ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Garett Bolles prepared for a prove-it season in the most unusual fashion.
After struggling with penalties and inconsistent play during his first three seasons in Denver, the 2017 first-round pick faced a career-defining opportunity ahead of the season. The Broncos declined to exercise Bolles' fifth-year option in the spring, which meant Bolles would either earn a new contract in Denver for his 2020 performance or enter free agency at the end of the year.
The COVID-19 pandemic, though, meant Bolles didn't have the benefit of an in-person offseason program, a full training camp or preseason games to hone his technique in his second year under Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak and first season in Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's scheme.
Bolles found an alternative way to get his work in.
"I didn't use it as an excuse," Bolles said of the lack of in-person work. " … I really just took it upon myself to know that there's always something that you can do. You can always run; you can always take sets. … I took sets in my kitchen barefoot so when I get to my proper spot, I know exactly how my weight is between my feet and my toes. I had my wife line up and she would run after me and I would take sets and I'd put my hands on her — not hard of course — but just enough so I can get into a repetition of continuing to do the same thing over and over again. I'd run, I'd hit the bag, I'd get a pole and I'd fit it like I was fitting a run game. I'd do whatever I can to find myself — I was training in California to of course not break COVID rules — but be by myself and go to the park and set up a tree or put cones on the ground and set, something like that. I always found something to do to continue to get my body in shape and get my mind where it needs to be mentally and physically and really dial in what I needed to do. I feel like that is what's paying off now is those little things I did."
Bolles said the early in his career, he "just went through the motions" in certain areas of the game, but he's since realized the importance of nutrition, sleep and film study. Those adjustments have helped him find success in Year 4, and he now believes he understands what it takes to be "a franchise left tackle." He has had just one holding call enforced against him this season after leading the league in the penalty over the last three seasons.
It's understandable that it took Bolles a bit of time — and consistency — to improve his level of play. The 28-year-old player picked up football late in life before playing collegiately at Snow College and for a year at the University of Utah. Since arriving in Denver, he's started all 58 of the Broncos' games at left tackle, and he is Pro Football Focus' top-rated tackle through 11 weeks.
"I needed time," Bolles said. "I'm extremely grateful for [Head] Coach [Vic] Fangio. I know he's talked to you guys about how he's grateful to just let me go in there and learn from my mistakes. A player that hasn't played a lot of football or a rookie that's come into the league, he needs reps. He needs repetition. He needs to see what will be thrown at him. He might not pick it up early on in his career but the longer that he's in there — it's sort of like that [trial] by fire type of thing — you're out there, guys are smoking you and you're falling on the ground and you think to yourself, 'Hey, I can either get up and strap my helmet on more and do it again, or I can take my helmet off and I can walk out the door.' That's really your options. So, over the years I've learned I'm that type of fighter. I might fall in a hole but I'm that type of fighter that's going to climb that ladder and get myself out of the hole. I pride myself on that and I'm going to continue to do that because that's what a father is, that's what a husband is to provide for the family, and that's what a man does for his job that he loves dearly. I'm a fighter. I never give up and I'm just going to continue to do what I need to do to help this team win."
Bolles may garner Pro Bowl consideration for the first time in his career, but he said he's more focused on helping the team win. It's a team that he hopes to remain with in 2021 and beyond.
"I want to be the best," Bolles said. "That's just my motto. I want to be the best tackle to ever play this game. That's just something I've always prided myself on, but at the same time I want to take it slowly, I want to embrace what's happening. Every game is a challenge, every single week, somebody can get you — you can give up a sack, you can give up a pressure, and my goal is to not give up any of those. I've talked to a lot of mentors of mine that play tackle in this league, and they just continue to tell me to keep the fire and keep doing what you're doing, and that's my goal. But really, I'm just trying to finish the season strong.
"… I've had rocky years here and my goal is just to be a consistent player that [President of Football Operations/General Manager] Mr. [John] Elway and this organization can count on for many years. I want to be here for a long time — I love the city, I love this fan base, my teammates, I love everything about here and I just want to win. So, my motto is to win and do everything I can because if I'm sloppy out there, Drew [Lock] can't throw the ball. If I'm playing my high level that I am, then Drew can move the ball and do his thing. I pride myself with that. If I can continue to play consistent football, then we're going to win games."
Bolles said while he would prefer to finalize an extension before the end up the season, he will leave those conversations up to this agent and the Broncos' front office. Instead, he'll focus on continuing a standard of play that is considerably higher than in past seasons.
"I know you all kicked me in the butt over the years, but that's just something that I took and was for me to change, and if it wasn't for me to change, I know I wouldn't be where I'm at," Bolles said. "I took that very seriously and I took it into this offseason. I fixed the things I did [wrong] and this is me, and I'm not going anywhere."