After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In a little more than a week, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at the group in charge of protecting Russell Wilson.
WHO WILL EARN SPOTS ON THE O-LINE?
For the first time in several years, there's an unquestioned answer at the quarterback position. After six seasons in which the Broncos searched for their franchise leader, they found that player this offseason in Russell Wilson.
The group in front of him, though, remains far less settled.
As the Broncos aim to push for the postseason for the first time since their Super Bowl 50 win, the biggest offensive question may come up front. Denver has its solution the quarterback position — and now the Broncos must keep him safe.
The Broncos have plenty of talent along the offensive line, but the team will enter training camp without a definitive starting lineup. Former second-team All-Pro Garett Bolles appears to be the only unquestioned starter as the team heads into the season, though Lloyd Cushenberry III also seems to have a firm grasp on the center position as the former third-round pick enters Year 3.
"He's great," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said of Cushenberry in late May. "He's a guy that you can do downhill stuff with like they've done in the past with the inside zone, but he can run off the ball. That's something you want to take advantage of. He can reach a shade, which he's shown consistently up to this point, and [I] can't wait till we get pads on and can see even more."
There could be a multi-player race at the right tackle position, where Tom Compton, Calvin Anderson and Ben Braden all saw reps during the offseason program. Billy Turner did not participate during the offseason program, but he's viewed as perhaps the favorite to earn the spot. Turner, who started 27 games (primarily at right tackle) over the last two years for the Packers, allowed just three sacks in 810 offensive snaps in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. In his return to Denver after a stint from 2016-18, Turner could serve as a bookend opposite of Bolles.
"I think those guys have stepped up to the plate," Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten said of the players who took reps at right tackle this offseason. "I think [we're] asking those guys to run off of the ball typically when they're not used to that and going out of their element a little bit and going into the unknown. I talked to the offense [during minicamp] about trusting the whole process and trusting the scheme. We'll never put them in a situation where it's going to hurt them or try to put them in a bind. Getting those guys to buy in — I thought that they did a really good job of stepping up and giving us really good time in the pocket. In the run game, it's really coming along with those guys on the edge."
The most intense competition along the offensive line may come at the guard spots, where three players with starting experience — Dalton Risner, Quinn Meinerz and Graham Glasgow — will jockey for two starting spots. Netane Muti, the bruising former sixth-round pick, also received first-team reps during the offseason and could force his way into the equation. Though the Broncos have not yet declared any starters at guard, it will seemingly be difficult to keep Meinerz off the field. The 2021 third-round pick took over a full-time starting role in Week 10 against the Eagles and quickly made highlight reels with his mauling blocks. In the Broncos' win over the Cowboys, when Meinerz entered the game for Glasgow, he helped clear a path for Javonte Williams down the field and later did the same for Mike Boone in Kansas City.
"The sky is the limit for him right now," Hackett said in late March. "He's a guy who didn't play the whole season. He kind of jumped in there towards the end. I really like what he does. I still remember when he was coming out — he had the videos in the forest working out. I know he's working out hard right now. He's going to be a really good right guard for us."
As if predicting the Broncos' eventual starting combination wasn't tricky enough, there are several players who could slot in at different positions. Turner and Compton could each play tackle or guard. Meinerz and Glasgow both have the flexibility to play guard or center. If needed, Anderson could flip over to left tackle to fill in for Bolles. During the season, that positional flexibility should pay dividends — and it wouldn't be surprising if the Broncos move players around during training camp to cross-train them at various spots.
During a training camp practice, it also shouldn't be surprising to see a variety of lineups play in front of Wilson. Hackett, Outten and Offensive Line Coach Butch Barry will search for the best combination, and there's no guarantee when that will emerge.
One thing is quite clear, though: Nothing is more critical to the Broncos' success this season than their ability to keep Wilson upright and healthy.
During training camp, the Broncos' offensive linemen will aim to prove they're worthy of that responsibility.