ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Matt Paradis was carted off with what was later announced as a fractured fibula on Sunday, it was a shock to the system for the offensive line. Paradis had never missed a single snap since making the Broncos' active roster in 2015 and becoming the team's starting center.
But for Connor McGovern, that jolting feeling had to be quelled immediately. He had to slide over from right guard to center on the very next play.
"He's the ironman," McGovern said Monday. "None of us ever thought something like this would happen to Matt, so, you've just got to try to replace him the best that you can."
McGovern finished out the game at center, a position he had never played in a live game. His center experience was limited to the 2017 offseason — when Paradis was recovering from hip surgeries — and, before that, as a scout-team redshirt freshman at Missouri.
Luckily, he quickly figured out snapping was similar to riding a bicycle: You never truly forget how to do it.
"Snapping the ball isn't something that's hard for me — it's second nature," McGovern said. "It's just a natural thing at this point, so the actual act of snapping the ball isn't a worry or anything like that."
Though snapping on Sunday didn't present any challenges, moving forward as the team's starting center with Paradis out certainly could. The first challenge may be the leadership responsibilities that come with the position. Paradis was a team captain and, during that 2017 offseason, served as a mentor for McGovern at center.
"That was a huge help for myself, but offseason and live bullets are two different things," McGovern said. "As much as it was a huge help, I also had a lot of leadership guys back then, whereas now I have a little bit more of a leadership role. I'm embracing that and the center position."
Now as a center, McGovern knows embracing the role means taking on new tasks, and that starts with pre-snap responsibilities.
"Obviously you're the one that gets everything started," McGovern said. "You're the one that gets everyone going to the right spots. Ultimately, the play starts with you. Not only is it a big job at any place, but especially when you lose a guy like Paradis, it's an even bigger job."
McGovern believes he has a solid base thanks to "a ton" of knowledge he's taken from Paradis. The two have spent countless hours watching film together and are good friends off the field.
Perhaps most importantly, McGovern knows he can't be Matt Paradis. What he can be is the best version of himself to help make sure he, Case Keenum and the rest of offense don't skip a beat.
"I'm doing my best to be the best Matt Paradis I can be, but I'm not going to be him," McGovern said. "So Case and I will work through stuff and continue to get better and keep moving this offense forward."