ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Before this year’s free-agency period began, Connor McGovern reached out the then-Chiefs center Mitch Morse and then-Broncos center Matt Paradis to get an idea of how the center market could develop.
Up until that point, McGovern had spent the offseason working on his techniques for both the guard and center positions. Those conversations and a talk with new Broncos Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak, though, led McGovern to believe that free agency would be the deciding factor in determining his positional home.
“They kind of told me that there is a chance we bring in somebody and there is a chance we don’t,” McGovern said Thursday. “… Once free agency cleared itself up, then I focused solely on center.”
Indeed, free agency came and went without the Broncos signing a starting center and the 2016 fifth-round pick slid into that spot.
McGovern isn’t without experience at the position. After starting eight of the team’s first nine games at right guard, McGovern moved a spot over to center after Paradis suffered a season-ending injury early in a Week 9 game against the Texans.
With McGovern anchoring the line, the Broncos reeled off their most-impressive stretch of the season. They won on the road against the Chargers, beat the Steelers at home and blew out the Bengals on the road.
During that three-game winning streak, the offensive line paved the way for 150 rushing yards per game and allowed just 1.3 sacks per game.
The Broncos dropped four games to end the season after Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris Jr. suffered season-ending injuries, but those wins may have shown the line’s potential with McGovern as its fulcrum.
And from both his newly gained experience and his previous conversations with Paradis, McGovern said he feels poised to succeed again this season.
“I think I learned a lot, especially from Paradis,” McGovern said. “He was such a great guy to have as a mentor and a good friend starting next to him at guard. I got to see how he handles the huddle and I got to see how he handles pre-snap. As the ball is getting snapped, sometimes you’re getting calls out of your mouth too. Between everything I’ve learned from Matt and the couple of games where I was fortunate enough to play center, I think I have a pretty solid base going into the season and being able to go through the whole OTAs and camp at a certain position. I think it’s going to be huge.”
McGovern could benefit from a few other factors, as well.
First, there’s Munchak, who has been revered as one of the Broncos’ most important offseason additions. The Pro Football Hall of Famer and veteran coach can add McGovern to his list of supporters.
“Munchak is fantastic,” McGovern said. “He gets it. There are a lot of coaches that played a couple of years in the league or played college ball and got hurt and then got into coaching. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s seen every look. He’s played against great guys. He knows what it takes to beat anybody. He played against fantastic defensive linemen. Just his knowledge of the game and the little nuances that a lot of O-linemen don’t even see and definitely the every-day person wouldn’t see, he’s so good at. The base technique, he really hammers that home and [in] a way where we all understand it because it literally applies perfectly because he’s used that in games — and a lot of games.”
Then there’s the invaluable game experience that McGovern and his teammates gained as they dealt with a carousel on the offensive line in 2018.
“I think that really adds to the versatility of the offensive line,” McGovern said. “A lot of guys have played a lot of different positions, and it only helps us.”
And finally, there’s a chance that McGovern’s move to center may help him find his more-natural position.
Paradis, who moved on to Carolina this offseason, thinks that’s the case.
“I enjoy center. I think it’s more of a natural position for me. Paradis agrees, and he was like, ‘This is your time to go out there and make a name for yourself at center.’
“I’m excited for it. It’s a great opportunity.”