years if Bolles can continue his improved play.